Back in the caveman times, your value pretty much centered around your ability to hunt and bring a buffalo into the hut for everyone to eat. There were no supermarkets or take-out joints on the plains and prairies. If you didn’t bring home a buffalo, your tribe got to eat nothing but berries and nuts that day. Face it, no one is happy with just berries and nuts. To keep your tribe healthy and happy, it’s all about catching and feasting on buffalo.
One day you wake up and head out to hunt for buffalo. It’s been a long time since you bagged a nice buffalo and everyone is tired, hungry, worried and sick of berries. The pressure is on: catch that buffalo.
You walk outside your hut and find a weak, sick buffalo just standing there. And you cannot believe your good fortune. Here is what you’ve been looking for: a buffalo, three steps away from your hut, and you don’t even have to do much work to kill it and drag it home thinking “this is going to be awesome”.
The problem is: that buffalo is diseased and now everyone in your tribe is going to get sick because you opted for the easy kill. The warning signs were there: this buffalo was smaller than the rest, it did not look right, it did not try to run away from you. It was very easy to kill and drag into the hut. But you chose to ignore these warning signs because you felt the pressure to bring food to the rest of the tribe.
This scenario is something artisan entrepreneurs can relate to, the need to do something, anything to keep money coming in to keep the lights on and the bellies fed. So when a buffalo appears at our door, either by random chance or referral, it is very easy to say yes to this buffalo even if it appears distressed and diseased.
So when this happens to you, what do you do, take the client or not take the client? How do you balance the need to bring money in with the need to avoid taking on the wrong clients? First, look at the obvious: who is this person? What type of project is this? Is it something you can do but is not in the scope of services you provide? Does it fit? If the answers are no, its a sign you should pass, regardless of the promise of buffalo meat for your tribe.
Consider how much time and energy this will drain from you and your company. This is something we typically overlook or underestimate, as the desire for buffalo meat causes us to overlook these types of red flags.
Another good question to ask yourself is, “how do I feel, physically, in the presence of this person?” Pay attention to your visceral reaction. Do you get tense? Feel more on guard? Defensive of your policies and procedures? If so, this is a good sign that it is not the right client. Too often we rely solely on logic and facts via a”pros and cons” list when making these types of decisions and ignore the clear signals coming from the gut.
Also, take a good look at what the potential client is telling you with their words and actions? Is this person trying to amend your policies and procedures before you even sign a contract? If someone tries to bend your rules before you have a relationship with them, they are not going to all of a sudden comply with your rules once you’ve signed a contract. If they don’t respect your boundaries now, they will not respect your boundaries later. This buffalo is diseased and you should not let it into your hut, because your entire tribe will get sick.
Are they offering you “promises” in exchange for changing your policies and procedures? If so, what are the promises offered? Are they telling you they cannot pay you your usual and customary rate but the “opportunity” of being able to work on this project and the “exposure” that will come from it will make up for any income lost? Run from this buffalo as fast as you can, as it is diseased and likely very delusional. When someone has a genuine opportunity, they do not use it as leverage to get free work from others.
We’ve all become ill from eating diseased buffalo in our businesses. Unpaid invoices, bad reviews, shoddy work we’re not proud of, these are some of the unpleasant remnants of having brought diseased buffalo into the hut. If an “opportunity” seems too easy or smells just a little off, trust your gut and say no. The time and money you will spend treating illness in your tribe will far outweigh whatever you might get from this client.
Yes, I know you need the money. But is making the entire tribe sick just to get one quick meal really worth it in the long run? For the health of your business in the long run, definitely not.