Turn Them Down, Don't Let Them Down
by C. S. Clarke, Ph.D.
Recently, John, a client of mine with a small business was asked to bid on a job that would have been very lucrative. It also allowed for some creativity and was offered by a customer he'd enjoyed working for on a prior job. It would have been a stretch to get done by the deadline, but at first it seemed there would be enough time. Unfortunately, while he was working up the bid, the customer started asking more questions, making more changes and delaying the final design and approval of the project. By the time he could get a solid go-ahead, the time to the delivery deadline had been cut almost in half.
John is a one-man operation (with occasional temporary help.) Even with the original time line, he would have had to hire extra help and delay some of the work he already had in-house. And only someone like him, with more than thirty years of experience in the field, and speed no one else could match, could have done the job in the original time line anyway. The customer's delay meant the customer would need a provider with a large shop and several full-time employees to do the job. John had to refer him out. It was a difficult choice to let go of a considerable amount of money. Not to mention that it is difficult to pass on a valuable customer to a competitor. But, it was the only right choice for both of them. And John is an honest businessman. He told the customer, "I'd rather turn you down than let you down." He explained what kind of shop the customer needed and gave him some names and numbers.
For an entrepreneur, one of the hardest things to do, especially during economic downturns is to refuse new business. Or more business from old customers. Yet there are excellent reasons for saying "no," regardless of how much you might need income. Here are a few common examples:
1. The deadline is too difficult or even impossible to meet.
Be honest with yourself. Just as with doing home repair jobs, everything you do in your business takes longer than you originally think. Many factors other than your capacity to actually do the work itself affect how fast you can get it done. Every single day, something unexpected happens in most folks' lives.
You have to account for everything you already have scheduled as well as be prepared for the unexpected. You must always give yourself a longer lead time than is necessary under ideal circumstances, because ideal circumstances never occur. The typical ambitious solo entrepreneur regularly makes the mistake of underestimating time required for a job. And, the typical client/customer is unhappy with the delay. The safest course is to overestimate the time and surprise the client/customer with an early finish.
2. Too much of your own up front investment is required.
If you are a solo entrepreneur or a small business person who runs the operation very close to the bone, you must establish a policy of asking for enough of a deposit in advance of the work to cover your materials and expenses. And if much travel is involved, establish a policy of trip charges. Do not invest your own money in specific supplies for a one-off job. You might not get paid. It's bad enough to lose the value of your time without losing your own cash. If you can't get up-front money for supplies, you don't have the trust of the client/customer. You can't trust someone who doesn't trust you.
3. The client/customer is disorganized and doesn't communicate well.
We've all met them. They dither about their choices. They change their minds. They don't tell us they've changed their minds until we're half way through the job. We can't track them down when it's time to deliver. We can't track them down when it's time to pay. They promise they'll get an essential part of the job to us by such and such a time, then call later and say they have to change the time. The list goes on. You may not know what you are dealing with until it's too late on the first job you do for such a client/customer. But have you had these kinds of customers and done business with them again? And again? Unless such a clients/customers are great referral sources, their business isn't worth it. No matter how much they love you and praise you. (And that is part of the seduction of such clients/customers. Most of them tell you they know they are difficult and appreciate what you do for them. Don't let them push your "rescue me" buttons.)
4. The client/customer is a nasty, mean s.o.b. or you suspect he is dishonest.
Hey, isn't one of the reasons you work for yourself that you want to choose the people you work for and with? You have to put up with a certain amount of rudeness and inconsideration. Many people you deal with in everyday life never acquired good manners. But the number one reason given for leaving a job is having a bad boss. Don't hire yourself out to a bad boss. You have choices. Furthermore, you won't do your best for someone who demeans you or cheats you. And, in the end, you can't satisfy them anyway.
5. The client/customer has excessively unrealistic expectations and demands specific performance that is impossible.
Ditto on the reasons for not working for an s.o.b. You can't satisfy extremely unrealistic people, and in the end they may not pay you, pay you only grudgingly, ask for discounts that erase your profits and afterward, they'll badmouth you to others. It's a net loss. Notice that I say "excessively" unrealistic -- all of us are unrealistic in our expectations, but most of us understand that what we wish for isn't necessarily what we can get.
6. The income from the job would be insufficient to cover even the value of your own time.
When you suspect that a greeter for a national discount store is making more per hour than you are making -- you've accepted too low a price for your work. Need I say more?
If you accept work you can't do to your own satisfaction, you've let yourself down. If you can't do it to your client/customer's satisfaction, you've let him/her down. Turn them down, don't let them down.
C.S. Clarke, Ph.D. is a psychologist/coach who publishes Superperformance.com: Human Performance and Achievement Resources, providing a wide range of content and tools for improving human performance and productivity. Dr. Clarke also publishes EverydayDelight.com, a website on positive psychology, positive thinking and everyday happiness. Superperformance ® is a trademark.