Pick the Right Clients

As a coda to last week’s post about understanding,  communicating and being rewarded with money and respect for your value, I add thoughts about how to recognize good and bad prospective clients so that you will be positioned to sell on value and avoid being treated as a mere commodity.

As mentioned last week,  it’s important to develop the confidence to understand and accept that your services are not meant for every possible prospect.  Those who intend to exploit and devalue Freelancers will get us nothing but a knot in the stomach and lousy pay.

I know all too well,  however,  that sometimes it’s about paying the rent and keeping the phone on.  Who among us has not worked with a client who was a complete jerk early in the game,  but we kept telling ourselves that we’re pros,  we’ll make it work,  just get the frigging money and pay the g-d bills?

Other times,  it’s about getting the right name on the client list and catapulting yourself to the next level.  So you roll with the punches and vow never to work with the SOB ever again.  Even billionaires wind up doing business with those they’d rather not, so they can stay billionaires.  Business is like that.

Yet we do have some measure of control over the clients we work with,  no matter how dismal the economy.  It starts with our very own business model and whom we envision as our target clients: Fortune 1000s and large not-for-profits,  arts or social service organizations,  medical device and biotech.  Perhaps you decline to pursue chemical companies that create seeds for genetically engineered crops,  or tobacco companies,  or start-ups of any kind.

Whoever your target clients,  you must avoid like the plague those who display disrespectful or unethical behavior.  The sorting process takes place in the initial meetings.  First,  pay attention to how the particulars of the project and its scope are presented.  There should be attainable goals,  specific deliverables,  a clear idea of what your role will be and a reasonable project time-table.

The client should probably do 70% of the talking in your first meeting,  but there should be space for you to add your insights to the discussion as well.  Your second clue is,  have you been invited to add your thoughts about possible solutions and strategies,  or is your prospective client the supreme expert who casts you in the role of supplicant?

Several months ago,  I spoke with a prospect who had one set of goals during a phone meeting and our first face to face and a rather different set of goals in our second meeting.  Our first meeting was great,  our second meeting was revealing.  The prospect did all the talking and blocked a true dialogue.  Goals had changed and they seemed unattainable to me.  My perspective was not sought and my value seemed unappreciated.  Further talks were postponed as the prospect decided to take a vacation.  Eventually,  she opted to shelve the project. I was furious at the time but  now realize that she did me a favor.

As you get to know your prospective client do not ignore how he/she speaks in reference to other Freelancers with whom he/she may have worked.  Very early in Freelancing,  I met a prospect who was oh,  so charming in meeting #1.  But in the second meeting,  he showed his true colors by making frequent references to how he was reliably able to hire Freelancers to work  “cheap”.  Also,  as he described the project,  my role and the deliverable,  he stipulated ridiculously scant hours and short time frame for project completion.

Definitely,  I should have walked right out of that clown’s office after politely suggesting that it might be best if he contacted one of his  “cheap”  Freelancers for that assignment  (I wanted to, believe me).  But I was needy and desperate for both money and a better client list,  so I meekly sat there and sucked up the attack on my professional value,  signed the contract and began work.

The whole impossible task was going nowhere and I was not even close to producing the deliverable as scheduled when lucky for me,  a ranking staff member realized the whole thing was untenable and stepped in to work with me.  That staff member understood my value and appreciated the contributions that I made to setting the stage for the project’s eventual successful completion (and also ensured that I was paid on time).

So what is the moral of this story?  As always,  learn to appreciate and communicate your value as a competent professional and insist that all who aspire to work with you do so as well.  It’s the only way to be a successful Freelancer.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

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