One of the services I provide at 3CB is project management, which mainly involves logistics. For one client in particular, I handle correspondence, i.e. making phone calls and emails to get delegates to the venue in one piece, preferably with their wardrobe intact. It’s a tedious, essential, but unglamorous task.
This particular client has a very firm corporate image. It’s a no-nonsense environment where everyone takes themselves quite seriously. Protocol is followed in debilitating detail. As a result, any communication with customers is stoic, almost cold.
Enter me, with my warm, uber-friendly approach to strangers. Results were mixed at best, and disastrous at worst. My client’s associates began to ask for me by name, and my personality interfered with my client’s detached approach.
Because I was seen as more malleable, I ended up being sought on my own time for this client’s business, which was ineffective for all involved. On the plus side, people I had interacted with on behalf of my client remembered my name and persona. It’s quite possible that the relationships formed could lead to business tangents unrelated to this client. However, the primary client remains dissatisfied with my system, because that’s not who they are.
As a consultant and a businessperson, I’ve had to weigh the pros and cons of cases like this. Being myself may work well with some clients, and it certainly makes my job more enjoyable. But, cliché or not, the customer is still king, and it may mean compromising my attitude, dress code, or ethos to keep them happy. After all, they’re paying for my services, so they should get what they want.
There is a line to be drawn of course. If the client requires you to bend over so far that you end up on your back, you may need to pass up the money and work for someone else. But when you want to be paid, it’s not you that matters, it’s your client. Running your own business has very many perks, but it doesn’t necessarily make you the boss.
One way to overcome this is to pick your specialty carefully. You can’t always choose your clients, but you can choose your field. If you’re into computers and you want to start your own business, you should pick a niche that suits your nature. If you enjoy nitpicking details, you are better suited to programming, where every extra comma changes a swathe of site specs. If you’re a creative, graphic design is better, since it lets you use your imagination. The tinker-types would probably work well in hardware, so they can take things apart and stick them back together. Extroverts may prefer networking, so they can deal with flesh-type people as they explain how the systems work, and so they can be invited to the product launch.
As a writer and editor, I play with words, and I mostly work alone. My nature lets me deal individually with clients, so I sometimes do administration. Other writers prefer to outsource a marketter, publicist, or resident sanguine to deal with the more social aspects of their business. You could hire a personable assistant to act as your ‘social interphase’ so that you can hide in the basement and write. This assistant can be the ‘face’ of your business while you stay rich, anonymous, and less susceptible to kidnapping. Plus, you’re creating employment, which is always a good thing.
You may think you’re too shy, too quiet, or too nice to be in business, but with a little out-of-box thinking and some smart recruiting, you could surprise yourself. Try it, you just might like it.
Crystal Ading’ is a professional author, editor, rock lover and mother. Her work is available through www.threeceebee.com.