As we stood near the cottonwoods on a dirt trail, bordering a wide creek bed, I laughed at what I saw as my boyfriend's weak attempt to let loose in the wilderness.
In our khaki hiking shorts, our tank tops and boots, backpacks filled with water bottles and snacks, sweating in what was turning into a mid-day summer sun, my boyfriend and I were hiking in Sycamore Canyon (a wilderness area in central Arizona's Verde Valley) when we arrived at a wide clearing. The sun beamed over our heads as we walked into the open space to see Sycamore Creek off to the left, the continuing trail about 50 feet ahead. The water looked so inviting, and I was so thrilled to be out there that I ran out into the center of the clearing and yelled up into the sky.
Raising my arms, I yelled again, even louder, "AHHHHHHHHH!" It felt good to release that energy. So I turned around and urged my boyfriend to do the same. But he nodded his head.
"C'mon," I told him, "Just let loose." But he wasn't having it.
Me, intending to convince him, kept prodding him until he finally cried out in the tiniest voice, "ah."
We hadn't yet walked a mile, but it was as if he had no energy. "ah." Just like that. No rebel yell. No excitement. Nothing but a little half-hearted peep.
"Is that it? Is that all you've got?"
He looked at me as though he couldn't understand.
I wanted more. I wanted him to feel what I was feeling. Out there in the wilderness, visiting this place I'd never seen before, anticipating the long walk ahead, not knowing what we'd see, I felt a freedom and excitement. I wanted him to feel it, too.
"Are you kidding? C'mon. Give it all you got. Yell as loud as you can. Just for fun." Please!"
I'm pretty sure I saw an eye roll before he turned away from me, so I didn't think I'd worked my charm. But all of a sudden, I heard it.
He yelled so loud and so long, I jumped back; he'd startled me.
Then, he just stopped and said quietly, "You can expect the black bears to come after us now."
Oh, he was just joking. But this is bear country, and I hadn't thought of that. I just wanted him to yell, to relax. I hadn't thought we'd be disturbing nature by yelling out into the wilderness. I just wanted to have fun.
I hadn't considered a different perspective.
But that's what I'm thinking about this week as I deal with a client's dissatisfaction with my work. It happens. We can't please everyone. And sometimes we take jobs for the wrong reasons, or sometimes we agree to work with someone but the fit doesn't quite match. I wanted more from this job than the client did. I thought the job required more work than he really wanted. Truth is, it was his perspective that mattered here, not mine. And my approach caused a disconnect. I wasn't happy because I was frustrated with how much work was involved. He wasn't happy because I was taking too long. And neither of us were really communicating that.
So how can I avoid this in the future? I'm thinking pre-questionnaire, longer initial interview, avoid e-mail communication and stick to the phone. I'm thinking there must be a solution to deal with what might be an uncomfortable situation at first that is sure to turn into worse later.
So I polled Twitter to see what other writers like me might do in order to approach a client that turns out not to be the right fit.
Heather Boerner says she has a simple solution. She just gets too "busy" and raises her rates to scare them away. But you might not want to try that while you're working with them. So Alycia de Mesa thinks including a cancellation clause in the written contract is a good idea.
Because we own our own mistakes here, we take responsibility for our own choices, and we are learning to be accountable, I'm certainly not upset with my client for reclaiming his work. I think I might have done the same thing if I were in his place. In fact, I might have done it sooner! And, thankfully, I learned a few lessons to pass along to you:
Consider the enjoyment factor
If you're in business for yourself, you get to pick and choose the projects you take on. That's your luxury. If you agree to do a job, and it becomes something you don't enjoy, you should first make the most of it. Complete it as best you can. Don't put it off. Get it off your schedule sooner, rather than later. But if the project becomes difficult to manage in some way, it's best to pick up the phone and talk to the client to discuss how you should proceed. Chances are, if you're not happy, the client's probably not happy, and you can agree to part ways amicably.
Pay attention to perspective
When you agree to do a job for someone else, make sure you're clear about what they want. Can you deliver that? There may be good reason why they want something less than what you think they need. So make sure you can separate yourself enough from the job, recognizing it's not yours. Unless they're hiring your for your consulting services, you must provide only what they're asking for--even if your best advice tells you the job needs more.
If you've ever worked with a client who doesn't seem to be the right fit, or if the work turns out to be nothing more than struggle after struggle, what's your perfect solution? Is it possible to reach the same level of perspective before you sever the ties? What's worked well for you?