Be picky when choosing clients and vendors

AgreementPerhaps the best part of being self employed is the ability to choose who we work with. Choosing the best of each is, to me, similar to choosing the systems I use for work. I think it goes all the way back to when I was a kid, mowing the lawn by myself for the first time. My dad came out, asking why I hadn’t started after 20 minutes of staring at the yard. I told him, “I haven’t figured out the fastest way to cut it yet!” After all, I was looking at years of cutting that lawn, and over time it would pay to cut it as efficiently as possible.

Admittedly, I never became a lawn care mogul, but over time I did have a more satisfying experience, knowing I was getting things done quickly, and able to move on to whatever the weekend had in store for me.

The joys of client relationships

I am fortunate to work with large organizations (like Adobe) and busy training companies like roundpeg and Iconlogic. These companies are great because their projects are specific, well-defined, and interesting. Generally, they give me a steady stream of work that will “keep the lights on.”

But I also get to work with small organizations and individuals that just need a little help in navigating their own projects. And these are the projects that pique my interest. They are the ones that require creativity, and come with a sense of accomplishment. Seeing the impact these have on smaller organizations is fulfilling, and while the projects are usually paid, they often pay less than the “corporate” stuff. No matter, having the gratitude of the smaller people and organizations helps smooth out my work week!

If you are one of the folks that engages me for small scale projects, thanks for the energy you give back to me!

The energy suckers

Of course there’s the flip side of the client coin as well.

Years ago a friend told me she needed to quit hanging out with one of her circles of friends. The reason: The friends spent much their time dissecting minor disagreements with others in their lives. And they never seemed to get them solved. After spending time with them, my friend felt drained, and less positive than she wanted. Her solution was to apply the Energy Sucker label to them, and make a conscious effort to avoid them until they attached  themselves to someone else. Years later I heard the term, emotional vampire, and I immediately thought of my old friend, proud of her for identifying the condition so many years earlier. It’s too bad she didn’t write it up…I’m sure there was a serious amount of money made with that catchy description!

Following on with the emotional vampire theme, I recently parted ways with a web designer. I really liked her work and wanted to maintain the relationship. She also had quite reasonable rates. The problem was that she couldn’t follow through on her commitments. We’d have a call, figure out what needed to be done, even set some deadlines. Then I’d follow up on the schedule, have difficulty getting in touch, and have to listen to all her reasons for why the work didn’t get completed.

In the end, I didn’t get the experience I wanted. I wasn’t buying web design, I was buying happiness. I wanted to point to something about my site, say “I want you to make that look amazing” and then pay my bill. I didn’t want to send emails 4 out of 5 consecutive days, and then hear back 6 weeks later. And yes, this happened. This wasn’t the first time the designer had “gone dark” on me. I expected the designer to recognize the huge gap in contact, and to act as I would to make up for the mistake by getting back on track with outstanding items and improved communication. That didn’t happen, and because we’d discussed this previously, I’m sure that my expectations were set a bit too high.

There’s a moral in that story for all of us. Regardless of our role in an interaction, it’s important to understand what the other person is looking for. Did I want to fix A, B, and C? Of course! But more than that, I wanted to feel valued as a client, and comforted that my customers got the improved, professional experience I wanted for them on my website.

As a client, I could have done a better job of knowing what my vendor’s goals were. Though I asked, I wasn’t able to nail down her motivators. Upon reflection, I wish I’d not given up so easily. So now I need to hire another web designer.

I think what is often said about customers is also true of vendors: It takes (conservatively) 5 times more effort to establish a new (customer/vendor) as it takes to retain an old one. And at the end of the day, it’s more gratifying to work with long-term relationships than with a series of temporary ones.

Lessons learned

Value and stay in touch with both clients and vendors. Both are critical to your success, and both are easy to lose.

What do you think?

Do you agree, or is this too much New Age technobabble? Good and bad, what stories can you tell? No names, please, at least for the bad ones!

Are you a customer or vendor of mine? If so, I hope you feel valued! Please let me know if there’s something I can do to improve our relationship.