Great clients want you to lead them and will pay more for the privilege

Order taking is what you did working the drive-thru in high school, not what great clients expect of real expertise


Scenario: Many service firms start new client conversations by sharing their hourly rates and asking what they need, undermining themselves from the start.

Insight: The best clients are looking for true external expertise and leadership. They want a team that will show them the way forward. They don’t want order takers.

Action: Your firm must begin setting expectations at the point a potential client discovers your business and continue driving the bus throughout the entire relationship. Clients need to know HOW you work before you begin.

🤔 Remember why you started?

You started your business because you KNEW you could do it better than your past employer or the other firms in your space. You were tired of seeing clients get the shaft and wanted to deliver better outcomes.

So, why aren’t you leading the way?

Why are you asking for their order?

Great clients want you to drive the bus. Do they always know this from the start? No, which is why it’s your job to show them why they should.

After all, your team has the expertise clients lack within their respective businesses, and your people are constantly learning how to become more effective and leverage new capabilities.

That’s your true value.

It’s not in your ability to carry out a list of tasks, record your time, or wait for approval from an assortment of client overlords.

Great clients expect only 3 things from your firm:

  • do what you said you would

  • when you said you would

  • at the price you said you would

Everything else is YOUR business.

They assume you’ll work as effectively as possible. They also know they have skin in the game too, which means they will need to do their part to not impact your ability to perform.

This doesn’t prevent clients from asking for changes. Yet when that happens (and it will happen), great clients anticipate changes to one or more of the expectations listed above. Everything is a game of trade-offs.

But you can only land great clients if you lead.

When you start conversations by sharing your hourly rates and asking what they want, you throw away credibility and become a “pair of hands”.

And yet that’s what most of us do.

We ask for their order.

It’s no wonder clients start conversations this way. Our industry has trained them to do so. It’s our fault. We must own it.

But it’s not too late to reframe the conversation.

😖 What does this all mean?!

The relationship with your client starts the moment they learn of your name, be it from word of mouth, seeing an ad, reading something you published, or just stumbling upon your website.

In that moment, they make snap decisions on whether it’s worth spending time to learn more about your business.

That’s a lot of pressure yet it’s an even bigger opportunity.

What you share doesn’t have to be feature-related or even the typical resharing of some moderately relevant industry news. You can share your value - how you work, what you dislike, and how you are changing your corner of the world.

Don’t be afraid to be polarizing.

Give your prospects a reason to notice you.

This may very well just sound like marketing in your eyes but it’s more than that. It’s your opportunity to stand out and challenge expectations.

For example, I despise hourly billing. It probably comes up too often (for some) but it’s something I’m passionate about. Why not position your firm as an alternative to that tired and misguided practice by sharing the virtues of upfront pricing? Why not frame what you do as packaged solutions?

These are merely starting points yet they begin to set the tone from the very beginning with your prospective clients. If such things turn them away, they were going to be problematic anyway. You want clients that embrace how you work and see the value without requiring an elaborate dog and pony show.

Beware of the big companies that come your way.

More often than not, they are looking for order takers. While the money and clout may feel good at first, you’ll be singing the big customer blues before you know it.

The best clients appreciate what makes you different. Not how they can mold you to their whims and squeeze you for all you’re worth.

So, for today, think about how you like to work. Who your best clients are and how you help them. Think about the clients that make you want to run the other way. Now, write down how you’d like the perfect project or relationship to be built. That’s the basis for your “how we work” manifesto.

There are plenty of others doing this online. Find and read them. Highlight what you like and what you despise. Learn from them and build your own. Revisit it as you learn more and discover opportunities or pitfalls.

And, most importantly, learn to live by it. When a potential client comes knocking and doesn’t fit your working style, that’s an indication that the money won’t be worth it in the long run and you’ll do less than your absolute best work.

Learn to say NO and recommend others that could be a better fit. When possible never leave a prospect hanging — send them on their way with options and a healthy dose of respect for you and your team.

Remember, business isn’t a zero-sum game. Those that see it that way are only hurting themselves. Friendly cooperation with your competitors can benefit EVERYONE.

🙋 Got questions?

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