As business owners we all have the basic need for our business to be successful. In addition to that, we want to please our customers. If you are just starting out, both of these things are amplified exponentially. One of the most important things to realize and unapologetically own, is the word NO. You cannot meet all desired deadlines, you cannot deliver merchandise that magically does everything a customer hopes it does. You cannot and will not always please everyone. These are the facts.

How many of you have gotten a call from a client asking if you can have a project done in a fraction of reasonable time and in spite of all the alarms in your head what comes out of your mouth is: “Of course we can. Not to worry!” Ooh, the split second of feeling like a hero was great right? The client is excited, you are excited and now you have the job. Bad, bad, BAD! Now comes the panic. “Crap, I have to finish this by WHEN?” Then you actually receive the job and upon review find the organization to be in utter shambles which of course adds time to completion. You go back to the client with a sentence that begins with, “Err, I’m sorry but…” and it doesn’t go to well from there.

This is an avoidable scenario – and you can still say yes to the project. With ground rules of course.

Qualifying the client, the timeframe, the software – it’s all a must. Hands down. In any business climate, but especially the one we are faced with today, people are watching their dollars more closely. When someone chooses to spend money on their business, there is an expectation accompanied by a perceived notion of how they will be getting maximum value for it. They are well within their rights to expect value from their money, but what comes into play here is how they have defined maximum value.

Primarily I sell services. Software too, but mostly services. When I first speak with a potential client I qualify them. I listen to what their needs are and how they perceive they should be met. If the work itself falls within the scope of my services but their desired timing or other restrictions make it otherwise impossible, I say so. Often times this is cleared up because the truth is, the client didn’t have sufficient understanding of a process which in turn led to unreasonable requests. If the potential client is still insistent on their terms – this is where I point them in an alternate direction for possible answers. If I feel what they want is unattainable, I also tell them that as I send them on their way.

Wow, “you just turned away business” you’re thinking. Well, yes and no. What I did – in the case of the former is set some ground rules and establish how the client should be perceiving possibility. In the case of the latter, I did the same only they didn’t accept that. By firmly saying “no, sorry,” I avoided an ugly future scenario of being unable to deliver as expected & a client feeling that they wasted their money on me. The likelihood of that person bad mouthing me & my business is a lot lower because I was truthful. There is even a chance that down the road they will come back to me with re-alligned expectations and we will then work together.

So, now about software [merchandise]. Same thing. Perhaps in my case it really comes in handy that I am a piss poor saleswoman of used cars & swampland. It just goes against my very essence to try to sell somebody on a product. To me a product should sell itself. Period. That said. I sell software. Even so, before recommending a product to a potential buyer, I interview them to understand their needs and what it is they want their software to do. Sometimes I see a 100% fit, other times I see those that will be in work-around heaven – or hell. In each case I tell them what I see and let them make the ultimate decision.

There is no shame in saying no or telling someone something won’t do exactly what they want it to. By being truthful and highlighting actual functions and possibilities (be it a service or product) you are simply putting your client’s feet on the ground and giving them a new pair of glasses. This turns your worst possible scenario into meeting their expectations and your best at exceeding them.

This is not to say that challenging ourselves and taking on intricate projects is not a good idea. In fact we should all do that from time to time. It’s what keeps us sharp and able to rise to the occasion. Just remember, always openly, and realistically communicate with the client.