Welcome back to Awkward Conversations week! As we promised yesterday when we were discussing how to fire a client, today we’re talking about what to do before you fire a client. Let’s talk client training. It’s kind of like dog training, except with clients.
(Actually, that’s not true. It’s nothing like dog training at all.)
Client training is something you’re going to want to do if you have clients who you can’t (or don’t want to) fire, but they’re behaving in a way that makes working with them untenable. Maybe they don’t pay on time. Maybe they email too much. Maybe they call randomly in the middle of Let’s Get It On. Maybe they’re making the work impossible, maybe they have wildly unreasonable expectations, or maybe certain personality elements are making you want to put their head in a lake.
Whatever the situation, they have to change. It’s not you, it’s them.
There are two possible objectives for sending a client training email.
1. You genuinely hope the client will change their behavior.
You are looking forward to having a long, successful and lucrative relationship with the client. There are many aspects of the work or the relationship or the person that you like very much. It’s energizing, it’s rewarding, it’s generally hunky dory. But if they don’t stop doing that thing, well, the head goes in the lake.
You want to work with them. You just want them to start behaving themselves. You hope that if only you had a template to work from – perhaps one from IttyBiz, for example – you could modify it appropriately, send it off, and you and your client could ride off into the sunset on a bicycle built for two.
2. You’re pretty sure they won’t change and you don’t really care anyway because you kind of hate them.
This is the alternative to the tandem bicycle utopia described in scenario one. In the first example, you’re giving a bit of a cry for help. “Help me help you” and all that. You want them to succeed at making the change. You hope they succeed at making the change. And you are probably willing to overlook a lot of their failures and missteps if you can see they’re genuinely trying.
This one is a straight-up ultimatum. Fix it or I’m out.
In this case, you are probably more than happy to fire them. In fact, you might even prefer to fire them and the only reason you’re going ahead with this first is because you want to be able to look yourself in the mirror and still see a fair person. And even if you aren’t happy to fire them, you’re pretty sure they’re never going to change anyway and this email isn’t going to make an iota of difference.
Now for the easy part.
Internally, these two scenarios are very different. One feels like a collaborative attempt at mutual satisfaction and the other feels like an interpersonal ransom note.
But externally, the situations are exactly the same. You do the exact same thing in both cases. Your wording, your tone, and your approach do not differ whether you love them and believe in them or hate them and want them dead. No difference. One script.
A lot of people screw this up because they involve their emotions in their communications. They get all emotionally dysregulated and think that because they’re mad, or frustrated, or the wounded party, or because the client’s behavior was seriously beyond the pale, that should alter how the whole thing shakes down.
Because here’s the thing:
If I’m driving in my car – which I’m not because I don’t drive, but work with me here – if I’m driving my car and I’m distracted because Jack is spouting philosophy and it’s harshing my mellow and I accidentally steal your parking space, I didn’t mean it. I was perhaps careless. I perhaps have a habit of carelessness. I perhaps could work on my mindfulness. But you shouldn’t fly off the handle at me because, regardless of what I should do, you should keep your cool.
This is because keeping your cool is good. And you seem like the kind of person who does good things regardless of the stimulus.
Now if I’m driving in my car – which I’m still not because I still don’t drive – and I’m a manipulative, parking spot stealing harlot, and I particularly want your parking spot because you’re driving an Audi A4 and if there’s anything I hate, it’s people who drive Audi A4s… you still shouldn’t fly off the handle at me. You should still keep your cool.
This is because keeping your cool is good. And you seem like the kind of person who does good things regardless of the evil and malicious intentions of the people stealing your parking space.
It is the same with training clients.
It doesn’t matter how over the top their behavior is. Don’t change your emotional standards because you’ve decided that your client is evil.
Approach both situations with as much cautious optimism as you can muster, and try not to get all wacky about it if you happen to hate them.
Let’s get to the templates.
How to Train A Misbehaving Client, the template
As we did yesterday, we’ll do the basic template and then three examples.
[Salutation. Go with your usual. Don't be stern. You're not firing them.]
[Introduction. Say something nice. Don't get stiff. You're not firing them.]
[Lay the scene. Lead with something brief, but good. You're NOT firing them. Say what's happening. Use words like "I notice". At this point you are probably assassinating their character, and they're going to feel embarrassed at best or defensive at worst. Lots of softening phrases.]
[Say how it makes you feel. Hit their empathy buttons. Get them out of defending themselves or collapsing in shame and thinking about what circumstances their actions cause.]
[Say what you need. Imply a threat, but don't make it outright. "I want to continue working with you and to do that, I need X. Use "and" not "but". If you feel inclined to offer anything to them, do so here.]
[Close with a positive. YOU'RE NOT FIRING THEM.]
[Finish with the same formality you usually use. Casual creates safety here. I use "xx ND".]
Sample # 1 – Can you please pay your damn bills already?
Hope you and the kids are doing well. (Also, thanks for sending your completed worksheets – and great job! I’ve got another email about those coming.)
I wanted to steal a little time today to talk to you about something that’s been on my mind. I’ve looked back over our history and I’ve noticed that every time we’ve sent you an invoice, we’ve had to follow up at least twice to get it settled. It seems like we have to spend a lot of time getting a hold of you to get these invoices taken care of, and I know neither of us wants to spend any more time on administration than we absolutely have to.
If I can speak frankly, this is starting to stress me out, and it’s taking some of the joy out of our sessions for me. I’m starting to dread sending your invoice out every month because it feels like it’s always going to be a struggle. I know it doesn’t have to be that way, and I wanted to bring it to you instead of just sitting around getting more and more stressed.
I love working with you and I really hope we can continue working together for a long time. To do that with enthusiasm, I’m going to need to know that your invoices will be paid in the timeframe we originally agreed upon. (Within 10 days of receipt.) [If applicable: If you're having trouble financially, I'm more than happy to cut our sessions down while you get back on your feet or talk to you about finding other arrangements.]
I so appreciate your time looking into this for me, and I’m really looking forward to speaking with you on Thursday.
Sample # 2 – Can you please start taking action already?
It was great talking to you yesterday – awesome news about the shed!
I wanted to send you a quick note before we meet again about something that’s been weighing on me a bit. I’m so pleased that you’ve come to me for your accountability needs – obviously, I think having an accountability coach is a critical factor for success today. (I’ve got one myself!) I’m noticing, though, that it seems like you’re having a lot of trouble following through on the assignments we agree upon during our weekly sessions. It seems that it’s turning into a bit of a pattern that we make a plan, modify it because life will get in the way, and then even the modified version gets delayed.
I know that as a physiotherapist, it’s so important to you that your clients follow through on the plans you make for them. It’s no fun working hard to help someone succeed and then have to watch them not make the progress they could be making. I want to work hard to help you reach your goals, and it’s becoming disheartening for me to see the assignments we agree upon fall by the wayside.
I very much enjoy working with you – you’re one of the funniest people I know, and our sessions are always a pleasure. To keep working with you, I’m going to need us to work out a plan to make sure that what we decide on gets actioned. Perhaps we need to start breaking down progress by day, or work on building more structure? I’m sure we can figure something out together when we meet again. So if you could put some thought into this before our session next week, I’d be really grateful.
Thanks so much in advance for giving some of your time to this. If you need clarification or you want to set up a quick call (no charge) between now and next week to brainstorm some ideas, I’d be all over that.
Have a great week!
Sample # 3 – Can you please stop calling me in the middle of Game of Thrones?
Hope you’re doing well and that the elliptical wasn’t too cruel this morning.
I know you’re swamped and have lots to talk about, so I wanted to send you an email instead of talking about this during one of our regular appointments. I’m getting a little troubled, and I’d love some help from you. I’ve noticed that in the last two weeks, you’ve called my cell phone five times during the evening hours. I was and am happy to provide my cell phone number to clients for situations of emergency. It’s starting to feel like these aren’t emergencies, though, and that we’re stretching outside the bounds of what we initially agreed upon.
I’ve made a commitment to my husband that evenings are for our family. He has been far more understanding with me than I had any right to expect over the last ten years I’ve been building this practice, and he understands that clients often have needs after the office closes. But talking to you about non-urgent issues is making it difficult for me to keep my commitments to my family, and I’m starting to feel a lot of stress around the issue.
I really enjoy our work together, and I’m so impressed with the progress you’ve made. I want to keep working with you for as long as you find me a positive addition to your life and to do that, I’m going to need to restrict our after-hours calls to emergencies and urgent situations only. I understand that a lot of this has been my responsibility – I do love solving problems, even at night, so it’s really hard for me to say no to a challenge, regardless of the hour. From now on, though, we’re going to need to limit after-hours calls to what we originally agreed on.
I really appreciate your commitment to our work together, and I thank you in advance for taking this to heart. I’ve got another email coming in a few hours with your task list or this week, so keep an eye out for that, ok?
Love to Pedro…
So there you go. Slash and hack at will. Next up, we’re taking an email question and talking about how to tell your friends, colleagues, roommates, pets, houseplants, woodland creatures and associated freebie seekers that your stuff costs money. Basically, how to tell your intimates that they’re going to have to pay.
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Welcome back to Awkward Conversations Week! As promised yesterday in turning down a potential client, today we’re going to talk about terminating an existing client relationship.
In preparation for writing this article, and to avoid reinventing the wheel, I pulled up my handy dandy search engine and searched for the phrase “how to fire a client”.
I found a lot, but I didn’t find much.
If you search that term – something I don’t recommend, by the way – you will find a lot of why you should fire a client, and you will find a lot of what you should do to avoid having to fire a particular client, and you will find a lot of what you should do to avoid attracting the types of clients you might later want to fire.
(For some reason, this reminds me of that old Rita Rudner quote. “Whenever I date a man, I think… is this the man I want my children to spend their weekends with?”)
When it comes to the actual firing part, though, support is a little thin on the ground.
In fact, the morality brigade seems to be coming out in full force – basically, you shouldn’t find yourself in this position in the first place. (Oh, and make sure to send them a thousand bucks to take Moths to a Flame TM, their magnetic client attraction class, while we’re talking about it. Then all your clients will be just dreamy.)
Maybe I have entitlement issues, and maybe the world has changed a little now that everyone and their Weimeraner has a coach, but I think that if you can’t stand working with someone, you should feel allowed to fire them. Knowing how to avoid this mess in the future is lovely. It’s particularly lovely in the future. Today, though, you have to fire this person, and you want to know how.
So, let’s go through a little disclaimer, and then we can get to the good stuff.
1. We are assuming you are in a line of work in which you are ethically permitted to fire a client.
2. We are assuming that firing them will not be in breach of your contract.
3. We are assuming that you do not owe them work.
You may owe them money, but you don’t owe them work.
For example, if they paid for several sessions at once, and you want to terminate the relationship, you owe them what they haven’t used but you don’t owe them what they have used. If they paid for a website and you’re quitting in the middle and leaving them with no website, you might owe them work as well. This varies based on your profession. If you’re not sure, search “how to fire a [line of work] client”. Design, copywriting, photography – they all have different rules and expectations. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to assume you’re not a weird case.
4. We are assuming that your relationship primarily exists over email.
Most of what you see in the “How to fire a client” literature says that you should be a grown-up and fire them over the phone or in person.
In many online businesses, I don’t think that’s appropriate, for a few reasons.
First, if that’s not the medium in which they tend to do their administrative communication with you, you’re probably going to throw them off guard. They could be taking their kid to soccer practice right now. You call, you say, “Hey, Mike! It’s Jane. Is this a good time to talk?” They say yes, because they don’t know you’re about to fire them. Now you’ve screwed up Mike Jr’s soccer game. Way to go, meanie pants.
Second, it forces somebody to deal with a very unpleasant and unexpected situation on your timeframe, with no notice, and no time to compose themselves. This seems to be unnecessary in the modern era in which email is a perfectly acceptable medium for almost everything.
If my life coach called me up right now and fired me, I would be incredibly thrown by the interaction. If my life coach emailed me to make an appointment, and unbeknownst to me the purpose of the appointment was to fire me, I would spend three days wondering what the appointment was about, stressed as all get out, and then thrown when he got on the phone. Awesome.
Personally, I like email better. Counter-intuitively, I feel like it’s nicer.
5. We are assuming that you don’t think redemption is possible or desirable for you.
Yes, fixing the relationship is generally a better option. If they’re driving you crazy because they’re not reachable, or they never pay their invoices on time, or they keep procrastinating, yes – it would be preferable to train them before you fire them. (That’s tomorrow’s tutorial.) But we’re assuming that you’ve tried that, or that you don’t want to try it, or that it would be inappropriate under the circumstances.
I, for example, cannot work with aggressive or defensive people, and I don’t believe they (or I) think it’s my job to fix them. I can and will train you into paying your invoices. I can’t and won’t try to discipline you into killing your aggressive and defensive rationalization tendencies. I run a very comforting ship. If you are nervous about what I’m suggesting you do, for example, I expect you to say so like a grown-up and not retreat behind a wall of aggression. If you’re the kind of person who thinks the latter is a good idea, I don’t like you very much, and I don’t particularly want to redeem my relationship with you.
So, yes. If you can redeem it, do that first. We’re assuming that you’ve tried and failed, or you don’t want to.
(Or you’re firing them for reasons that have nothing to do with them. If you’re firing them because you just realized you hate being a life coach, that falls into the “not desirable for you” category and you can proceed.)
OK, based on all of these things, there are three main reasons you could want to fire a client.
First, you hate them. (Or you kind of hate them. Or you love them, but working with them makes you want to swallow a spoon.)
They have anger management issues. They’re expecting the impossible. They get wildly off track and then blame you for not meeting their original goals.
We had a client once who seemed to have early onset Alzheimers or a significantly impactful personality disorder. She was a wonderful, beautiful woman. She also got very confused when I asked her if she’d done something and then lied to cover up her confusion. She told me she’d had a newsletter for four years, and the following week told me she didn’t have a newsletter and never had. When I asked for clarification, she got combative and changed the subject. This type of thing would happen several times during a call.
Basically, this category is anybody you can’t stand working with, for whatever reason. It’s not the project you can’t stand – it’s them.
Second, they’ve changed. It’s not you, it’s them.
They had one set of goals or objectives, and that was within your scope of expertise. Now they’re doing something different, and you can’t or don’t want to help them.
This can be very tactical in nature. If you all of a sudden want to go on a massive press campaign, we’re probably not the consultants for you, for example. It can also be ethical or philosophical in nature. If you’re working with IttyBiz and a certain high profile splashy marketer at the same time, and they tell you you’re dead in the water if you don’t start doing high pressure sales webinars, well, we have an issue.
One client of mine was told she should be doing early morning automated phone blasts – basically, automated telemarketing at 6 o’clock in the morning. Call your prospect list before the sun comes up and wake them up to an automated sales message. If you insist I help you with that, we’re probably going to have to part ways.
If you teach mindful yoga, and your client has decided that they want to aggressively go for the Mrs. Bikini USA championships, that goes in this category.
Third, you’ve changed. It’s not them, it’s you.
You’re not doing that kind of work anymore. You’re leaving the business. You came to Jesus.
This is the simplest, because it’s the one that has absolutely nothing to do with them. You’re not going to have to put it to them gently because there’s nothing to put gently. This one’s pretty easy and doesn’t cause most people to lose sleep. A wording template is helpful, but you’re not getting an ulcer over this one.
So! Shall we get to the templates?
How to fire a client, the template
I’ll give you a template to work with, and then we’ll go through three (admittedly silly) examples.
[The salutation. You can use whatever you normally use, or you can say "Dear". I like "Dear". It's a Dear John Letter, not a Hi John Letter.]
[The intro. The only real goal here is to transition to the second paragraph. As long as what you say isn't actively stupid or abrupt, you're fine. Nobody's paying attention anyway.]
[The setup. Succinctly summarize the current situation. Try to say something nice. White lie if you have to. You're allowed to say "I'm happy to see you're growing" even if you're not that happy at all. This is a firing letter, not marital counseling.]
[Feelings, baby. This is where you say how the situation described in the setup makes you feel. Make it about you. Nobody can argue with how you feel. Jerks might try, but it's a hard skill to master. If you've tried to train them in the past, put a reference to that here.]
[No negotiation summary. Based on how you feel, this is what we're going to do now. The feelings part can leave a lot of people thinking there's room to argue, negotiate, or otherwise engage in conflict. This part shuts that down. If it's appropriate to refer, do so here.]
[Positive closing. You are allowed to lie here. You are allowed to say that you wish them the best of luck even if you actually wish they get run over by the Heathrow Express. Do not offer anything you don't want them to take you up on.]
[More formal end than you usually use. I use "Yours, Naomi". This differentiates from my normal communication, which is "xx ND".]
Example 1: They’re an insufferable bastard.
I hope you’re well. I’m writing with a bit of bad news.
From our consultations so far, it looks like you’re very committed to growing Pat’s Awesome Sauces very aggressively. I can see you’re on the fast track, and want to continue getting faster. From what you’ve communicated to me, it seems like you are only comfortable with a guarantee that I can get you results on what I consider to be an extremely aggressive timeframe, and I know my reticence on this issue has caused you some upset in the past.
I find this very stressful, and it has reached the point where I don’t feel that we’re suitable working together anymore. I don’t feel I can give you what you need, and I feel like our interactions are becoming increasingly combative. When we spoke on February 11th, I mentioned that I didn’t feel like your deadlines were attainable, and I felt like you really brushed that off.
I would love to refer you to someone who could meet your needs more effectively but to be honest, I know of no colleagues who could get Pat’s Awesome Sauces decreed the official hot sauces for the White House within 90 days. I can’t in good conscience refer you to someone who I know won’t deliver what you’re looking for. Valerie has sent you a check that covers the remainder of your consulting hours.
I do wish you and your sauces the very best of luck in the future, and I, like you, look forward to the day when Pat’s Awesome Sauces are on every kitchen table in America.
Example 2: They’re out of your league, or changing direction.
I hope you’re well. I’m writing with a bit of bad news.
You have been making incredible progress. Truthfully, yours is among the greatest personal training success stories I’ve seen. I’m incredibly proud of your growth so far, and I think we both know that your ability is at this point surpassing my own. Your recent heavyweight boxing championship win has really cemented this.
It’s a bittersweet realization for me, but I feel like I’m not the person to take you further on your journey. My practice is devoted to helping beginners and those struggling to find their footing, particularly in pilates. I’m not a boxing coach, and I don’t feel good taking your money when what you need is so clearly outside my skill set.
I know how much you thrive in a coaching environment, and I’d love to see you with someone world class in the arena you’re looking for. I’ve asked Valerie to compile a list of coaches who might be better suited to the direction you’re moving in. Evander Holyfield said he would be thrilled to take your call anytime. Since we are at the end of your most recent package of hours, we don’t need to worry about any remaining administration or amount due on either side – we’re fair and square.
I so look forward to seeing you on TV again, and if there’s anything you ever need that’s in the realm of Pilates or yoga, I would be delighted to start back up.
Example 3: You have to go see about a girl.
I hope you’re well. I’ve got some news that could be good or bad, depending on how you look at it. :)
The short version is that as of this week, I’m retiring from coaching in the Pick Up Artist community. It’s a positive move for me because I just got engaged to a wonderful girl – and she’s not even pregnant! – and for obvious reasons, my direction in life isn’t compatible with this industry anymore.
Coaching with you has been a blast, one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I will always look back with fondness at my days being your wingman in Tijuana, although I may not always look back at them out loud around my wife. Valerie has whipped up a list of other coaches suitable for someone in your league, which I’ve attached here.
I probably won’t see you around – I don’t think I’ll be hanging out in the same haunts anymore – but know I wish you the best. I’ll send you an invitation when we’ve got a date set. Can’t wait to see the girl you bring.
Can I tell you a secret? I teared up reading that last one out loud to Dave. There is something seriously wrong with me.
Now that I have spent SIX HOURS writing this, please share it with someone.
Next up, we’re talking about training clients to behave. Subscribe to the free RSS feed (or get on The Letter) and it will come to you automagically.
Welcome back! Previously, on Awkward Conversations Week, we talked about how to tell someone their payment bounced. Mmm. Sticky. Today we’re talking about telling a potential client you don’t want to work with them.
“How to say no” may well be the second most searched term in the history of the internet. (Second only to “how to flip an omelette”. Naturally.) Saying no is darn tough for many, even under the best of circumstances, and even when you’re declining something no reasonable person would agree to.
Saying no to a potential client is an especially weird animal because it is often very difficult for people to imagine anybody turning down paid work. There is a belief that freelancers, small business owners and service professionals would take anybody’s money, much like a bookstore or a cell phone company. But, of which you are undoubtedly aware, there are plenty of reasons an ittybiz owner might want to say no, and it helps to have some language handy.
This one has a few different subtypes with different associated concerns, and we’ll address each of those separately. The template, however – affectionately referred to as Thanks But No Thanks in our templates file – remains the same. We tweak for details, but the boilerplate is pretty solid.
Regardless of the subtype you’re dealing with, the trick to saying no to paid work is in making sure you communicate three specific things. Your communication needs to hit three success metrics, or you’re cruising for drama later:
1. You want to make sure your reasoning is credible and/or plausible.
2. You want to make sure your wording is sympathetic.
3. You want to make sure you don’t leave room for interpretation or negotiation.
Let’s get started.
How to say no to someone you know and like
This one is probably the hardest for most ittybiz owners, so we’ll tackle it first. That way, if your laptop blows up three minutes from now, you’ll have gotten the trickiest one out of the way. The rest can totally wait until you can get to the public library. (You will be going to IttyBiz at the public library, won’t you? While you’re there, make sure to leave 7 reasons I decided not to become a prostitute up when you leave the desk, okay?)
Telling someone you know and like that you don’t want to work with them is hard for a few reasons. First, you’re worried about offending them. Second, you’re worried about disappointing them. And third, it’s hard to find the words. It feels like telling a stranger would be a lot easier. (Sometimes yes and sometimes no, but that’s sure what it feels like when you’re in the situation.)
The first issue is pretty easy to tackle. Unless you have a legitimate disorder that makes knowing what’s offensive difficult – and we have several clients with Aspbergers’ who do find this very hard indeed – being generally non-offensive is relatively simple. Just don’t be an ass. Don’t be abrupt. Use enough words. Use basic human manners. (More in the scripting to follow.)
The second one is more challenging. Sometimes not working with you will be legitimately disappointing, and how you phrase it won’t change that. If you make gorgeous websites, and I’m super excited about you making my gorgeous website, and it turns out that you don’t do websites for people in my line of work? Well, it’s going to be disappointing no matter how many sandwich techniques you throw in there. You can’t stop someone from being disappointed.
(Also, some people are more easily disappointed than others. The sanguine will handle it well, the melancholic will handle it badly, and there’s not a whole lot you can really do to influence either. Bummer.)
You’ll also want to consider why you don’t want to work with them. If you don’t want to work with them because you think they’re going to be a nightmare to work with, that’s one thing, and finding the right words without lying can take a fine hand. Find a husband or somebody to talk out potentially plausible reasonings with, and plug them into the template as if they were your actual reasons.
(To my mind, lying here is perfectly acceptable and has no overwhelming moral component, but it might have unintended longer term consequences. If I tell a potential client today that we’re not accepting new ebook jobs, and next week their best friend comes in and we take them on, we’ve got an icky situation on our hands.)
If you don’t want to work with them because you can’t do so in good conscience, that’s a little easier. Take your actual reason and put it in the reason field. Ahhhh.
How to say no to someone you know and don’t like or don’t care about
If you don’t like them or don’t care about them, all you really need to do is make sure that you don’t say anything that could reasonably lend to them talking smack about you behind your back. It is tempting to simply ignore the request and hope they don’t follow up. Yeah. Good luck with that. The more you don’t like them, the more likely they are to follow up. It’s like gravity, baby. You can’t escape it.
Basically, send them the Thanks But No Thanks email and quietly dislike them on your own time.
Now, if the reason you don’t like them is because they’re an abrasive bully who isn’t likely to take no for an answer, that’s a little bit of a different story. Your initial email is the same – don’t make assumptions and pre-punish a bully-to-be for something they haven’t done yet – but you’re going to brace for more follow up. You’re pretty sure they’re going to come in and harangue you, and you have to accept that going in. But there’s no point in giving yourself a heart attack finding ways to be extra aggressive in your initial email when it’s not going to make a blind bit of difference anyway. Cool your jets, Boundary Girl.
People who don’t respect boundaries are people who don’t respect boundaries, and there’s pretty much nothing you can say in the initial conversation that will influence that in any way. Say what you’re going to say nicely, and prepare to repeat yourself using fewer words each time.
How to say no to a stranger off the street
This is the easiest, because you don’t have to worry about any emotional issue other than your own internal drama. If you just hate saying no, or if you have a sinking feeling that you’re leaving money on the table, or you’re thinking anything that starts with “I should”, well, that’s a separate issue. You don’t just need a template – you need a template and a Xanax.*
The presence of your hanging shingle does not mean you need to take every possible client, and if you’ve got stress and drama around that fact, the best advice I can give you is this – they’re not taking this nearly as seriously as you are. They’re just shooting out an opening volley, and if you don’t want to work with them, they’re probably going to be fine with that. And if they’re not fine with that? Well, you don’t know them, and you’re refusing to work with them, so you don’t really ever have to deal with it. Let them hate you.
This stranger-off-the-street thing happens to us a lot in the wake of the IttyBiz profile in The $100 Startup. We get some pretty kooky people wandering in, certain that we are their only hope for, naturally, world domination. Some of them we’re thrilled to work with, some of them we can work with, but many of them we don’t want to or can’t.
Sometimes they send desperate emails back saying that there’s nobody else they can call. This is likely true, and for that, they have my compassion. The fact that it is true, though, does not make it our problem. We’re a consulting and training company, not a halfway house.
*Xanax sold separately, see store for details.
How to say no to someone who came referred
This last one we file under Seems Harder Than It Is.
If somebody comes in referred from someone else – whether that someone else is an acquaintance, a colleague, or a cherished friend – it feels like you’re not allowed to say no.
You’re allowed to say no.
You just need to remember that whatever you say will get back to the referring party. This might happen verbatim – they forward the email – or it might be a paraphrase. That paraphrase might be an accurate representation of what you said, or it might be a gross bastardization that slaughters your professional reputation.
Hmmm. Tricky. You’ve got to cover your ass here.
Here’s what we do.
We send the “Thanks, but no thanks” email to the inquiring party. Then we forward a duplicate to the referring party, but we delete the inquiring party’s original email for privacy. I’ll start the forward with a heartfelt thank you for the referral and a BRIEF explanation of why it didn’t work out. Then below that they can see what we sent to the referral if they want to, or if it becomes a drama later.
Then I send them a present. Usually it’s a plant.
Thanks But No Thanks, the Template
So here’s what we say. It needs modifying for the specifics of the situation, but it’s a good enough start. (Highlights are for things you’d need to edit).
Thank you so much for your email about working with you on X. We’re so grateful [honored, if that's more appropriate] that you thought of us.
Having looked at your situation, it seems like you’re looking for something that’s outside the scope of what we do well. [It's okay to take the blame here. You're turning them down, remember?] I can see you’re looking at a strong social media focus for your marketing campaign, and that’s not really our area of expertise. We tend to get the best results with strengthening a company’s home base, email marketing, launches, and copywriting. It seems like you’re going to be better off with someone who can make magic in 140 characters, and that’s not really where we shine. I wouldn’t be comfortable taking your money and knowing you’re not getting our best work.
Unfortunately, I live under a bit of a rock these days, and I don’t have any current ideas for referrals. [If you have ideas for referrals, this is where to put them. We usually don't, so we take the hit and honestly tell people that we've got nothing. I used to say "if you need any ideas for referrals, let me know", but then people took me up on it and I was screwed and stressed. So we don't do that anymore.] You might want to look at Elance or try a few weird Google searches to see if there’s somebody who can give you specifically what you’re looking for.
Dave and I both wish you the very best of luck with your [book / new / upcoming / launch / charity / who cares, just find a damn adjective] project and we look forward to hearing a great success story.
So that’s what we say. Twist and steal at your leisure. Tomorrow, we’re going to talk about how to fire a client or customer. Subscribe to the free RSS feed (or get on The Letter) and it will come to you automagically.