Recently I shared a post of Twitter brain-dumping some of the core beliefs we hold at Underbelly when talking with potential clients. My main responsibility at the agency is talking with folks about their business, the problems they are facing, and determining if our expertise would be a good fit to solve the issues they’re struggling with as an organization.
These core values are top of mind for me every minute of the day.I try to focus more on values than behaviors because values shape behaviors. It’s a lot more effective to shape the reasons you do something than it is to try to force yourself to simply act differently.
These core values I'm sharing here are the result of a decade of agency experience. Some of these are realizations I’ve had on my own, and others are mantras I’ve adopted from Blair Enns, David C Baker, Chris Do, Jonathan Stark, Mike Buzzard, and Jon Lax. At the end of this post, I’ll direct you to some of the resources that I’ve found to be invaluable in our quest to secure the best clients with the most awesome work and corresponding budgets possible.
Being honest is the best thing for you and the client, even if it means losing the work.
Fear of losing a project is a hard thing to fight. Fear will cause you to make bad decisions. You’ll oversell your abilities, give up budget, commit to unrealistic timelines, or a myriad of other mistakes that will hurt you and the client. Be honest. If you’re thinking it, find a way to say it respectfully to the client. If you know what it will take to do good work for someone, tell them and stick to your guns.
You don't actually "need" any one project.
There are an infinite amount of potential opportunities. Related to the above, the best way to fight fear in a new business conversation is to treat every project like you don’t need it. Even if it’s been a month since your last opportunity.
Think of it this way. Our ancestors had to hunt food for survival (much like we have to hunt for projects to survive). But if your great great great great (x20) grandfather got too hungry he might start moving too quickly and loudly, scaring away potential meals.
The same is true for us. Move slowly. Think before you act. Do what’s best for you and the client. Diagnose the client’s problem with precision and present solutions that you know will work with budgets you are confident will cover your costs. The right project will come along, and you’ll nail it if you’re patient.
On the first call, do everything you can to kill the project.
This is the best way to ensure the project is the right fit for both parties and lets the client talk themselves into hiring you IF we’re really a good first for them. “Why now? Why us? Why not something else? Why not a cheaper option? How do we know this is the right place to focus our time?”
This sounds a bit rude at first, but trust me, it’s one of the best ways to make sure the project is right for you and that the client will be happy with your work in the end. You want to make sure the client really DOES need that site or brand redesign. You want to make sure they’ve done their homework and that you agree on the value you’ll provide. You want to make sure that the work you could do for them is the work they really need because you can do better work (and charge more for it) with that type of circumstance.
Your job is to diagnose problems and prescribe solutions.
Find the clients most important business problem and treat that problem with the appropriate weight in the conversation.
Sometimes the client doesn’t always approach you with the right problem at first. Some folks do, but often their business is hurting or they are trying to hit a new goal and they are just trying to make the next best decision. Your job is to be a doctor for them, finding the root of the problem and prescribing the right medication for the job. This requires asking a LOT of questions and shutting up.
Once you find the most important business problem they are facing, and you’re confident your creative expertise can solve it for that person, treat that problem with care and understanding. The client can sense if you understand how important this work is, and they’ll treat you with trust and respect as a result.