Although I am not new at my business, calling it a business was a strategic change from freelancing, made less than 2 years ago. I took a fresh look at the business, as if it was brand new. The whole interaction with clients had to change. While I was hoping for a stream of clients to cover my bills, I learned to be careful at the choice of those clients.
Once you are out there, you get to learn, quoting my friend and colleague, Rob Levinson, that having a good clientele is “less about filling my dance-card and more about aligning” – yourself with people who understand your delivery and have realistic expectation of your relationship. You get to develop that “antenna that allows you to detect a client-from-hell at 50 paces and keep you from accepting their projects”.
At the beginning it seems like any project is worth accepting, out of the desire to build a reputable portfolio. But realistically, this is very daring. No testing of real compatibility was made. This resulted in never-ending projects or simple mutual disappointments that at the end, did not contribute anything to the desired portfolio.
Being a starter-consultant attracts starter-clients. These are people, of no specific age, gender, experience or size of company, who simply have little experience in working with outsourced strategic consultant and usually put aside very small to no budgets at all for communications, naming or marketing projects. Such starter clients, though, teach the newly independent consultant some very valuable lessons about setting definite boundaries for the consultant-client relationship.
So here is a small story about one of my starter clients. I was reminded of it today, after a bizarre negotiation I held with a prospect.
One of my earlier naming clients as an independent consultant was the CEO of a hi-tech startup company. The introduction was made through trusted contacts on a well known VC, who had invested in this company. We had a short correspondence were we agreed on all details, including number of name sets he gets and the fee I get. Somehow, I started to work on his project enthusiastically, before he signed any sort of an agreement. Not even the Purchase Order.
The project required analysis of the industry as well as the company’s strategy and positioning. The process we went through helped the CEO refine his message and understand the naming requirements. He got all sets we agreed on – and more. At a certain point it seemed like he was loosing interest in managing the company… Instead he kept sending me his invented names, asking me to analyze their compatibility with the goals defined. This ended in the client falling in love with one of his own creations and announcing his final choice. The project required a lot more hours than I have originally calculated my proposal on, but this is a simple experience mistake. What I hadn’t calculated is the client’s refusal to pay for my work. He did register some of the domains I offered him through the process, but claimed that since he chose a name which I didn’t offer, he was under no obligation to pay. Only after I told his investors about their chosen CEO’s business manner, did I get paid.
That didn’t feel good. However, following this experience, I learned never to start working without a signed PO.
I also learned that I have to clarify to my naming clients, that since the naming process is indeed a complete process, from which any company benefits, whether it ends with a new name or not, and since I am dedicating time and effort to their company – I am to get paid for my work, whether they choose a name or not.
Strangely enough, ever since I added this clause I had only 1 client who couldn’t make up his mind and 2 clients whose process ended in my recommendation not to re-name at that point in the company’s lifecycle.