If you are running a new business, you’re a freelancer, or you’re a salesperson, it can be very hard to tell people no. You might feel obligated to take a project on because of how an email is worded, or because you think that you’ll earn future business if you do this one last task for free.
Look at all the assumptions made just in the examples above! I have talked a lot about making assumptions, and how it can lead us somewhere we don’t want to be.
The other day, I got a call from a client who wanted something done by the end of the day. This urgency was a result of a general lack of planning and understanding on their part and not because of anything that we had failed to deliver on our end.
At this stage, I have two choices: I can grudgingly say yes and commit my team to this request, knowing that it would take some time and throw them off of their game, maybe resenting the fact that my client is making unreasonable demands. This could lead to my team being unhappy with their work environment and,if they feel like this is a pattern, they might start looking for a change. My team is the best, and my goal each day is to make them happy and their lives as easy as possible.
Still, I almost went this way; it would have been easy, the path of least resistance. Instead, I just asked a couple of questions.
“Why is it so important to get this done immediately?” and, “Do you understand what goes into making this happen with a quick turn around like this? I might have to charge you a little extra.”
In that moment, I take a shift from someone who is standing in the way of the client’s goal, and yet, I am not trying to plead my case to prove anything. I am someone who is on the client’s side, looking out for their best interest. This is not just a sales tactic to make your life easier. I truly want to know what is going on and want to make sure my clients understand why some requests can’t happen immediately.
It is very hard for us to listen and seek to understand. In most conversations, people are waiting for a gap to jump in and steer the conversation, or they are waiting to pipe in with a funny story or anecdote. It takes a lot of confidence to be okay with silence.
It turns out my client had no idea that the list of things they wanted to be immediately handled was a few hours’ worth of work. Partially, that’s because, if you are good at what you do, people don’t see the work that happens behind the scenes. When I am out networking with people, a lot of them will talk about how busy they are; but I find that if you are that busy, there is something wrong with your business.
Once I explained that the work they wanted takes longer than my client thinks and that I have other clients who are also on deadlines, they were fine. That candid conversation and compromise would never have happened if I hadn’t taken an extra beat and asked some questions to better understand my client’s situation.
If you are a freelancer, you run up against this a lot. Clients want fast turnarounds, but will drag their feet when you need something from them. You are in business for yourself; you also set your hours and delivery times, so as long as you set realistic expectations on the front end, then you shouldn’t have client problems.
When we take on work that isn’t a good fit or we agree to lousy deal terms, we put ourselves in a bad position for the remainder of the relationship with the client. The more you give away at the beginning, the harder it is to get yourself back into a situation where you have equal footing with your client.
Remember, they came to you for help; you are the expert. Most clients are not intentionally unreasonable, they just don’t know any better or remember to account for the fact that you have other clients.
Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: the client you hate. Some people are just not capable of understanding anyone else’s position. It is their way or the highway. If you have been doing client work for any length of time, you have run into this person and probably just remembered dealing with them in vivid detail. You can build up a sixth sense about these kinds of clients over time, and either avoid them entirely or charge them a lot more. Occasionally, one will sneak in that you didn’t catch. How much is that client really worth to you versus the time you could be saving not dealing with them?
To make these situations easier, you have to figure out a mental scale beforehand. If someone is coming in at, say an 8 or higher on my scale, there is no reasonable amount of money to make me want to deal with it. Since I have figured that out, it makes my decisions a lot easier.
Instead of sinking all the time necessary into making that client understand, I could go and get three to four more clients who already understand what it is like to work with another company. Who wouldn’t prefer that? I don’t care if they are your biggest client, if it doesn’t make sense or it’s causing you to lose sleep or worry about your email when you’re off of work, you should seriously consider firing them.
Just to be clear, this doesn’t resolve missing deadlines or doing bad work for your client. If that happens, you should just own up to it and ask where you should go from there. Don’t blame it on someone else, or explain your way around it. Address it and move on.
I have two challenges for people who read this:
1.Mentally count to 3 at each pause in the conversation the next time you talk to a good friend. It is going to feel very strange, and they might even call you on it if you have a history of jumping into any gap in a sentence (I’m talking about myself here).
2.Say “no” the next time something comes up in your business if it will lead you down an unwanted path. Obviously, depending on your situation, this might not work, but try to say no or seek to understand the urgency and explain why it is a no for you.