Dear Freelancers: It’s Okay To Pick and Choose Clients
As an interested and curious customer, I recently researched holistic doctors in my area. I scoured each website, reading numerous biographies, seeking specialties, and skimming through services, not to mention judging the business by the quality of their website. Is this what I’m looking for? Would I be comfortable seeing this doctor? How much does this cost? As I asked myself these questions, I finally make a decision, and believe I’m a perfect fit for the service, but that isn’t necessarily true.
Aside from my day job, I created a holistic life coaching and running service. I help people discover, plan, and reach their life and running goals, incorporating their mind, body, and soul. My clients either already know me, or have heard about me through the local health and fitness grapevine. Marketing my services through this grapevine has allowed me to target a particular market to help bridge the gap between fitness goals and holistic practices. Makes sense so far.
However, what if the service doesn’t work for the client, or for you? What if the client believes the program is right for them, and you have the privilege of telling them it’s not? Why not just try to customize their needs to your services?
Well, I’ll tell you why you should politely say no, and refer them elsewhere. I had a client email me that he was interested in my services, so I communicated with him about what I can do, had him complete a new client worksheet, and scheduled a free consultation to set a few preliminary mind, body, soul goals. All the while, something didn’t quite feel right. I ignored my instincts, and went to the consultation.
It was noon on a Sunday, twenty-five miles outside the city. Five minutes went by, ten minutes went by, and I finally got a phone call. I thought to myself, “I never gave him my number,” but then remembered I listed it on my website. I was trying to find any reason to listen to my nagging instincts.
I reluctantly answered, still deciding whether or not I should run for my car. Something still didn’t feel right. Again, I ignored my now strongly nagging instincts. He arrived, and asked if he could drive me to a nearby breakfast cafe. I said no thank you, and we met for breakfast, after reiterating my coaching role, and consultation timeframe.
He insisted he pay for breakfast, then proceeded to sit very close, and kept complimenting me throughout our conversation. “We should go on a run on this local trail, visit my work, checkout my house, cook a meal for you, etc.” I mentioned my partner several times, especially that he lifts weights, but even still, he awkwardly asked me on a date as we were saying goodbye, and gave me an unwelcome hug. The consultation was a disappointment and violation of my communicated boundaries, limited time, and coaching capabilities. Crash and burn.
As I look back, I acknowledge my mistakes, but the number one mistake was not recognizing that he was not interested in my services, but me. How can we avoid this type of experience?
1. Give ourselves permission to trust our instincts
2. Ask clarifying questions to search for the client’s end goals
3. Explain boundaries, including a signature of understanding and agreement
4. Find a business mentor for advice, perhaps one in our specialty area
5. Let friends and family know where we are when meeting with a client alone
6. Say no to the client, if it’s not a good fit, by explaining why and referring them elsewhere
After consulting with my father, my boyfriend, his family, and my friends, I decided to return his money, after calling him to explain that as a professional coach, I have very strict boundaries regarding clients showing romantic interest. I further explained that I’m unable to be effective since I feel pressure to date him, not coach him, and I’ve decided to no longer coach them. He was surprised, a little upset, but mostly agreeable. Needless to say, I spoke with my business mentor and life coach, and wrote a coaching agreement within the following weeks for all clients to sign.
This is just one example of how a client can be the wrong fit for you. Always listen to your instincts. Be interested in quality, not quantity. Often times we take on clients because we want more business, more experience, and/or diverse clients, etc., but when our service is not a good fit for the customer, we are doing a disservice to both.
The customer wants quality time with you, and you want quality time with the customer. Say no to the clients that don’t work, so you can make room for the ones who do. None of us have unlimited amounts of time, so use it wisely.