Sometimes things happen in business life that really get you thinking about your core values and what’s important to you as a business person. One of the advantages of age over youth is the ability to look at such values in much greater perspective and appreciate what’s the right way to behave. A recent event triggered this post.
Looking for specialist guidance
I was approached by Arik, a potential client (who found me on the Internet), and asked whether I could help write content for him in a particular field. This field was not very familiar to me but was well known by David, a business acquaintance of mine who had spent many years undertaking such work. I therefore advised Arik that I could help him provided that I worked with David too (who could help me to get up to speed). We arranged a meeting between the three of us. David charged Arik a consultation fee for the meeting.
The meeting went on for longer than planned and we found it difficult to guide Arik along a practical and feasible track. Many options were eliminated as being too expensive. However in the end we felt that at least we had defined a proper beginning for the client’s project. A key factor was that David would be able to guide all developments since he was the person with the greatest knowledge in this field. Unfortunately things started to unravel after that.
Looking at the wallet rather than the wish-list
David was upset that he collected a fee smaller than what he felt entitled to – because the meeting went on for longer than the prescribed hour. He said that he would agree to continue only if his (rather high) hourly consultation fee was paid. In other words, what interested him was firstly the client’s wallet and only secondly his wish-list. I did not take any payment for this first meeting. It upset me that I had brought Arik to David, hoping to start an interesting and productive interaction between the two and to progress to a defined project – only to find that the main specialist felt little empathy to the client. Without letting the client know of the situation I decided to look for an alternative specialist in this field – someone with a more understanding and generous approach.
Getting into the other person’s shoes
If you work in the communications business and especially if you’re a communicator for Internet projects, you must firstly have strong feeling of empathy to your potential client. He or she has an objective to realise and it’s your job to start off by putting yourself in your client’s shoes. Try to find a solution and dispel the foggy clouds of indecision and lack of direction. Perhaps your clients can only achieve 10% of what they had planned but at least you should identify with that 10% and seek a good professional way forward for them. At the most fundamental level, I had the strong feeling that David lacked empathy and simply said that ‘the client does not know what he wants’. He took the consulting fee, however!
A sense of purpose
Each of us turns to a specialist because we don’t have the answers. Often we don’t have the questions either: we just have a general intention and goal. I can understand what Arik is trying to achieve and I am sure that with professional help he can at least get part of the way. I admire David’s professionalism and I know he’s a responsible person. However it’s the empathy with a potential client, before he or she becomes an actual client, that makes the difference between one supplier and another. How much are we willing to put ourselves out of our way for them? What steps are we willing to take to help them find the right path?
I think that these are ingrained values that either you have or you don’t. I always try to go the ‘extra distance’ because that’s simply me. I also look for work partners who have a similar approach to me. None of us will ever be millionaires – but we’ll be rich inside.