If you have your own business, you probably spend no little time worrying about getting and keeping clients. Clients mean money, and money means food on the table, right?
The dangerous part of this equation is that it leads us to think that any client’s a good client. They’re not. What’s a good client for me might be a terrible client for you.
Let’s talk about some of the aspects of your latest prospect that might make them a bad client for your business.
A contact of mine recently attended a preliminary meeting with a new client on the understanding that the client wanted to train its staff using my contact’s service. In fact the client wanted to use the service train the public to use its product—online gambling. My contact had a problem with the ethics of this job, and decided not to continue the pitch.
Ethics can relate to all aspects of the job: how contractors and colleagues are dealt with, which third party services are used, and how the project is marketed. Don’t bother trying to compromise your ethics for the sake of the dollar—you’ll only end up hating yourself, or the client. Or both.
The client organization’s style of working should also be considered. The way your client contacts operate, as well as the structures and systems within which they must operate, can be valid deal-breakers.
Each client organization has its own style, which comprises things like:
- its way of working
- its culture
- review and approval processes
- expectations of employees and contractors
While I know I can do work with clients whose style grates on me, I try not to. Some client reporting requirements are hellish. That just is. You may not enjoy working for startups. That just is, too. It’s rarely, if ever, worth arguing with these realities—better to spend your time looking for a client you’ll enjoy than taking on a client you won’t, and trying to justify that decision with, say, a higher fee or longer timeline.
If the organizational style is worth thinking about, so is the approach of the actual people you’ll be working with on the project. You may or may not be able to get a good idea of all team members before you pitch, but you should get a feel for the key contact—and whether you’ll be able to work well together.
It’s not a bad idea to use your past experience to work out the kinds of people you like working with. My basic criteria look something like this:
- They have a sense of humor.
- They’re good at what they do.
- They’re fair and reasonable.
- They make me feel inspired to help them as much as I can.
That’s it. I’ve listed those criteria in order of importance to me, but all of them need to be met for the project to be worth doing, in my opinion.
I don’t know about you, but I want to be able to talk proudly about every job I do. That’s important for promoting my business, and since my network is small, reputation is important.
I haven’t ever turned down a potential job on the basis of reputation, but I have taken on jobs knowing that they won’t be worth talking about with my contacts. That’s not good.
If you don’t think you’ll be able to talk proudly about the project once it’s done, consider whether it’s right for you. Your reticence probably hints at some underlying mismatch between yourself and the client—perhaps on one of the points I’ve mentioned above.
These are the things I assess when I’m talking with prospective clients—but what about you? How do you work out if a prospect’s a good fit for you and your business?
Georgina has more than fifteen years' experience writing and editing for web, print and voice. With a background in marketing and a passion for words, the time Georgina spent with companies like Sausage Software and sitepoint.com cemented her lasting interest in the media, persuasion, and communications culture.
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