In part one of this three part series, I painted a destitute portrait of the emotional whirlwind that comes with the “airy-fairy” client. Now the second type of client is one I’ve seen repeatedly throughout multiple industries. This well-cloned client is the type that wants everything for nothing…and they know you’ll give it to them.
These types reach out to you in a very friendly manner. You may already know them, which makes their initial query quite harmless-seeming. You see, they’re just “looking into” something – perhaps a product, a vendor, a business need…and they’d like you to find out more on their behalf. This might even stroke your ego because they’ve identified you as an authority on the matter. However, before you know it you’ve given them about an hour of your time in just your ideas.
The value you’re giving away here is more than just your time; you’re giving away thought value, which is the value comprised of your time and expertise in a certain area. Think of it this way: You wouldn’t just go to an attorney for their thoughts on a subject and expect them to dish over an hour’s worth of free counsel. For any area of expertise, it took time, money, and a number of other resources to achieve a level of knowledge. This means there’s a great deal of difference between friendly advice and maybe even a free 15 minute consult, and “looking into” a matter with greater detail.
For the more advanced negotiating client in this type of scenario, they usually have you connect with a third party vendor (who has also been suckered into this arrangement). So now there are at least two of your talking about this client and their needs – and neither of you are getting compensated for your time and counsel. Meanwhile, the client happily continues with other areas of their business – a business I might add is doing quite well. You see, the “looking into” or “I need this or that” type of client is not only a master manipulator, they’re also often on the affluent side. They can afford your services three times over – they just don’t want to pay for them, especially when they’re used to getting things for free.
I encountered this type of client several times. The most damaging encounter was one where, desperate for the business early on, I ended up doing over 20 hours of extensive research without so much as a single cent my way. There was, however, plenty of promise for future back payment a very rewarding contract in the future should the project develop as needed. None of that mattered as the earnings didn’t even close to match the amount of initial time I spent “looking into” the project before officially coming on board (after finally putting my foot down against all this charitable goodwill at my expense).
The High Emotional Toll: The high cost here was the sheer amount of man hours I put in and never got reimbursed for. It simply wasn’t worth it to work for free in exchange for future work.
Lesson Learned: Recognize a Signed Contract as the Proverbial Checkered Flag
You can bet the said client came back two-three times more over the years asking me to “look into” something. I learned my lesson the first time and recognized my industry value. I also recognized that a client who isn’t willing to sign on the dotted line is a client that isn’t ready or willing to pay, and hence not worth your time. Here it isn’t about getting paid but about not getting manipulated by clients who clearly recognize and understand basic business transaction: service or products in exchange for payment. After all, you’re not running a charity – and even successful charities have strong income streams.