“I’m not going to be a good fit for every potential client, and not every potential client will be a good fit for me”
I’m a freelance commercial photographer. My work has appeared in all sorts of media, online and in print, showcasing models and products. Sometimes my clients come to me with an idea — either something basic that they want me to “polish up,” or something they think is finished and all I have to do is just snap the picture. To be honest, their ideas are often terrible — very last-year, don’t present the product well, or just don’t reach their audience. While some of them are happy with the recommendations I come up with, others insist they know best. How can I keep them happy without ruining my reputation?
Naftali (Mark) Horowitz is the managing director of JP Morgan.
can relate to your dilemma, one I often face in my own professional life. Clients call me ostensibly to seek my advice, yet they think they already know the business better than I do. If we just give them exactly what they want, we compromise our professionalism and our sense of right and wrong. And it won’t even necessarily stop them from blaming us when things don’t work out. There’s also the matter of our reputation, which can easily become tainted if we put our name on other people’s bad ideas.
Here are some ways of approaching this.
- I enter every meeting with the confidence that I have the informational advantage. If I just go along with whatever they want, then I’m charging fees that are unwarranted, and I don’t ever want to do that. You need to decide if you want to be just a photographer or also a consultant. A photographer takes whatever picture the client wants. A consultant helps the client design the photograph that will achieve the desired result.
- I understand that I am not going to be a good fit for every potential client, and not every potential client will be a good fit for me. My reputation and overall success come before my desire to win over any prospective client. The wrong client can diminish your practice even if he pays your fee. If it isn’t a good fit, say so; it’s far better to do so at the start of a project than to go through a messier break-up later on. Keep in mind also that clients who aren’t a good match will drain you of your creative energy.
- You don’t want a duel of egos — your way versus their way. You can adapt their way to yours without bruising their ego. Try to get a deeper understanding of why they want what they say they want, and see if there is a workable compromise. The right solution might not be the one you envisioned at the start, but it’s the right one, because it makes the client happy, preserves his dignity, and adequately addresses the objective.
If you hit a complete impasse, then you need to decide if you want to be “just a photographer” for this one shoot, or stick to your professional standards. Personally, I would not accept the client, and would explain to him why. But I am not at the liberty to spend your money, so this is your call to make.
2. Stand Behind Your Vision
Bruce Leon is the owner and founder of Benefits Solutions Group (an insurance brokerage firm), Tandem HR (a professional employer organization, or PEO), Alliance Workplace Solutions (a voluntary benefits firm), and Workplace Solutions (an employee assistance program).
This is a great question and reminds me of an exchange I had several years ago with a prospective client. The scenario is a little different, but the outcome could work well for your situation — how to uphold the adage “the customer is always right” without compromising on your product, service, or reputation.
Tandem HR is a human resources outsourcing company offering businesses a full range of services, including payroll, compliance, 401k, risk management, and benefits. When a certain prospective client met with us, we gave him the complete rundown on our program and made recommendations for his firm. Despite all this, he had come in with his mind already made up that he wanted a scaled-down “HR lite” package of services.
We made the decision as a company that this was not up to our service standards and not the brand we wanted to present in the marketplace, so we passed on his business. I delivered the message gently, and even offered some free suggestions on how he could immediately save money on his medical costs. I wished him well and expressed the hope that our paths would cross in the future.
Two years later, he came back to us. His business had grown and reached a more solid footing. We found that our expectations were more in alignment, and he is now a happy client. He told me he had been very impressed that at our first encounter, we walked away from his business rather than provide a “lower-quality program.”
One thing I try to point out when I have to let someone down is that I don’t know a thing about the widgets his company makes, but I’m an expert at helping companies comply with human resources legal requirements. This person came to you for a reason — because of your expertise. I would suggest that when you’re negotiating with him, you should acknowledge that there seems to be some resistance on his part to accept your ideas, and while you would love to have his business, you would be more than happy to offer some referrals to other companies.
You should also maintain a list of satisfied clients, so you can offer him references to contact that would demonstrate the added value you brought to their products or services. “Here are some referrals who might make you feel more comfortable with the ideas I’m presenting. I would love to work with you and I want us both to be excited about the outcome.”
I also find that explaining to the prospective client your approach and why you do things a certain way can help that person see things from your perspective. This has another important benefit for your business: When your employees or vendors see how steadfastly you stand behind your vision, you reinforce their respect and loyalty. So while it is never easy to turn down business, I believe you need to support your brand by not compromising.
Best of luck to you!
3. You Hire Your Client
Fishel Mael,based in Baltimore, is an organizational psychologist who helps organizations and their employees nationwide work more effectively. He is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and the Society for Industrial-Organizational Psychology.
You present an interesting dilemma.How do you accommodate all of your customer’s wishes while maintaining a brand identity consistently associated with high-quality, cutting-edge work? In truth, you may not be able to do both. Start by realizing how you and your client may be working at cross-purposes.
Consider that your client has his own universe of customers — the people who use his services. Your client’s customers may be perfectly happy with his tastes, no matter how dated or unappealing. Your own customer base, on the other hand, probably shares your more up-to-date preferences. Trying to satisfy both may be difficult, if not impossible.
If you had a large company, the solution to your predicament would be relatively simple: you could offer different levels of service. For example, some hotel corporations operate luxury resorts as well as budget motels, to reach disparate market segments. However, as a sole proprietor, you do not have the option of presenting a selection of service packages — you need a unified brand identity. If your portfolio includes work you are not proud of, it will be held against you. You won’t be able to print a disclaimer on a project stating “done against the designer’s best judgment.”
You’ll need to accept the fact that you work in a different niche than some of your current clients. You may actually have to turn down work with some clients rather than follow through on their suggestions. This will require a certain amount of bitachon and self-confidence, as it is initially hard to turn down paid work; gradually, you should carve out a clientele who want to pay for what you do best.
This is, however, somewhat more complicated than simply telling a client that you can no longer work for him. If you pull out of a project close to a deadline, you will no longer be viewed as dependable. And your integrity is as much a part of your reputation as your product.
Therefore, you should make a prescreening of clients an integral part of your sales program. You need to let your potential client know how you prefer to work and then quickly determine if he is open to your direction; if he is not, you can redirect him to other providers. There are also other more gradual means of weeding out undesirable clients, such as raising your prices, or making it clear up front that you need autonomy and will not simply refurbish a partially finished product.
If you can stick to your principles, weather a short-term loss of work, and monitor the environment for new trends in your profession, you should be able to carve out a client base that is more appreciative of your skills. Hatzlachah rabbah with your endeavors.
A condescending attitude, an inability to take criticism, and a lack of a sense of humility are the traits most damaging to a business leader’s reputation.
Consistent brands are worth 20% more than those that aren’t consistent.
66% of consumers cite overall product or service quality as the main factor behind brand loyalty.
64% of consumers cite shared values as the main reason they have a “relationship with a brand.”
—Harvard Business Review
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 692)
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