Caring too much about something can put you at a distinct disadvantage.
Car salespeople know this when they detect even the slightest interest or sense any desperation on your part. Savvy negotiators sniff out this weakness when working their magic at the final hour. Children know this when they look up at you and ask for something you wouldn’t normally allow but hope that they can tug at your heart strings with that special look.
Caring too much about acceptance is what enables members of a wild-eyed group to talk each other into a plundering frenzy after an important sports event. Caring too much about avoiding embarrassment is what prompts middle-aged men to trade comfort for prostate cancer.
Caring is good — caring too much is dangerous. And right now, I can’t help but think about how this relates to your own handling of client relationships. So on that subject, what is it that you care about?
The Two (or Three) Things in Client Relationships
Let me suggest that client relationships should be profitable, impactful, and (maybe) fun — in that order. If a client relationship isn’t profitable, it really isn’t a “client” relationship at all but more like a friendship (albeit a fairly empty one because it’s built on false premises).
Profit, impact, and fun are the things you should care about in a client relationship. That leaves off things like an opportunity to build your portfolio, an opportunity to get your foot in the door somewhere and later start to make money, or an opportunity to do Y after you’ve done X. The problem is that these X opportunities seldom lead to anything beyond more X opportunities, and Y is pushed out ahead of you like a raft on the bow wave of a cruise ship — always just out of reach, but never out of sight.
This idea of opportunity is so alluring to us, probably because all of our business lives we are trained to snatch opportunities so that they are not wasted. The United States is the Land of Opportunity, in fact, and countries around the world marvel at the chances we have to follow our instincts and seize the opportunity (or diem, as the case may be).
So where does saying “no” enter this picture? In simple terms, I’m suggesting that you decline any business opportunity that does not allow you to make a profit. I’d go further and say that taking someone’s money and not having an impact on their situation is going to hollow out a big part of your creative soul. And if you have the option to turn down work that is profitable and impactful but not fun, you’re in an enviable position indeed.
Working Hard at Caring Less
Did I just say that? So how do you get to the point where you can say no more often, if that’s that will lead to a better client base, or one that provides more profit, impact, and fun? There’s really only one answer, and that’s to ensure that your opportunities are greater than your capacity. The reason is because that gap — the difference between what your prospects/clients want you to do and what you are capable of doing while maintaining profit, impact, and fun — represents your ability to say no.
By saying “yes” all the time to clients, what you learn to do is work for longer hours (because you haven’t raised capacity to match opportunity), have less impact (because experts don’t say yes all the time), and less money (because the allure blinds you to the true cost).
Desperation (otherwise known as caring too much, which is how this all started) makes you too eager to say yes when it may very well be in your best interest — and even your client’s best interest — if you say no. Desperation is what tempts you to let a whopping opportunity lead you off mission, build capacity to grow so that others think you are successful, and then wind up one day discovering that you are a slave to your own business or job. You wake up every morning thinking about how you are going to keep feeding the machine.
I think you’re starting to see, here, why it’s so important to craft a positioning for yourself that makes you a lot less replaceable in the prospect’s mind, and then to implement a marketing plan so that you always have more opportunities than you can handle, thereby preserving your ability to say no and fight back the client jungle.
That’s how you make money, impact your clients, and have fun in the process. You’ll more actively shape your business and career by saying no than by saying yes, all things considered. So start caring about the things that make sense for your business and career, okay? Competent people are seldom stymied from lack of opportunity—it’s more likely that they’ll get off-center by not making choices, which is just another way of stating that they say “yes” too often.
What motivates me in consulting is to help people make money, help them make a difference for their clients, and help them have fun in the process. If any of those things aren’t true for you, fix them by caring about the right things.