Way back in the beginning days of my practice, I fell into the niche of providing administrative support to the local small retail biz scene, which was fine for then.
After a few years, however, I realized I didn’t enjoy that niche.
Too many of the biz owners were too new, too green, too flaky, always having cashflow problems in a feast or famine (mostly famine) marketplace… and me having to chase after the money they owed me far too often.
At the time, I also had a separate bookkeeping division of my practice that came into being for no valid reason other than, besides administrative support, all the biz owners needed and wanted this work.
One of these bookkeeping clients was always “threatening” to hire me for my administrative support as well. This client was FAR from ideal, but I was still green myself at that stage and didn’t know how to turn away those folks.
One day she finally decided she had to do it, needed to do it and couldn’t avoid it any longer and asked me how we could get started.
So I sent her the preliminary questionnaire I had at the time and we set a date for an informal consultation.
I use the word “informal” because she was already a bookkeeping client and my ignorant thinking at the time was that she didn’t need a full, “formal” consultation.
Wrong. Now that I’m smarter and know far better, I would tell my younger self to never take shortcuts with my consultation process. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve known a client, that consultation process is there for a reason.
Anyhoo, the consultation date came around and she still hadn’t returned the questionnaire.
Geez, I was getting so freaking tired of clients like this! (Sadly, she wasn’t the first).
So I told this client that before we could meet, I needed her to complete the questionnaire and get it back to me at least 48 hours in advance of our meeting so I had time to review the information. Then I set a rescheduled date/time.
I figured, hey, I’m not going to enjoy life anyway dealing with this kind of crap all the time so I really have nothing to lose by standing firm on this issue.
Well, she ends up getting the questionnaire back to me before the meeting, but only just barely and NOT within the 48-hour advance time I requested, AND not only is she late, but the thing is incomplete!
Oh, I could just knock myself upside the head now at even indulging in a client like this, but being the dumb, naive rookie business owner I was then, I didn’t want to rock the boat.
I felt like I’d be “harping” or “nagging” about something she seemed to think was unimportant if I insisted on rescheduling the meeting yet again “just” because she didn’t complete the form fully.
I stuffed my needs and instead decided to make do, be flexible, and elicit the info during the meeting.
So we met on the phone and as the conversation started going, it quickly became clear that most of what she was wanting wasn’t administrative support at all, it was design work.
I pointed this out to her, indicating that if that was what she needed most, we could certainly switch gears and talk about that.
Her indignant response was, “Well, I don’t know if I’m okay with that!”
You see, at the time, I was barely charging for my service.
I was definitely doing some things right, like having different divisions in my practice and separating specific categories of business from each other, but I look back now and can hardly believe I had so undervalued all that I offered. It just makes me cringe.
And in turn, the mentality of a large majority of the clients I was attracting at that time were of the “get something for practically nothing” variety and all the unhappy-making characteristics those clients bring to the table.
And this client definitely fell into that category.
She thought she was going to get a ton of design work and all these other different categories of service (bookkeeping, admin support, etc.) lumped into my administrative support and get away with paying barely anything for it.
She knew what a bargain she’d be getting if that was the case. She knew what it would have cost her for those design services at a dedicated design house. And she wanted to take advantage.
That exchange was one of the primary turning points early on in my business. It was one of the driving forces in how I changed and adapted my practice to serve MY needs first, become a client snob and not give a moment’s notice to anyone who doesn’t get it or who doesn’t honor and respect me and my needs as a business in the same way they value theirs.
As my own mentor so succinctly puts it, “Partners do not take advantage of each other!”
BUT, and this is very important, I recognized that the fault here didn’t necessarily belong to these unideal clients.
It was me. I was attracting exactly the kind of clients my message spoke to.
Let me say that again: The problem wasn’t the clients; it was me.
I needed to improve my message. I need to get clear about the kind of clients I wanted to attract (and the ones I didn’t). I needed to get clear about what I was in business to do and what I wasn’t.
I needed to write for the kind of audience I wanted to attract.
I needed to speak of and value what I offered more appropriately so I would draw the kind of clients to me who valued it as well.
I needed to continue to learn how to market better and understand the correlations between the message I give out and who and how it attracts.
I needed to improve my explanations about things so that prospects better understood what I was offering and how so they could then decide whether or not the solution I was in business to offer was what they needed or not–and I wouldn’t have to waste time and aggravation trying to make a fit out of the ones it wasn’t.
So if you’re getting contacted by prospects who only seem to want project work, not administrative support, if they all seem to be looking for the cheapest provider, discounts and freebies, if the clients you take on never seem to be ideal, don’t immediately blame the clients.
It’s not them most of the time.
It’s your message and the standards, ideals and solutions it portrays.
Fix that and you’ll start attracting a different (better) kind of client. 😉