“I don’t know why you called.”
It’s a tone of voice Kay never thought she’d hear from a client. Especially one she delivered on time and under budget for.
“What do you want?” the woman asks.
Kay paused then suggested, “I want to clear the air between us.”
“There’s nothing to talk about. You did more than I asked for.”
Kay, a landscape architect, didn’t want to argue with the woman but that just wasn’t true. They had discussed the level of detail for a deck plan and she’d told the woman that the drawings would take as much as 10 hours.
The conversation ended as it began. No resolution.
Kay had upheld her end of the client-consultant deal, yet she lay awake that night, mind churning, “What could I have done differently? Where was I at fault?”
She felt totally and completely crappy. She wanted to throw in the towel.
If you work with clients and have a certain amount of sensitivity, I’d be willing to bet that you, too, have had at least one bewildering episode. The kind that triggered such self-doubt that your very existence as a business owner was called into serious question.
A potential client invited Kay out to her place. They spent a considerable amount of time walking the site while the woman explained all kinds of ideas she had for this spot and that.
It became clear to Kay from listening that the woman had more ideas than dollars so she moved the conversation toward high priority, bite-sized next steps.
They zeroed in on the deck design, which the woman said was actually highest on the priority list. “I have someone who can do the work for me, he just doesn’t know what to do.”
Kay told her she could draw up plans for her. She is a landscape architect, after all. “Great!” the woman said.
Kay estimated around 10 hours for the job.
The woman said, “Just invoice me.”
And Kay, sensitive to the woman’s budget did, completing the drawings in half that time and billing accordingly.
The was a note with the payment that indicated the woman was unhappy. Wanting to clear the air, Kay called her. You’ve already read what happened in that call.
How could this have been prevented?
- Give folks an opportunity to self-select themselves out
This is really about clarity. When you know what you’re about and can articulate that, you’re as much as saying to the world: here’s my avenue and I’m not interested in playing in the gutter.
Two practical ways you convey this is through a succinct Services page and “How My Services Work” piece. A curious person will be less likely to ask you out to wander their property when they see that your services begin with conceptual drawings and go all the way through construction plans and management.
Make these pages on your website, turn them into ready-to-send emails, use them as talking points when someone calls to inquire about your services.
- Sign a contract with every client, even for the small jobs.
For most people, it takes getting burned to learn this one.
Depending on your field of work, this doesn’t have to be a long, cumbersome document filled with confusing legalese. To the contrary, the point is to make sure you are on the same page.
All kinds of neuro-science studies have shown just how much of what we hear is dependent on our own experience. The chances that two people will recall the same details from a conversation a month or six months ago is pretty near impossible.
- Learn signs of your ideal/non-ideal clients
Some people are addicted, not just love but addicted, to circling around in La-La Idea Land. They love talking about their ideas and visualizing grandiose plans. They do not like to commit to just one idea. These are not your ideal clients, unless creating mind maps for your clients is your business.
The trouble is that if a La-La Idea Land person agrees to something in the heat of the moment and then wakes up to find they are out of their comfort zone, don’t be surprised if they lash out. And guess who’s in their line of fire?
Can you discern these folks?
Some signs that I’ve identified:
- bubbling positivity, i.e. they haven’t felt the pain of indecision thus have no desire to change
- they change the subject when you try to narrow in on one idea
- they’ve worked with several different people already and are sure this time it will be different (if those others were qualified, then it’s probably not about you, it’s about them)
Doing business is about so much more than the craft you excel at, but you knew that. You are also marketer, copy writer and billing department. Now add psychologist to the list.
And if it does happen?
You know how your head does a brilliant job of blowing things out of proportion, especially as you’re laying in bed staring into the darkness? This can color your mood and nag your thoughts for days.
Denial is no good. That’ll just bite you in the butt later on.
On the same day as The Situation, Process. Your psyche needs understanding and completion. Be compassionate with yourself and acknowledge your role in the situation.
However you get back into your Truth, do it. Journal about it. Discuss it with someone whose objective perspective you trust. Whatever your way is.
2. Bounce back
Acknowledge your feelings, find the lessons, and then bounce back. Soon, like the next day.
Pull your focal point away from The Painful, Awkward, Terrible Situation and get your attention back on helping your clients, being your best, and the bigger picture of why you are doing the work you are doing.
Is there any follow up action with the client? Do it ASAP.
Any preventative measures for the future? Put them in place.
Catching yourself replaying the situation? Stop.
You might feel like it but you won’t die.
Thank gawd a silver lining is to be found in these ridiculously awkward moments. Even if you end up on hands and knees, head hanging low, scratches on palms, and feeling totally defeated, you are resilient.
You will lift up enough to set one foot solidly on the ground, then the other, you’ll straighten your legs, brush yourself off and go forth a little taller for having survived.
And the future? With eyes open and another notch in your lipstick case, you’ll sidestep the murky puddles with grace and ease.
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