The ‘Inner Work’ of Dealing With Clients

Alan Weiss writes:

If you find patterns in your dealings with clients—requests for a “deal,” chronic lateness, insistence on extra work to be done, etc.—the common element is you, not them. You’re giving off “deal vibes” or allowing bad habits which are then continued. Before you complain about lousy clients (or relationships) check to see if the cause isn’t your own behavior and language. That’s easy to correct once you realize it.

We Have Found the Enemy…. – Alan Weiss, PhD

Having a client is a little like dating: it’s easy to attract potential partners that have the same dysfunctions you do … or to attract those that benefit from your dysfunctions.

My own mental health (and happiness with my business) improved dramatically when I realized I had agency, did not need anyone else to empower me, and was on equal footing with my clients, prospective clients, and business partners.

Some examples of adjustments I made involving clients over the years, each of which felt scary to execute on, but amazing upon completion:

  • Making it customary to collect a significant portion of my engagement fee upfront before I even schedule a new project.
  • Eliminating hourly fees.
  • Committing to offering a strong, clear, and compelling guarantee within every one of my proposals.
  • Telling a client flat-out that the work they wish to hire me for is not something I’m particularly qualified for.
  • Nodding and smiling politely while being told my fees are higher than expected and far higher than “other consultants even in more expensive markets” … then leaving my fees entirely alone.
  • Refusing to negotiate fees.
  • Committing to my first substantial retainer arrangement.
  • Explaining for the first time how certain things I was being asked to do weren’t covered under our retainer arrangement, but I’d be happy to assist with outside of it.
  • Being willing to accept projects with select clients that were just vague enough that I normally would not accept them, but where I trusted my judgement regarding my relationship with the buyer that we could make adjustments along the way if need be and had sufficiently clear and trustworthy lines of communication with each other that I was being realistic in my judgement.
  • Pausing a large prepaid engagement indefinitely because of continuous waiting and bottlenecks within the client’s organization that were not being addressed.
  • Telling a prospective client that we simply aren’t a good match.
  • Refusing to talk any further with someone (within an otherwise attractive organization for me to work with) that was not in a position make the decision to hire me, but kept insisting I draw up a proposal.
  • Raising my fees a little.
  • Raising my fees a LOT.
  • Stating politely – but firmly – that “I’d be happy to discuss how I might assist you with that matter, but only after we wrap up this one.”
  • Refusing projects that no longer interested me, even if I had done similar ones in the past and was pretty good in that problem area.

There are many more, but you get the gist.

Certainly do it for the health of your business. But, perhaps more importantly, do it for your mental health.

By Josh Richards

Josh is a consulting network/ systems/ cloud engineer, freelance high stakes IT project manager, and former technology executive. He has consulted on information technology matters for over twenty-five years. In 2006, consulting became his primary source of income (just before the global financial crisis!). He’s a big fan of craft beer, freshly roasted coffee, artistic burlesque, good food, and applying science and reason to problems and opportunities small and large (and just for fun). When he has time and energy he also likes to get out on his bike or attend a soccer match.