WHEN TO SAY “YES!”
When it’s your favorite client, or a dream client.
This is pretty much a no-brainer. I bend over backwards for my favorite clients, and I’ve never been disappointed. I also get excited by the idea of a “new” client who is known for smart thinking, great people, and interesting challenges, no matter what they make, sell or do. Dreamy clients are rare, and deserve to hear “yes” whenever possible to keep them coming back.
When it’s smack inside your wheelhouse.
You may not know the client yet, but when the challenge is presented you realize immediately that you could do the project without undue effort. In this situation, everyone wins, assuming you still like what you do for a living. Clients often find their way to a particular consultant thanks to reputation (your expertise was hard earned, so milk it!), and this typically comes from referrals. Who doesn’t want to honor the client or colleague who made the referral by doing a killer job?
When it scares you a little bit, but not too much.
Staying on the edge of your seat is a good thing, right? If a new project sounds like a challenge that will force you to learn something new, to stretch yourself and to continue honing your skills, it’s probably a good one. Yes, it might take more time in the prep and execution, but you’ll feel invigorated along the way, and your clients will absorb that energy, too.
And, sadly, when your accounts receivable column is looking pretty dismal.
There are times where not all the stars align, and it’s a project where you need to psych yourself up to say yes, for any number of reasons. Say yes anyway. Who knows what might happen? At the very least, your business will stay open so that you can respond with an enthusiastic, full-body “Yes!” to a more interesting challenge down the road.
WHEN TO SAY ‘MAYBE…’
When you don’t have the bandwidth or firepower.
Get reinforcements before you reply! Ask for help and use your *team of collaborators* who can make this happen. I call on a rockstar field manager, a videography master, and colleagues from QRCA who are amazing at their craft, and we work on the proposal and project together. Sometimes I even pass the project along to others. This way I have full confidence that the client will be well-served, and the project will go smoothly, using the best consultants…even if it’s not me!
When you have lots of potential projects brewing, very few committed.
This is where flexibility and masterful scheduling is critical. I’m always honest with potential clients in these situations. An instant reply of, “I’d love to say yes, but I have several “holds” on my schedule. Let me how we can make this work…” buys you time to sort out the schedule, bring in firepower if needed, or to pass the project along. Ideally, you can get commitment from the “best” clients first!
WHEN TO SAY “NO.”
When you lack interest or passion for the topic, the client or the method.
Lack of passion at the outset of a project is a major red flag for me. The engagements where I’ve done my best work are those where I would probably do the work for free. Not feeling it? Say no, thank you. You’re probably fully booked with work you’d prefer to be doing, anyway. If not, you can use the time to work towards that.
When you really don’t know what you’re doing.
Who are you really helping by “winging it”? No one. When you’re asked to consult on a project where the subject matter or method is WAY outside your expertise, and the learning curve is simply too steep, admit it. I’ve heard the phrase, “Fake it ‘til you make it,” but I don’t think that’s fair to clients. Use this as a rallying opportunity – go learn something new, test it, and then you can say yes at the next opportunity.
When you’ve felt used or undervalued by the client requesting the work.
Every consultant I know has had that moment when a one-time “regular” client sends an email or leaves a voicemail about a new project, and the consultant wonders, “What’s up this time? Why are they calling me?” Apparently, dear consultant, you have something to offer, but you may never know what it is, beyond being a supplier who’s available on the dates needed, or who will work within a tight budget. It rarely feels fulfilling. (A friend likened this to a “consultant booty call.”) Why keep that kind of relationship going, unless you’re both desperate? I have a very polite way of saying no to these until they get the hint that we are never, ever, ever getting back together.
Fellow consultants, what are your own guideposts for knowing when to say “heck, yes!,” “well, maybe…” or “hard no!” to client requests?
And clients, how do you feel when suppliers/potential partners respond this way?