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Posted by Lara Feltin, Seattle, Washington | Jan 26, 2012

Subscribe to Hot Topics & Controversy Do you say no to a potential new client who's not a good fit, when you need the money?

Recently a friend found herself mulling over this question. She's a consultant that provides services for small businesses. Her goal for 2012 was to stop taking on sole proprietors as clients, and start focusing on larger businesses that fit her specialty.

Then, this week, a peer who'd worked with her on a previous job (for a sole proprietor), referred a new client to her -- another sole proprietor. She could use the money, so at what point does she stand her ground and say no?

No matter what the experts say about not taking the clients that aren't a good fit, it's hard to turn down business when you need the money.

They say that if you do take the jobs you don't want, you'll...

A -- lock yourself in to work that produces resentment

B -- strengthen the reputation that you work with a type of client you're moving away from

And perhaps most importantly --
C -- not be available if the right job comes along, b/c you'll be busy with this one.

That being said -- is there a middle ground?

Maybe if you...

A -- bid a price that's high enough to overcome any resentment

B -- take the job as a favor to the referer, but let them know that's the last one and update them on what you're really looking for

C -- set a clear deadline for the job, so if the right job comes along, you could still take it with only a slight delay.

What are your thoughts?


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36 Bizniks have posted replies

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  • Certified Public Accountant 
Seattle, Washington 
Laura Dodson, CPA
    Posted by Laura Dodson, CPA, Seattle, Washington | Jan 26, 2012

    If it's truly a bad fit, I try to find someone else that could help them at that price point they are looking for.

  • merchant services / credit card processing Art Torelli 
Seattle, Washington 
Arthur Torelli
    Posted by Arthur Torelli, Seattle, Washington | Jan 26, 2012

    You need to define why the client is a bad fit. You don't want to turn down work until you are out of business. Maybe you want something else but if you can't get enough of that to make a full time living? I say take the work if you can do it. Worry about the big fish when its swimming by.

  • Certified Public Accountant 
Seattle, Washington 
Laura Dodson, CPA
    Posted by Laura Dodson, CPA, Seattle, Washington | Jan 26, 2012

    But if its in the incorrect market for you, it could be a disaster. Ex. I had an inquiry for processing over 5,000 1099's for a company. I was flattered, but my business model isn't set up to deal with that volume. I sent them to some people who would be interested in that volume.

  • Chief Executive Officer 
Federal Way, Washington 
Richard Whitaker
    Posted by Richard Whitaker, Federal Way, Washington | Jan 27, 2012

    I think that the best way to handle a situation like this is to explain that you appreciate their trust in you, but you don't feel that you can do the best job for them, for whatever the reason may be. Also have people that you can refer to them.

  • Biznik Co-founder/CEO 
Seattle, Washington 
Lara Feltin
    Posted by Lara Feltin, Seattle, Washington | Jan 27, 2012

    Thanks for chiming in! I agree, it seems that speaking with the referrer and letting them know the direction you're heading is most important, whether you decide to take the client or not.

  • Mentor For Hire 
Kirkland, Washington 
Nadir Zulqernain, Ph.D.
    Posted by Nadir Zulqernain, Ph.D., Kirkland, Washington | Jan 27, 2012

    If the service you offer fits the client needs, then it is your obligation (to your business) that you make the needed adjustments to accommodate this new client. Yes, some clients can be difficult, however, starting to walk away from a tough client, or a complicated situation because you are unwilling to be flexible or put in the extra effort is usually a slippery slope that does not end well.

    If you are in business, and you can get business, take it!

  • Certified Cat Behavior Consultant 
Nashville, Tennessee 
Pam Johnson-Bennett, CCBC
    Posted by Pam Johnson-Bennett, CCBC, Nashville, Tennessee | Jan 27, 2012

    In my profession (animal behavior consulting) I end up referring clients to other colleagues who are a better fit - whether it's because of the client's financial limit or because I know a particular colleague has a specialty in a certain area. I find that clients truly appreciate that I care enough to make sure they get a good match.

  • Seattle WordPress Trainer 
Seattle, Washington 
Bob Dunn
    Posted by Bob Dunn, Seattle, Washington | Jan 27, 2012

    Well, when I first saw this post I wanted to jump right in, but then I also wanted to see some other perspectives. It has been interesting, and dare I say, I might rock the boat a bit on this...

    First, to address changing focus or niche, and turning down perspective clients/jobs. I have spent the last 20+ years in biz. But in the most recent three years I have narrowed down my focus, and my clients. When I decided to niche down, that meant turning down certain work, even large jobs, where I could have used the money.

    But it was more important to me to brand myself and focus on what I wanted, than to take anything that came along, even though I felt qualified to do it. A good example of this is when I quit doing print design. I basically let a lot of existing clients know that I wasn't doing it anymore, refused any new print client jobs, and for some long-term clients, helped them through the transition to another designer. It was tough, but in the long run it paid off. I wouldn't do it any other way.

    As far as difficult and tough clients, well, it's hard to make a blanket statement saying you should be willing to do the work no matter what. So many factors fall into place. I have turned away clients, as well as ended projects, where I saw red flags popping up everywhere. This was not a result of not being flexible, as I am very flexible, nor was it because of my refusal to put in any extra effort. I always will bend over backward for a client, but if it's not working, or I get that "certain feeling" before I take a job, well, I'm not going to do it. I love a challenge, but not a pain in the butt.

    I have also been in the situation where I was put in a place that made it hard to really say no, as Lara referred to. There was a point where I thought, yes, maybe I'll factor in the extra time and costs, or take it with the terms that yes, I won't be doing these kind of jobs anymore, but just this one time... Well, in the end that always worked out bad, as I was taking something I didn't want to do. So instead, I have found just being honest and upfront with people on where I stand has worked the best. And typically, people are thankful for the honesty.

    And as many have said, I have a good list of referrals. If the job doesn't fit me, I know or will find someone who can do it for them, within their parameters of skills and cost. And for my strong referrals, I also am careful who I send their way, so I do a bit of initial screening, which they appreciate.

    I find too many people out there who say they can do things when in the end, because of the challenges of the job, and having questioned whether they should have taken it, it ends badly for them AND the client.

  • Holistic Business Coach 
Portland, Oregon 
Taylor Ellwood
    Posted by Taylor Ellwood, Portland, Oregon | Jan 27, 2012

    I turned down a job today. I no longer want to do the work and the price was too low, even if I did want to do it. Do I need the money? Sure. But I feel that I can get the money by being authentic and that turning down a job that goes against that authenticity is probably the best thing I can do to insure that in the long run I get what I want: The type of clients I want to serve, who really need what I have to offer.

  • Professional Training & Coaching 
Seattle, Washington 
Michael Hartzell
    Posted by Michael Hartzell, Seattle, Washington | Jan 28, 2012

    Rarely is something to be as it appears on the surface. What appears to be a good/bad fit has surprises.

    Vision takes you places where there might be temporary discomfort at times. Weight loss, climbing a mountain... and blazing new trails with people who appear not to be a good fit. Those who are vision driven will take on many projects for more reason than whether it is comfortable.

    I like your suggestion of bidding the price in such a way to create a better win-win. This may give opportunity to delegate/hire for those tasks which are not great.

    There once was a saying -- First we do what we need to do so then we can do what we want to do.

    I suppose the farmers could look out at the cows one day and decide they only want to milk the cows when it is convenient.

    When someone can wake up in the morning and declare the world needs them more than they need the world, that is a good time to declare independence.

    In the meantime, your suggestions are good. If the person in question was too busy to take on the job, then the answer is: Wait in line. :)

    Your comment about the referrer may be the most important aspect of all. Since the world is wrapped so much around trust, faith and relationships... and a referral is like giving away a piece of oneself; that referral is more than just someone walking in the door.

    It would be a shame to be snooty to someone's referral because it doesn't quite smell right.

    When your mother serves food that is just a little different, you eat it with a smile and say --- Mom, this is the best ever. ---- You show appreciation. Right?

  • Blogging Coach and Copywriter 
Seattle, Washington 
Judy Dunn
    Posted by Judy Dunn, Seattle, Washington | Jan 28, 2012

    Wow, the suggestion that biz owners are snooty if they turn down a certain project is foreign to me.

    I think it all boils down to what do you want to do, who do you want to serve, and how do you set your business up so you attract those "right people". Maybe it comes with focus. Maybe it comes with age. I decided what I wanted to pursue and I am keeping my eye on the prize. I have finally decided what is important in my life and I am going for it.

    Thanks, Lara, for introducing this very important question. : )

  • Interior Home Improvement 
Pacific, Washington 
Mike Gallatin
    Posted by Mike Gallatin, Pacific, Washington | Jan 28, 2012

    Well put Michael. There have been a few clients I wished I had just walked away from when the signs were clear. The experiances over the years have helped me to read most people pretty well. Because of this I get a better understanding of what clients will expect. The flooring industry has been brutalized by this economy and there are still stores closing the doors. We have to adapt to what ever business the people bring us. I am grateful ! No matter what......"Service Is Everything"

  • Coworking, Office Space and Meeting Rooms / Strategic and Business Planning Consultant 
Issaquah, Washington 
Richard Gabel
    Posted by Richard Gabel, Issaquah, Washington | Jan 28, 2012

    If you have the time (after including needed sales and marketing), you can add value to the client and you need the money, by all means take the work. Taking on a new client doesn't make them a client for life.

    A client will drop you at the blink of an eye. I don't recommend doing the same to a client, but you can phase them out without damaging your reputation.

    If someone needs help, they are willing to pay, you can help and you've got the time by all means do it. Even if you have a niche strategy, you don't have to be 100% in your niche. If you're only 20% in you niche you need to do a little soul searching.

  • Graphic Designer 
Issaquah, Washington 
Kevin O'Conner
    Posted by Kevin O'Conner, Issaquah, Washington | Jan 28, 2012

    What about:

    D: Determining the scope of the project, then deciding whether or not to take on the sole proprietor as a client?

    Perhaps the job isn't one that requires a huge time commitment, and could be accomplished without having to forego other opportunities…

    Or:

    E: Being upfront about serving only larger businesses, and offering to refer the client to someone more appropriate for the job?

    Handled appropriately, it seems to me she'd gain the appreciation of the client, who—you never know—could end up referring clients to her in the future…

  • Biznik Co-founder/CEO 
Seattle, Washington 
Lara Feltin
    Posted by Lara Feltin, Seattle, Washington | Jan 28, 2012

    Great perspectives. Thanks for sharing, everyone!

    Personally I resonate most with Kevin's options for D & E.

    And with Bob's: "...in the end (the thought that yes, maybe I'll factor in the extra time and costs, or take it with the terms that yes, I won't be doing these kind of jobs anymore, but just this one time...) always worked out bad, as I was taking something I didn't want to do. So instead, I have found just being honest and upfront with people on where I stand has worked the best. And typically, people are thankful for the honesty..."

    There are a lot of unknown variables in this scenario. Ultimately, we will each act on a case-by-case basis. But it's helpful for us to hear how others respond to similar situations.

  • merchant services / credit card processing Art Torelli 
Seattle, Washington 
Arthur Torelli
    Posted by Arthur Torelli, Seattle, Washington | Feb 01, 2012

    Yes, this question doesn't travel business lines very well all of the time. Taking on work you might not want can't always be right. Just don't don't go out of business from your ivory tower.

  • Consultant 
Seattle, Washington 
Wendy Gillihan, MAcc, PHR
    Posted by Wendy Gillihan, MAcc, PHR, Seattle, Washington | Feb 03, 2012

    I have a network of wonderful professionals that I refer clients on to - so they have a highly qualified place to land. Some of the prospective clients come back and thank me for doing so. In some cases they become clients later on when it is a good fit. It isn't that I don't want to the money. Sometimes (in my type of industry anyway) it is a matter of ethics. If I take a client's limited funds for my services when what they really need is a tax professional for example - to me that just isn't the right call. I also enjoy the process of building referral relationships with people, learning what they do well and want to focus on - and connecting them to clients that I might not be the right fit for but they are perfect. Everyone is better off and everyone's business grows that way.

    Once I started to refer clients on to someone that could better serve them my revenue spiked dramatically actually. I have more time to focus on the areas that I do well instead of trying to be everything to everyone. Some diversification is wise and I do take clients outside of my ideal in some cases. I just limit it so when the big fish does swim by I have the bandwidth to handle the project.

  • Ignore the map, it doesn't work! 
Everett, Washington 
Dennis Dilday, D.C.
    Posted by Dennis Dilday, D.C., Everett, Washington | Feb 05, 2012

    Very important question Lara and a great conversation. You can hear the voice of much experience in the responses and even where there is disagreement you can tell that some will comfortable with their outcomes, others more comfortable with theirs.

    In health care too there are many issues and much to be learned from many years of mistakes (lessons). There are many many styles of Chiropractic care and many many different types of Chiropractic Doctors. Sometimes it's clear that another style of practice would be more appropriate for a new patient. Hopefully, it's simply a matter of already knowing who in the area is good at what and sending the new patient in that direction. I do that regularly since I focus on The Activator Method and the few other things that I specialize in.

    Then there is the whole, "it doesn't feel right" or "It's not a good match." issue. Here again there are a lot of possibilities in health care that may not occur to someone in other types of work. It is important though to understand that whoever is your office is making an impression on all the other people who come and go. People come in, they see other people, notice everything about them and judge whether they are in the right place or not, then they stay or don't stay accordingly (there are other factors but it's bigger than many would think). This applies regardless of how well the patient responds to care: they almost all feel better - which is what they want - but whether they choose to take their health to a higher level begins to be related to all kinds of other things.

    The dynamic of who referred and who you refer to and their impression about also run the gamut. We mostly don't refer the easy cases. An easy case will respond to any kind of Chiropractic care and do well. Then it's just convenience, personalities and economics. Often when someone refers a patient to me or I refer to them, it's because we need help getting results, or the patient specifically asks for what we offer. In particular people ask for the Activator Method. The local Chiropractors can either refer to someone with training and experience or if they happen to own and Activator Instrument, they may use it to adjust the patient (not the same as using the Method or following the protocols, an inexperienced patient wouldn't know the difference; an experienced patient will and they will move on).

    At this point I am comfortable, when I know that seeing this particular patient is just not going to be a good experience to refer them on. There is an ongoing joke that the "bad" ones you refer to people who you don't care for. I don't do that but I do sometimes refer them back to their medics.

    It's also true that sometime I have to refer to another Chiropractic Doctor and when I talk to the doctor I let them know that I am not doing them any favors: it's a difficult care for some reason. They know me, understand that, and either take the case of don't. They know that I will do the same and are comfortable referring to me on the same basis.

    It takes a while to get these issues worked out in your head and to workout referral networks where the expectations are met on all sides. I have medical doctors, physical therapists, massage therapists and acupuncture professionals in my community who all know me and are happy to both refer to me and help when I refer to them. It's an important part of the service we have to provide our patients.

  • Biznik Co-founder/CEO 
Seattle, Washington 
Lara Feltin
    Posted by Lara Feltin, Seattle, Washington | Feb 07, 2012

    Thanks, Dennis. I always appreciate your contributions to the conversation.

  • Nonprofit Marketing and Fundraising 
Seattle, Washington 
Susan Kernes
    Posted by Susan Kernes, Seattle, Washington | Feb 17, 2012

    I'm new to Biznik but not to my field of work. I am reading these comments with great interest.

    There have been times in the past when I needed to refer work to other consultants, but that's rare. Unless I feel taking a project would result in disaster for me or the organization, I do my utmost to accommodate requests or offers of work, for most all of the reasons mentioned above.

    Thank you for your intelligent and insightful observations.

    Susan

  • Wise Woman, Shaman, Author, Aura Portraits 
Anacortes, Washington 
Elke Siller Macartney
    Posted by Elke Siller Macartney, Anacortes, Washington | Feb 19, 2012

    insightful, thoughtful responses bizniks! I am more than impressed, because, as the conversation so colorfully demonstrates, there are no easy answers to this question. It is an individual choice for an individual's business.

    That said, I have faced this issue time and again in my 26+ year business as a counselor, healer, and even as a wedding officiate: The budget wasn't quite balanced (read that as it's in the red), economic slowdown prevailed, and along came a phone call or email from a potential client/bride and groom/someone in need of what I had to offer. Immediate jubilation--"The tide is turning, yay!"--gave way to dismay when red flags started waving: Signs of a possible non-fit to my way of doing my business, or a hint of a probable "Bridezilla" or.... Yikes! Now what?

    What I've found to work for me is this commitment: I try to never ever say "yes" when I really mean "no". Period.

    I say no, when I mean no....and then I move on. And lo and behold, the clarity of the "no" leads to a "yes": The kind of client I actually love working with, who pays me on time, or a project that is a win-win situation all around.

    The few times I HAVE said "Um, sure. Yes." when everything in me has said "No!" have been either disastrous affairs or, at the minimum, while I was busy with the client or project from (my personal) Hell, another client or project will come along that is a terrific fit...but I'd have to untangle from the unwanted business first....ugh. Complicated. Out of integrity. And that is the short list.

    All this is to say: Trust your selves. Really. It's ok. You feel like you need to take on the challenge? Go for it! You break into an immediate sweat and stomach upset? Umm...perhaps this is a sign....a big old, fire engine red flag waving in your face. To which a compassionate or diplomatic "no" followed by a possible referral (or not) might be in order.

    "No" is not a bad word. Trust that you will know when to use it. blessings, Elke

  • Wise Woman, Shaman, Author, Aura Portraits 
Anacortes, Washington 
Elke Siller Macartney
    Posted by Elke Siller Macartney, Anacortes, Washington | Feb 19, 2012

    Hmmmm.... well this is what I love about being an entrepreneur, and a biznik: It is Saturday night, and upon checking in on featured articles, I go ahead and check on hot topics of discussion. And respond to this one. which prompts a discussion with my brilliant husband, leading to a great illustration/ example of my above comment, leading to an article idea I am about to write a draft of.

    Ok, so its not a hot Saturday night date, but it is a hot place to go for inspiration at times...Thanks Lara! Article on The clarity of "no" will be in biznik's article inbox soon! more blessings, Elke

  • Certified Cat Behavior Consultant 
Nashville, Tennessee 
Pam Johnson-Bennett, CCBC
    Posted by Pam Johnson-Bennett, CCBC, Nashville, Tennessee | Feb 19, 2012

    Elke, what a terrific response. I can also use that very valuable advice not only in business but as a mom, a friend, a daughter, a sister, and a wife.

  • Biznik Co-founder/CEO 
Seattle, Washington 
Lara Feltin
    Posted by Lara Feltin, Seattle, Washington | Feb 19, 2012

    Elke, I love it! Sign of a true community.

  • Wise Woman, Shaman, Author, Aura Portraits 
Anacortes, Washington 
Elke Siller Macartney
    Posted by Elke Siller Macartney, Anacortes, Washington | Feb 19, 2012

    Pat, thank you! Yes I speak from experience as the same-- mom, friend, daughter, wife, entrepreneur. Look for the above comment embedded in my article soon!

    I am posting this week under the title The Metaphysics of Business, Part 11: The Clarifying Power of "No".

    Many blessings, E

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