There’s a courting process in business. A mating dance, if you will, that exists between potential client and service provider while both flutter around determining if they’re a match. Traditional logic says it is the client who has all the power in this situation. He has the money and it’s up to him to decide where he wants to spend it. The service provider is the one, we’re told, who must prove herself and show that she is capable of performing the task. She is the one on trial.
I’m here to tell you that traditional logic is wrong.
Yesterday, my friend Michael Dorausch tweeted something that caught my eye.
He’s right. As business owners, we’re taught to say YES to clients. Clients mean money, they mean stability, and they mean we’ll have something to do during the day when Twitter can’t hold our interest. However, business owners must also learn to say NO to potential clients. They must use the initial “just talking” period to interview prospective clients the same way clients are interviewing them. Do you know what your perfect client looks like? Do you know the warning signs to help you avoid a bad one?
Here are some positive indicators to let you know you’ve found The One.
The client understands the process
The right client doesn’t expect results overnight. They understand that good work takes time and they’re willing to make the effort and to work with you. You want to start setting client expectations and managing client trust before anyone ever mutters the word “contract”. A client that respects the process will require less hand-holding, email updates, and reassuring than a client who questions the timetables you’ve set. If a potential client is already showing signs of insecurity during the initial phases consider if this is a relationship that will work for the long term.
The client wants to be involved
The best client is an educated client. Someone who wants to know what you’re doing not because they question you, but because they care. Someone who is willingly to write those content pages you’re asking for because they understand that all we do is coach, they have to run the ball. Look for clients who are invested enough in their projects that they don’t just want to hand over the whole thing and forget about it. Instead, they want to work with you to design up something that will be especially awesome.
The client uses real words to describe their company
Want to play a fun game? Ask prospective clients if they can explain what it is they do. Two things will happen.
- They’ll be able to explain to you, in real words, what their company does and whom they hope to reach.
- The conversation will devolve into a Rain Man-inspired edition of buzzword bingo that will leave you more confused than when you started.
If the latter happens, stop talks. The best clients are the ones that really ‘get’ their business and their customers. If someone has a hard time putting into real words what they’re trying to accomplish and what they need, then it’s going to be incredibly difficult to create and initiate a plan of action. They’re also going to have a hard time getting you the content you’ll need to help them earn your rankings. Look for clients that are self-aware and who understand their place in the market.
The client doesn’t already know exactly what they want
This sounds counter-intuitive. You would think a client that knows what she wants would be a good thing. However, it’s more complicated than that. A client who has an idea of what they want is great. A client that knows exactly what they want, however, tends to be problematic. Why? Well, because they’re usually trying to mimic something they just saw. They heard about the Old Spice social media campaign and now they want to do that, too. They heard about what their competitor was doing on Twitter and now they want that identical strategy. The problem is that every business and every audience is different. The perfect client understands this, has an idea of what he’d like to see, and is open to working with you on how you can accomplish this together. The perfect client does not want a neon pink Web site just because their favorite color is pink.
The client is someone you can help
My favorite clients aren’t the ones with the biggest budgets or the flashiest Web sites. They’re the ones that we’ve been able to help do really special things. As service providers, we have a responsibility not to take on clients that we can’t provide a clear benefit. And sometimes that means turning down people we’d love to worth with just because we don’t think the investment, for them, will be worth it. It’s easy to collect money from someone who wants to give you money, however, you have to be the adult in the room. If someone wants to pay you to design their dream site in a way that you know will ensure it never ranks or converts, are you going to do it?
The client lives a similar business culture
Company culture is really important. At Outspoken Media, we hire based on culture and we pick clients based on culture. We want to make sure that we’re going to enjoy working with the clients we take on and we also want to know they’ll enjoy working with us. That’s how referrals are generated. When you’re in the talking stages of things, get a feeling for how the prospective client does business and how they’ll expect you to do business. If there’s a gaping difference of opinion, then it might not be worth taking that client on. You spend a lot of your day working. You want to enjoy what you’re doing. We said no to a company that (at the time) would have been our biggest client. We walked away and never looked back. Why? Because the culture didn’t fit and that’s something we won’t compromise on.
Michael’s right in that businesses aren’t taught how to say no to clients. Especially in hard times, we’re told to take whatever we can get and do whatever we can to hold onto them. However, that’s pretty bad advice. Filling yourself up with clients you don’t love just means you’ll be too busy to take on the right ones when they present themselves. As my dad told me, you always have a right to say no. ;)