From the August 1999 issue of Startups

You wanted to be in charge, so you started your own business. But now it seems your company is running you. You feel continually pressed to meet impossible deadlines to please demanding clients. Although you realize you should say no to some of your customers' terms, you're banking on their business to keep your venture afloat, so you're afraid to say anything that would put much-needed revenue at risk.

But here's the irony: Saying "Yes" to every client request without confirming whether you can follow through is actually a greater gamble in the long run. Here's what you risk:

  • Losing your client's future business by falling short of his or her expectations.
  • Losing potential referrals from unhappy clients, costing you thousands of dollars in future sales.
  • Burning out from scrambling to meet the unrealistic objectives you've set, which in the end diminishes your ability to adequately serve your other customers.
  • Lowering your self-esteem, negatively affecting your relationships with customers, employees, family and friends.

If you're feeling out of control, stop! Take a few deep breaths and remember you possess the power to become the master of your business again. Here are three steps to help you regain control today:

1. Take responsibility. Admit to yourself that you--not your customers--are the problem. Remember, you have the power to create the circumstances you want by choosing which clients you take on. The key is finding the right match between what you offer and what a client needs.

2. Put it in perspective. "There are days when nothing goes right," says Mary Naylor, 35, president of Capitol Concierge Inc., a $6 million company in Washington, DC, that specializes in concierge staffing and services for office buildings and large companies.

"A real quick way to snap back into a positive attitude is to remember: [Your clients] are your paycheck," Naylor says. "Everyone in our organization knows there are clients who are going to be demanding--but they have the right to be! They make it possible for us to exist."

However, this doesn't mean you should let customers walk all over you, Naylor clarifies. When clients pressure you to agree to terms you already know you can't deliver on, Naylor suggests saying, "Our number-one goal is to accommodate and please you. In order to do what you're asking, we're either going to need `x' or `y' in terms of time extension or resources, or we'll let you know if we can't [do the job] and work with you to find an alternative solution."

3. Underpromise and overdeliver. Suppose, for example, you tell a client you'll have a project completed or an order delivered within seven days, but the process ends up taking 10. There's a good chance your customer will be miffed. But if you quoted 14 days, instead of seven, allowing a buffer for unexpected delays, and the client receives the order by the 10th day, you've got a happy customer. Although the project took the same amount of time in both instances, the client's reaction--positive or negative--is based on the expectations you set. Be conservative when making promises to customers, and you won't feel like you're under the gun to meet impossible deadlines. You can take the time necessary to do the job right, making customers happy and eager to tell others about your business.


Sean M. Lyden (seanlyden@mindspring.com) is the principal and senior writer of The Professional Writing Firm Inc., a Kennesaw, Georgia, company that specializes in ghostwriting articles. Lyden writes frequently on motivation, management and marketing issues.

What psychological obstacles to success are you trying to overcome? Tell us at bsumag@entrepreneurmag.com

Get A Grip

Daydreaming about how you'll get back at overly demanding clients--especially when they have the gall to pay you late? Don't waste your energy. Negative emotions will only hinder your work for your other clients, taking a bite out of your cash flow if you're not careful. Read any of the following books to help you keep your head on straight when you're about to blow your top--and your business's future:

  • Success Is a Choice: Ten Steps to Overachieving in Business and Life by Rick Pitino (Bantam Doubleday Dell, $14, 800-323-9872)
  • Winning Every Day by Lou Holtz (HarperBusiness, $25, 800-242-7737)
  • Maximum Achievement: Strategies and Skills That Will Unlock Your Hidden Powers to Succeed by Brian Tracy (Fireside, $13, 800-223-2348)

Contact Source

Capitol Concierge Inc., 1400 Eye St. N.W., #750, Washington, DC 20005, adrienne@capitolconcierge.com