It took years of being in business for me to realize I didn’t need to win every project that came through the door. It took a couple more years to realize I didn’t want every project that came through the door. And not to push it too far, but it took even longer to realize that I had the power to choose. When your business is new or the market is slow, choosing your clients may not be an option. However, if you can build your business to the point that you can say no (and I don’t mean bid yourself out of a job to avoid conflict, but to really say no), then you will position yourself for even greater success.

Client Criteria

Let’s start by thinking about past projects for a minute. Have you done any projects on which you lost money? I have—more than I would like to admit—and I wish I had said no when those projects came through the door. I once heard someone say, “I wish I had given those people $500 to go away the first time we talked. I would have lost less money.” When I think about the jobs on which I lost money, that certainly rings true. So how do we make that choice? What are the criteria by which I decide to turn potential clients into clients or turn them away?

How to determine those criteria was not the exercise I thought it would be. I first thought, well, can I make money on this? Do the clients seem nice? If so, then we would pursue. While those criteria are still roughly true, they were too general for any real process of elimination, and it took some time to develop a workable list. Then we put our process in writing so all decision makers are on the same page when deciding what job is right for our firm and what job is not.

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