I recently met with an old friend over coffee. We hadn’t seen each other for about 3 months. Our “catch-up” conversation made us both oblivious to the movement of time. We lingered so long the coffee shop had to kick us out. From there our conversation moved outside where we stood under the stars in a cool breeze for two hours. The only thing that made me realize time was passing was the sound of my wife’s text message beeping on the phone.
One of the topics that came up with my friend was recent work experience. We are both self-employed craftsman, but in completely different fields. Although our work is different, dealing with clientele is very similar. I told him about several clients that I had been working with. He stopped me after my second story and told me I should quit writing technical articles and books and concentrate on client and/or people relationships. The knowing glance he gave me indicated it was a tongue-in-cheek comment, but got me thinking how bizarre the behavior of these people really was. I had to re-examine why I chose to work with them. Was this the type of clientele I should be fishing for?
All were educated and understood the level of quality they wanted. However, the wealthiest of the bunch could not add or subtract change orders and felt it was justified to withhold a final payment of thousands for a small punch-list item that cost a couple hundred. The craziest of the group prepared a candlelight luncheon where she made a pass at me and later exposed herself trying to, “seal the deal”. And the third is a well-traveled Seattle socialite (who has hob-knobbed with U. S. and foreign presidents and celebrity captains of industry) that went ballistic over a schedule that fell apart because they “forgot” to sign their contract. This whole conversation with my friend made me realize business owners need to have more than business skills to turn a profit. Many books have been written about this interaction between psychology and business. But what do we really need to know about swimming with these fish we call clients?
Years ago I went on a canoe trip in a Canadian wilderness area. There were no roads or motorboats. Traveling between lakes required packing your gear over portage trails where the flies and mosquitoes pecked away at your exposed skin. I’ll never forget how clear the lake water was up there. From our canoe, you could see the trout swimming thirty feet below. One night my fishing buddy and I went swimming and were surprised that the fish swam with us, much like they do in the tropics. Little did they know of our intention to catch them the following morning. Perhaps they didn’t know we were predators, or maybe they just realized who the better swimmer was. Even if they did understand our intention, we were not a threat to them while in the water. It was only while on dry ground that we were dangerous. My point? You can swim with anyone. It doesn’t matter their position in society, who they know, or how crazy they may be. But as a businessperson, you need to discern whom you swim with and whom you are fishing for. Protect yourself with a well-written contract that clearly outlines responsibilities and expectations. And learn to listen to your instincts. To have business longevity, the only thing that matters in the end is who is holding the pole and who is on the hook. .