Years ago, we found out that my mom has a rare brain disorder, cerebral amyloid angiopathy. It’s one that eventually created a need for me to become her legal guardian. More on that later, but it’s been a long and arduous road. Part of that road, was searching long and hard for the right lawyer to help me. No matter where I looked, I came up empty. From lawyers who mocked and ridiculed me for my efforts, to a lawyer who spoke in language so graphic that it would only be allowed in NC-17 rated movies, I got no where. Knowing my frustrations, a family member recommended working with an associate of his. One that worked at a very large and successful local firm. Since I hadn’t had any luck on my own, I decided to go ahead. I wish I hadn’t. I wish this lawyer had had the guts to tell me, sorry, but I can’t work with you.
Only Work with High Priority Clients
Because trust me, you’re not doing me any favors by taking me on as a client, only as a favor to someone else. I want to work with someone, who wants to work with me. When you work with clients that you don’t have time for, or whose style you hate, or for a type of project that you’re not at all knowledgeable about and don’t want to be, or for a much smaller fee than you’re used to, it isn’t helpful to anyone. It’s not helpful to the client, and it’s certainly not helpful to you.
The lawyer I’ve been working with, just doesn’t have the time I need to work with me. He has much bigger, higher priority, higher fee clients that he works with. And as such, my emails are rarely returned, questions are rarely answered, assistance seems half-hearted and is always at the last minute. When he needs something from me, I get a two day notice. When I need something from him, it usually doesn’t get done. I’m pretty sure I’m #472 on his list of things to do. And it’s easy to tell. I’ve considered moving to another lawyer about 100 times, but have never done so. Because to move all of this work to someone else, is just too much work at this point. So I stay. But I really, really, really wish I didn’t.
Have a Client Standard, and Keep It
Don’t make the same mistake. Your clients deserve to get the best of you. And you deserve to have clients that you’re happy to work with. If you have a standard practice for a certain type of client that you work with, stick to it. If your favorite client asks you to work with their cousin who has a $5,000 budget and your typical budget is $100,000, just say no. Explain to the client that you absolutely wish that you could squeeze them in, but unfortunately time just doesn’t allow. You want them to get the absolute best service, attention, and design possible, and then recommend someone who can help them. Someone really good. Someone who is just getting started, but has fantastic style and even better service.
If you work for a design firm, blame it on them. When I worked in the financial industry, there was a standard amount of money that someone had to have before they become a client. Of course this wasn’t always a well liked policy. But, it was unfortunately a way to keep both advisors and clients happy. So, when there was push back, advisors blamed the firm. My mom used to tell me this all the time, “If you know something isn’t right but your friends get mad at you, blame it on me, I don’t mind.” Now, don’t blame your firm in a “those fat cats are nothing but money grubbing idiots” kind of way. But rather a, “I’m so sorry, but the firm won’t allow me to take on anymore clients at this time” kind of way. That way, you’re not the bad guy, and really, neither is the firm. People understand company policy.
Say No to Small Clients, then Help Them
And obviously when turning someone down, it’s always better to focus on time and your schedule than money. No one wants to hear “sorry, but you’re too broke for us to work with you.” It’s a lot easier to hear, “Oh, I’m so sorry, but my schedule is just overloaded. I wouldn’t be able to give you the attention you deserve. But I know who would!” And then refer them.Now, if there’s pushback on the time like, “Oh, I’m not in any hurry, I can wait for you.” I would try to again refocus them on the referral. Let them know that you have so many big projects going right now. That you just aren’t sure when you’d be able to give them the time and attention they deserve. But, that you do know someone who’s perfect for them! Or, if it’s true, note a difference in styles, as often different styles come with different budgets. Let them know that you work only in the one style as it’s what you do best, but do know someone who works in a style that would be a better fit.
And, focus on how it benefits them to work with someone else. Because, really, it does. No one likes feeling second rate. Or low on the totem pole. Or any other cliche meaning, you’re lesser than. Cause being lesser than, and knowing it, just plain sucks. You don’t want a client metaphorically jumping up and down, waving their arms around frantically, and yelling “a little help over here!” just to get a little help and attention. It’s best to just say no, at the beginning. Don’t string the person along as a favor to your favorite client. Because not only will that make this new client unhappy, it will also make the referring client unhappy as well.
If You Must Take On “Too Small” Projects, Be Consistent
Now if you think a project has potential for more, or you really want to work on it, or you really, really want to do this favor for a client, then ok. Take it. But you must give the same amount of dedication and care to it that you would any other client. Not just for their sake, but for your own. You don’t want to ruin your reputation of great design and service, by taking on a client that you just don’t really have time for. Or that you don’t want to work with. Or that you don’t want to lower your fees that much for. Or that you don’t want to find new vendors in a lower price point for. You want to be able to give the same level of care to every client. You want to be able to be just as awesome for one client as another. So, before you take on those favors, make sure you can. Don’t agree to someone being a thorn in your side. Don’t risk resenting this innocent small client along the way. It’s not their fault. They assume that if you’re not able to work with them, that you’d go ahead and tell them. So you must. And really, that’s why you’re the boss. Cause you have to do the hard stuff, like saying “no.” So as gently as possible, as diplomatically as possible, as sweetly as possible, just say no.
And if you need help on just how to diplomatically say no, or ways to treat all your customers well, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to get your personalized customer care plan!