Three red flags to pay attention to:
1. The PROJECT is not a fit! If you are not crystal clear in identifying who your ideal client is, then anyone with a check book is fair game. This may sound ludicrous, but the reality is that until you have done your homework and understand your business mission and core competencies, you will continue to be frustrated by the relationships you cultivate. While you should not decline every job that is less than ideal, flexibility is important, it is critical to understand when the cost of doing business is too high. Will you have to invest in becoming conversant with an industry unfamiliar to you, hire experts or purchase new equipment? Is there true value here or do you need to walk away?
2. The PEOPLE are not a fit! First impressions are made within 30-seconds of meeting someone. Pay attention to how you feel in the presence of the prospect. People do business with people they like and even a short-term project with a difficult group can make the time an energetic drain which also depletes other resources. Are you prepared to regularly justify your fees, manage a challenging client or be on 24-hour call? While you do not have to love the client or become the best of friends, warning signs that they may be overly demanding or reactive makes the case for saying “no”.
3. The PROCESS is not a fit! When you override your initial reaction or force fit a project into your business you can write the final script in advance and it may be one that you are all too familiar with; a promise NEVER to do x again! What is the overall experience you want for yourself and/or your group? Is this a project you are anxious to do but the timeline is not workable? Does it contribute to your portfolio, experience or future work you hope to do? Is the proposal in alignment with your personal and professional goals and values and does it add to your bottom line? Understand the scope of what you are getting into before you commit.
Walking away from someone who wants to pay you is not easy. Increase your fees to compensate for the project, person(s) or process that is not a good fit? Of course you can, but is that the best way to do business? If your resources are stretched to the limit servicing clients you do not want, where is the space for those you really want to be on board? Make a solid referral whenever possible. By saying “no” to the wrong fit you can also say “yes” to the better client, project, or opportunity that is also out there looking for their best match.