Being a People Pleaser Almost Cost This CEO Her Clients. Here Are 4 Critical Lessons She Learned On Her Way to The Top. Are you a people pleaser? I was — and as studies suggest, many other women are too. Here are four strategies that can help you shift from being an order taker to a strategic client partner.
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There are partners who do the work and partners who create the strategies behind the work. As entrepreneurs, we tend to do it all because we're establishing our business and building our revenue pipeline. But there are inherent problems with this approach.
Case in point: In my first full year working for myself, I landed a huge client. I had the experience, the knowledge and the skills for the assignment, but I was just starting out on my own and didn't have a budget to hire help. Wanting to prove that I could handle the project, I did it all myself, serving as a marketer, copywriter and account manager.
What I didn't leave time for was strategy. My desire to please the client took over, and I ended up throwing myself into the tactical work at the expense of my strategic expertise. As a partner, I was doing myself a disservice. When the client didn't see my vision, they mentally put me in the "doer" category.
There are two inherent problems with being an order taker: Firstly, the work you're ordered to do may not align with your vision and likely won't earn the results they're looking to achieve. Secondly, sooner or later, they'll move the tasks in-house.
Apparently, I'm not the only one who has fallen into the people-pleaser trap. Women are apparently at greater risk of manifesting this self-sabotaging trait. According to a recent study, 56% of women are more likely than men to describe themselves as people pleasers.
The results of another study concur — 54% of female participants exhibited people-pleasing behavior, while the minority of men at 40% showed similar tendencies.
The pressure that women feel to please others is real. It's a "gender norm" historically reinforced by society, making us more susceptible to related behaviors, such as difficulty saying no or arguing our case. As Caitlyn Collins, a professor of sociology at Washington University so aptly put it, "Women have been socialized into understanding that what is most important is that they be perceived as likable and agreeable."
We're more likely to nod in agreement and dive into the work than we are to disagree or say we know better. And by and large, we're invaluable as workers because we want to please.
We tend to work harder than necessary to over-deliver, according to multiple studies, including Hive and Ponemon Institute. But just because we can, doesn't mean we should. I eventually learned that establishing yourself as a strategic partner sets the stage for more rewarding work and greater profit margins.
Fortunately, I was able to break free from my people-pleasing ways. Fast-forward 30 years, I am a CEO and an award-winning marketer. I wouldn't have been able to achieve what I have without learning these four critical lessons as a strategic partner to my clients along the way.
1. Set the stage
Your vision is what got you here, and while you have the know-how to handle a dozen tasks, your job isn't to execute someone else's vision but to create your own vision and teach others how to implement it. Set the stage upfront by kicking off every project with a discovery phase. This initial stage of the project allows you time to perform background research and gain an understanding of your client's history, their competitors and their target audience so that you can plan your strategy. As simple as you think it might be, present your findings to the client along with your strategic recommendations and the metrics by which you'll measure success. And don't forget to include the hours you spend on this discovery phase in your estimate — you should absolutely be compensated for this.
Remember those research papers you had to write in school? You'd have to tell the reader what you were going to tell them, then tell them and then tell them what you told them. In this case, show the client where they are, then show them where they want to be and finally, show them how you'll get them there. Position yourself as the partner that can empower their team to execute your strategic vision.
2. Create a mantra
Have you ever listened to a speaker at a professional event that just blew you away? The most prolific orators follow a simple mantra. Instead of trying to say too much, they focus on a single message. Think of your favorite consumer brand's tagline. They use it in every ad spot and every creative campaign. A mantra is your personal tagline of sorts that ties back to everything you do. That simple mantra can help steer your pitches and presentations and keep you on track.
3. Be curious
Early on in my career, I suffered a great deal of imposter syndrome. What if the client asked a question that I didn't have the answer to? What if I was just dead wrong? I watched veteran strategists seemingly breeze through pitches and presentations and wondered how I'd ever be that confident. Years later, I was offered a chief strategy officer role. I breezed through pitches and presentations, too. But it certainly wasn't because I was always right. It was because I was always curious. Yes, I did my research, I questioned thought leadership, I studied statistics and prepared for every meeting, but I was also genuinely curious, and that gave me the power to listen, really listen, to the questions clients asked and the arguments they surfaced. Sometimes, they changed my mindset, and other times they solidified my resolve.
4. Get comfortable with passing up business
Not every prospect you talk with or present to will be the right fit for your agency. When you're starting out, you might be keen to say yes to any and all work that comes your way to ensure revenue. But there comes a point where you'll need to turn down work that doesn't further your own purpose. Establish the goals, the metrics, how long you think it will take and what other work you have that will eat up hours of your day. Don't agree to their timetable — and if you must, add rush fees in order to get it done.
Enterprise clients can be intimidating, but they've come to you for a reason, so make sure you get what you need from them to be successful.
Let that confidence drive you to focus on crafting your strategic perspective. Being a strategic partner doesn't mean you can't ever be wrong. What it does mean is that you're willing to test new theories, question the status quo and offer a unique perspective. And that's exactly what your clients will come to value.
These are the four lessons I learned (the hard way, in most cases) in my first three decades of business. I hope they inspire you to position yourself as a strategic partner.