When to Say No!
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When to say No! What are some of the top signs that you should not accept a client?
When I was researching this article I decided to post a question to a couple email lists to see what the response would be. It wasn’t long before a spirited debate ensued. Over the next couple of days I received phone calls and over 50 emails. Some individuals had certain guidelines or rules that their potential clients must meet, and if not…that meant “End of Discussion”
I received emails from every level of FileMaker consultant. Beginners who were struggling with saying “NO” because they needed the work and the experience. Experienced developers that had been around the block a few times and approached new contacts with a weary cynicism. And a small group that said that they “never” said no to a client, that they lived by the rule (there’s that word again) “the customer is always right”.
I received emails from fixers who said a “No” can always be turned into a “Yes” situation. Lastly I received 2 emails that brought me to a stop…as I read through the experiences of these two individuals I was greatly saddened at what they had gone through. Because sadly, it is the developers that are the most giving that seem to be taken advantage of the most.
Let’s examine some of the psychological rules that were played out in the emails I received.
Rules: All of us live by rules. Many of the rules that we impose on our lives are created when we are children. What are some rules? Let’s say that one of the rules that I live by is that you never argue at the dinner table. If you are going to talk at the table, it should be a non-confrontational topic that everyone can enjoy. Let’s say that I am married, and my wife’s family loves to talk at the table, the louder the better. Their rule is that to be part of the family you need to open up and engage in the topics being discussed at the table. Who is right?
What if I had the rule that in order to be loved or to feel loved, that when my wife got home from work that we greeted each other with a hug, and if I didn’t immediately get that hug, I didn’t feel loved. What if she felt that relaxing on the couch and talking and sharing each others day was how she felt loved. Can you see a conflict?
Can you see how we can each create rules…and guess what, no one sits down with their spouse or their best friend and says, “hey, I’ve created these rules about how I live my life, and in order for us to get along, you must respect my rules and not violate my rules…because…friends don’t violate rules”.
Rules can affect the way that we communicate and interact with our clients. Our clients have rules, but they are multi faceted. The company has its own rules…some written, some just understood by the employees. Also, the potential client, the individual may have his/her own set of rules. It is important to pick up the subtle clues that our clients give us that enable us to bring their “rules” to light. Most of the time when we have a clash or a misunderstanding with a client, it is because we are breaking one of their rules. It may sound like something small, but “rules’ play a big part of our life and can affect the way we interact with our clients and potential clients. Remember, it can be as little as the way you look at someone that can fire off one of their rules.
In Psychology this is called Commitment and Consistency. Here is how it generally works.
A new client asks you to perform a small task for them that you know you will not be monetarily compensated for. You agree, even though in the back of your mind you feel slightly uncomfortable and a little put out. Your client praises you and tells you they are going to let everyone know how wonderful and kind you are. As time goes on, your customer asks you to do this or that for free, and continues to praise you, not only to you personally but publicly to others in the office.
Guess what, you have now created yet another “identity”. Believe it or not, we create them for every client. This new identity is one that is wonderful and kind and will do things for free! So, guess what. You tell yourself “Yes, I am wonderful and kind and wonderful and kind people sometimes give some free time of themselves…and besides I can stop whenever I want”.
Here is where the Psychology kicks in. People will do anything, to avoid being inconsistent with their behavior, with their belief of “who” they are. Why do you act one way on the phone with one friend, and totally different when speaking to another? Which one is actually you? What do I mean by that? People try to avoid the look of inconsistency, and the more public the stand, the more reluctant we will be to change it.
What do we call someone who suddenly becomes inconsistent with who they are, or whom we think they are? We call them wishy-washy, un-trust worthy…deceitful. Powerful words that have powerful meanings. Be careful when you feel someone deliberately having you take small steps towards something you don’t want to do. Listen to your gut feeling, and tell the individual that you are not comfortable with the situation.
OK, back on track. Below is a laundry list of some of the reasons why consultants say NO to potential clients.
1. They offer you goods in exchange for your services
2. Our business is absolutely unique, you should really be paying me to learn it
3. When I feel devalued or when they talk about my product or service in a dismissive way
4. Client sees no reason to discuss the scope of the project
5. You don’t have time
6. Your client is on an unrealistic deadline and is totally inflexible
7. The complexity of the project is beyond your abilities
8. Client presents too much legal-eez, putting a virtual legal strangle-hold around your neck, or they want you to sign a Non Compete that could exclude you from work in the future.
9. They do not understand nor do they want to understand the development process & limitations of certain technologies. Ex. They want to use Instant Web Publishing because of the advantages it provides, but are unwilling to accept some of the limitations that come with it.
10. No access to the individuals that will actually be using the solution. Inability to understand the business logic involved in creating the solution.
11. They currently have a solution that was developed many years ago that has been band-aided together by numerous developers. The customer does not want the underlying issue solved, just another Band-Aid.
12. The customer insists on doing what they think is the “easy” part, and then asks you to come in and do everything else
13. They use pressure tactics
14. Cost is the only issue they are concerned with
15. They say, “If you will do this job below your normal rate, we will have several more projects for you after this is done”.
16. They say that they have worked with several FileMaker developers on this project and have not been satisfied yet.
17. Client has a project that I will not enjoy, one that I clearly cannot see myself getting involved in
18. Does not want to complete a “Needs Analysis Form”
19. Does not want to sign a contract or an agreement.
20. They say “I haven’t set a budget, let me know what you come up with”.
21. They say “Why is this so much? Another developer quoted me “X” dollars for the same project. How come you are so much more”?
22. They say, “I haven’t really thought about what we need, we can just sort that out as we go along”.
23. They say, “Can you get me a good deal on FileMaker licenses”?
24. They say, “We have ALL of the specifications already worked out”.
25. They do not treat you as an equal, you are treated as an employee, and if they like your work they will pay you.
So, what is one of the biggest complaints that we have? Equality. When a company hires you, it is important to immediately establish a level of equality with your client. Consultants are described as a Free-Lancer, a hired gun, a coder, or “that’s my computer guy/girl. All of these words have a feeling of possession or ownership none of which sound very endearing. It is important that your client/potential client understands that they are not your boss. You have been contracted to provide a service.
I am not saying to immediately tell your client that you are his/her equal, and expect to be treated that way. I am just saying that you need to tactfully help them understand that you are an expert in your field, that you were hired on a contract basis to offer a service.
Isn’t my client being a jerk trying to prove his/her domination over me? This can actually be several things. One of the simplest ways to explain things is that your client might not have any references guiding them as to how they should act. They have never hired a consultant, and they have no idea as to what is expected of them. This is a good time to have an agreement/contract and to maybe do some subtle educating. The client might not be a jerk, just un-educated as far as hiring and working with a consultant.
Your client may feel intimidated. Many times a contractor is hired to come in and fix, or add features to a solution that they are technically not qualified to do. Your client may feel that his/her job is at stake, and they will immediately try to assume a dominant role. Once again, it is up to you to assure your client that you are only there to help with the project. Human beings fear loss more than anything else. In the world of advertising, copywriters know that they can get you to act by changing two words. Buy now and save $100.00 or If you don’t buy now you will lose $100.00. Saving is not as important as losing; no one wants to lose…unless it’s weight.
How important is trust? Another big topic that came up a bunch was trust. Some individuals felt that there had to be a great deal of trust with their clients before they would move into any type of agreement. This is actually very important. Trust many times is not what an individual says, but how our subconscious mind interprets unconscious incongruence in the other person’s physiology.
What does that mean? There are three forms of communication, Words, Voice Quality and Physiology. Words represent 7% of what actually influences human behavior. Voice Qualities (tonality, tone, volume, inflection) represent 38% and Physiology, (the way you user your body, breathing, facial expressions, gestures) represents 55%. Congruency is when our physiology and our voice qualities blend harmoniously. Our unconscious mind is an expert at understanding congruency; it is able to pick up the hidden muscle twitches, subtle shifts in tonality…this is generally when you get an uneasy feeling in your stomach, implying that something just isn’t right. This is one of the first steps towards the “trust-buster”.
Trust goes beyond the physicality of the other person. Trusting involves listening, and it involves caring. Your client trusts you to walk into their office and create something that does not currently exist. And, they are going to pay you a pretty good rate to do so. Building trust is being able to understand their fears and apprehension and to be able to address and extinguish those fears in a tactful caring manner. Your client wants to think that you truly have his/her best interest in mind.
They Constantly change their minds. Repeatedly changing one’s mind was one of the biggest gripes of consultants. I received questions like, “Who pays for this”? “How many times should I let them change the solution”? “How am I supposed to finish a product when they keep changing the specs?
I hate to say it, but it is every client’s right to change their mind, and for you to not throw a fit when they do so. It is very rare that a client and a consultant sit down, and devise a solution that does not needs some tweaking. It is extremely impractical to imagine the total workflow of a solution from start to finish without expecting numerous changes.
So, what do I do? First, I would add a little breathing room into my estimate for creating the solution. I also encourage my clients to request changes and to get involved. This way they can see that the solution is evolving and are more likely to be happy with the end result. I consider all of the changes they request, and I discuss them with my client. If a request is too large, I let them know that this will push them over their budget, and that if they still want the additional features added, we can do so after the completion of the project. I also recommend creating “Change Orders”. Change orders can be a saving grace. Each time your client wants to make a change, they fill out a form stating what they want changed, and then you both sign off on it. This is also a great way to stop your client from coming back later and saying “I never asked you to do that.”
Contracts, Agreements, Deposits Once again, this was a heavily debated topic. After much thought on the subject, and after speaking with my personal attorney, we felt it best to seek out a professional in the field to help with any business / legal consultation or documentation.
He did specify the importance of having a contract since as a consultant; most of us are dealing with intangibles. Some Clients may refuse to sign a contract, if this occurs, you may want to research to see if they have had problems with previous consultants, or if the project you are about to undertake is a hand-me-down from a previous consulting company. Try to find out the “why” behind the hesitation to sign the contract.
Bartering, Creative Financing, Joint Venture Schemes: This topic was filled with warnings. One individual agreed to work for another company, and in exchange, they would give him a computer and free software. However, once he had worked off the allotted time required to pay for the computer and software…the company said that the funds needed to purchase the computer and software were not immediately available. Another developer explained it this way. “One big problem is a clients perceived value of your time when bartering. When the client equates your value with their wholesale cost for goods/services then the relationship can become difficult.”
Some consultants said that they had found a great balance, and felt that both they and their clients were equally rewarded. This however was certainly not the majority opinion.
Creative Financing and Joint Venture schemes seemed to be lumped closely together. One continual scenario is the client has this great idea, a solution that will certainly be a huge hit. They have the idea; you have the skills, let’s make lots of money. The next step is they ask you to develop this solution for them, and that they will give you a hefty percentage for all of the sales that will certainly come in.
Be careful here, do some research. Make sure, if you decide to do this, that your client has done a lot of research. Make sure that there is actually an interested market. Make sure that there are actually enough individuals not only interested in this market, but are willing to open their wallets. Look at the competition. Is the market already so saturated that even though it is a great idea, several hundred other developers thought this was a great idea as well? Also, make sure that your client’s perceived value is actually a realistic representation of what the market will allow. What marketing experience does you client have? Has he worked this into the cost of production?
Sometimes collaborative efforts can work out and have great results. But be careful, you do not want to have your reputation marred by someone that doesn’t share the same work ethics and values as you.
Don’t discriminate too quickly: Finally a quick story that shows how quickly our learned filters of the way we interpret the world can be fooled! Every one of us looks at the world through filters. Everything we look at has a memory and a feeling attached to it. These filters allow us to live our day-to-day lives without having to concentrate on everything we see. These filters are learned memories and feelings that allow us to make thousands of unconscious decisions every day. Just the act of driving every day is a great example of this. Our perceptions of the world, our prejudices are all learned filters; we were not born with them. One of the stories that I thought that I would close with is a great example of how quickly our mind decides what to believe.
One thing we all need to watch is our prejudices. One developer wrote ”I had a client whose emails were too terse, poorly worded, improperly punctuated, etc. In addition, she seemed overly concerned about my rates. After meeting her in person I found a very wonderful older woman who is retiring and is on a budget, she is not very computer savvy, she uses a Mac with an OS about 7 years old. In this case all the little red flags turned out to be false. I'm not making tons of money, but I am helping a good person do good things.”
Had I had the time, I could have easily written a book from the 100+ pages of emails that I received. Everyone had great ideas, many techniques for working with clients were unique from client to client. The top themes running throughout all of the emails was, communicate with your client, establish equality, establish trust, and mostly, be honest with your client.
*** This year I will be teaching a class at Devcon that teaches individuals how to communicate with their clients. The class will be taught from my new book, “The Art of the Topple”. The class will cover the Psychology behind Influence and Persuasion. With the techniques I teach in this class, you will be able to establish a rapport with your clients within a few seconds. I will teach Psychological triggers, Body Language and Psychological Modalities. The second part of the class will involve writing Advertising copy, as well as successful secrets for web marketing. If you are attending Devcon, and would be interested in taking this class, please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org ***
Copyright 2006 Stephen Knight