Does it matter if a client looks good on paper?

Apr 01, 2020

“If you flattened it out, it would be as big as Texas.”

That, according to my sister-in-law Eliza, is what her mother used to say about West Virginia.

We were on vacation there last month visiting Eliza and husband Chris. After driving around for a few days, I think her mom may have had a point: Beautiful, lush, rolling hills wherever you looked.

One night, a few days later (full disclosure: I had consumed several beers at this point), I started pondering the “flattening out” question a bit more seriously. Specifically, I got to wondering if the official land area of West Virginia (24,038 square miles) takes into account the ups and downs of all its hills and mountains.

Short answer: It doesn’t. State land calculations are two-dimensional, as they appear on a map and with no attention paid to topography.

Which means that — hang on, this is the part that made me put down my beer — if you own an acre of land in a flat state like Kansas and I own an acre of land in West Virginia, chances are I own more land than you do.

Same square footage on a map; different amount of actual, physical land that you can stand on.

Why am I telling you this? Because as a solo or small business owner, there are also things that look the same on paper, but in practice are anything but.

Things like…

Leads

Leads become prospects become clients. It’s a predictable, measurable path with a certain amount of drop-off at each step along the way. If you want more clients, get more leads.

Except not all leads are the same.

The guy who Googles “marketing communications for professional service firms” may indeed find his way to my website, but he is not nearly as likely to hire me as is the person who is pointed in my direction by a trusted colleague.

They are both leads. But the one who comes on the recommendation of a friend is way more predisposed to move forward. That’s why I spend way more time cultivating relationships than trying to improve my Google rankings.

Clients

“As long as their money is green, we are happy to work with them.”

I’m not. I have nothing against money, green or otherwise. But if you evaluate clients strictly in financial terms, you’ll have a lot less fun and a lot more headaches than necessary.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I don’t have a single client that I don’t like, trust and enjoy spending time with. It’s not an accident; I’m very careful about who I agree to work with.

Partly because it’s simply more enjoyable. But also because when you connect well with a client, there is less miscommunication, less rework, less wasted time, and almost zero bad debt.

Projects

Which would you rather have, a $15,000 one-time project or an open-ended, $1,000-a-month arrangement? There’s a lot of “it depends” in the answer, of course, but I’ll take the open-ended one every time.

One-off projects are fine, but repeating, longterm arrangements have more upside potential; provide a predictable workload and revenue stream; and eliminate all the learning and gear-grinding that inevitably happens at the beginning of any new client relationship.

So when you consider projects, don’t just look at the dollars on the table today. Think about how the work itself will support the rest of your business over the long haul.

Here’s the bottom line. I’m all for keeping things simple. Too much detail and nuance, particularly when you work alone or in a small firm, can lead to all talk and no action.

That said, not all things that look alike are alike. When it comes to leads, clients, projects and lumpy land, there may be lots and lots of variation.

Michael Katz

Michael Katz is the founder of Blue Penguin Development, where he helps professional service firms talk about their work. Sign up for his free newsletter, The Likeable Expert Gazette, above.