If you’re new in the entrepreneurship world and you’re tempted to take on clients that you should not be taking on.
Sean, we’re broke. We need money. We take on everybody!
I’ve done that. And it’s like making a pact with the devil. I’m going to give you the seven questions you better ask before you take on a client. I’m not saying you go over these with your client, but these are internal. These are things you ask yourself and/or your staff.
1. Do I Know Their Expectations?
This is just kind of simple. I want to make sure that I understand the full scope of the job and what they’re expecting of our company. I just don’t want any ambiguity. It should be so clear that I could explain it to a 12-year-old that they could say it back and we’re all three on the same page. I want to know their expectations. I don’t want anything to be vague. Everything should be able to be written in bullet points with one sentence. That’s how I want them.
Now, if you’re a genius and you don’t care if it’s 20 pages, that’s fine, but I want to be able to really understand the client’s expectations. Why? Because if we have a disagreement later, we can just go through these bullet points. They’re measurable.
2. Can I Deliver on Their Expectations?
I mean, this is critical. Understanding their expectations, and then can I deliver on them? If I take on a client where I know that it’s going to be an absolute stretch to deliver on these, I’m going to need more people at the end of the job. In the beginning of the job, if I understand their expectations, I need to know what it would take to deliver on these. Sometimes we just take a job and then we get into where like, “Oh yeah, that’s a client, you remember the difficult one, we ought to make them happy”. I don’t want that.
So I want to go into it knowing that we can deliver on them and if there’s some mild modifications I can make, that’s fine. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel for just one client.
3. Is the Money They’re Paying Worth the Aggravation?
It’s an aggravation factor. We all get clients that are aggravating. I’m aggravating.
I work with people whom I’m their client and I’m aggravating, I’m sure there are certain things that drive me crazy, and if you take me on as a client, I’m sure I pay an aggravation fee for certain things that I pay people to do. Absolutely, I’m sure of it.
And that’s okay. They factored it in. I do the same thing. I’m like, “Oh, I like working with them. But you know, they do take about 20% longer because they’re very picky, but they pay for that”. It’s when you have that picky person and they’re not paying for it that’s the problem. There’s nothing worse than extra work on a job that you’re basically not getting paid for because it’s not built into the cost…
4. Are They Going to Exhaust My Staff?
This is where we really bring on a client again and somebody from my staff says, “Oh, he drove me crazy. They just nit-picked. They emailed me all day. They were blowing up my phone”…and you start getting the full picture and you’re like, wow, this client, they’re paying me a little bit of an aggravation factor, that’s fine, but my staff is beat up at the end of every day.
We had this just last week, a client calls our office and then just basically rip one of my staff members a new one. That client got terminated that day. It’s harder for me to replace my good staff than it is for me to replace a customer, especially a customer who is just rude, expectations are all over the place, and they’re just beating up my staff and talking to them like they are a piece of trash. That’s it, that’s the end.
So sometimes I get feedback from my staff and it just tells me that they’re going to exhaust them. If you’re going to exhaust my staff, you can exhaust my staff one day, maybe two days, but it’s not going to be a day in and day out thing. My staff’s going to feel like they’re in the principal’s office.
5. Do I Get a Gut Feeling That Tells Me It’s Not a Good Fit?
Sometimes it’s nothing more than a gut feeling.
You know, I didn’t get these in the beginning when I was opening my business because I’m so… survival mentality, but now I definitely get it. I probably got it back then and I didn’t listen to my gut feeling, but sometimes the gong doesn’t go off on every one of these questions. You just get that little feeling in your stomach like, God, there’s something about this that I don’t like…
If you get that gut feeling, all I would say is go back through the first four questions, make sure you understand the scope completely. Go back over it with the client and review their expectations. Sometimes I have to tell them, listen to your expectations…unrealistic right here.
Sometimes you just gotta do that email. I call it a rules of engagement email, where you have to clarify the scope of the job, make sure that you can meet their expectations, and tell them, “We’re concerned that this might be a job that really exhausts my staff-based on your expectations”. You’re basically saying to them, “Listen, we’re a little worried about working with you”. Typically, they really want to work with our company so we can get away with this, but I want to tell them kind of, we’re a little concerned, email me back, give me a reason not to have this gut feeling I have right now. And there are times they go on, “We’re not going to do that, we understand, we really want to work with your company”, and I just get them to temper it back a little bit.
Why… because I get a gut feeling. And if my gut feeling doesn’t get relieved, we’re not going to bring you on as out client. Why can we do that? Well, because this is so important.
6. Do I Really Need Your Business?
Do I really need your business? I understand in the start-up phase, yeah, there are times when you make a pack with the Devil. There are times and you’re not even sure what your capability is.
All I would tell you is this. If you’ve taken on a job and you may have bitten off more than you can chew, make sure you are in a position to give the money back. Do you think I’m crazy? There are times we’ve taken jobs where we get into it, and for whatever reason, I don’t know…none of these things jump out. We’re getting ready to start and the customer starts revealing themselves. Man, I can’t give a check back fast enough.
I tell him, you know what, I was a little concerned about this job, but I’m getting the feeling…We’re going to give you your money back and you got a couple of days out of us. We’ll eat that.
Because I don’t need your money that bad. There are times when you gotta make a pack with someone you don’t want to because it’s survival, but that shouldn’t be day in and day out. n
7. Does My Contract/Agreement Protect Me from a Difficult Client?
You need to have that client agreement. It needs to benefit you. Don’t ever have a client provide the agreement. They’re doing business with you. You need to have an agreement that protects you. Something that allows you to get out of a contract if necessary, certain ways before getting into it, just ways to mitigate damages. You don’t want to be strapped to a bad client for six months. You better figure out a way to get out. Sometimes you gotta give some money back and it’s well worth it.
All I can tell you is, contracts for my companies benefit my company and my staff. They come first in our agreements. In your disputes, it goes to mediation before it goes anywhere else. Limit the size of the dispute. In our agreements, the dispute cannot exceed the balance of the contract. If we do 80% of the work on a $100k job, we’ve done $80k worth of work. If at the very end, you’re unhappy and you want your money back… no, not happening.