Archive for May 26th, 2010

Should There Be a Probationary Period?

Dear Danielle:

I’m wondering if I should offer a three-month probationary period to new clients to make sure we are a fit. Is this customary? Is it a good idea?

A probationary period for what? Are you applying for a job?

“Probationary periods” don’t have any place in a business relationship. Probationary periods are for employees. The term reveals someone who is thinking with employee mentality. But you’re not applying for a job. You’re running a business. Aren’t you?

Here’s how I would advise you to shift your thinking on this. First, the concept of a “probationary period” in your business is really akin to auditioning. And auditioning is obsequious. It portrays you as someone who doesn’t think of herself as a business equal with something of quality and value to offer.

It’s also narcissistic and condescending. Who are you to second-guess a client’s decision to work with you? It says to them, “I don’t think you are an adult who can be trusted to know whether the decision you made to work with me was a good choice or not so I’m going to patronizingly give you a few months to still decide.” You’re basically telling them they are too stupid to make their own decision and commitment.

Worse, it tells them to second-guess you… after you went to all the effort to let folks know that you are someone with something great to offer who can really help. It puts them in a “testing” frame of mind that actually delays the start of the “real” relationship.

And that’s just flat out stupid. You don’t need to be tested. You just need to get down to it.

Here’s how business works…

You study your target market. You get to know the people in it, how their businesses are run, what their challenges and objectives are and how your solution can fit into resolving those challenges and achieving those goals. So you put up a website that speaks to them and those things. You create compelling, resonate messaging and package your solutions in a way that is most attractive to them and draws them to you. You hang out and network where folks in your target market can be found and you have real, genuine conversations with them, allowing them to get to know you as a person while  getting a sense of your competence and expertise at the same time.

Eventually, someone with a need for your solution and who is attracted to you and what you have to offer will want to talk with you about working together. That’s where your consultation comes in. You might have one conversation, you might have more. After that, each of you are grownups who get to decide for yourselves whether there is a mutual fit or not.

And if there’s a mutual fit, you enter into a business relationship (that’s your contract) and begin working together. That’s it. But what you do is replace a “probationary period” with a clean and easy termination clause in your contract that allows either of you to end the business relationship with X amount of written notice (personally, I use 20 days notice).

Simple as that. There doesn’t need to be some irrelevant, drawn-out “probationary period.” At any point that the relationship becomes not a fit anymore, for either of you, for any reason, you can easily walk away according to the terms of the termination clause. It really doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that.

(By the way, all of the contracts in the Administrative Consultant Success Store include legal language for this.)

The only “auditioning” you should be doing after you have entered into your business contract/retained administrative support relationship is the continued competent demonstration of your skills and following through of the things you promised you could/would do for clients–basically, just doing good work. That is what will secure their desire to keep working together and growing the relationship.

And any client who truly is wishy-washy, can’t make a decision, and wants you to keep jumping through auditioning, probationary hoops is not one you can afford to waste your time and energy on. Next!