Identifying Wrong Clients

by seanlow on April 23, 2014

I have a client that was asked to present for a potential engagement for a corporate event (for sake of confidentiality, type of artist has been omitted).  Rather than put together a standard capabilities response with canned “here is why we are good” examples, she decided to ask some questions that were bigger than the usual who, what, when.  A few examples of the questions my client asked: why is the event happening, who do you want to impress and why, what are the moments you want, how do want guests to feel during the event, what do you want them thinking about when they arrive and/or when they leave.

Yes, my client wanted the potential client to actually do some work before coming in so she could prepare a presentation that would demonstrate how she would attack the problem (a pre-design if you will).  The response:  “With the utmost respect this is ridiculous…[generic portfolio] rarely does the job but if that is our only option without filling in a life questionnaire than am happy to look at [it].”

Buh-bye.  Instead of anger though, my client responded with a note saying that she understood what she was asking was a lot, but that it was the only way she and her creative business could create meaningful art.  She then went on to talk about the “why” of her creative business – “Our clients hire us because they want that special attention to their event, and they know we will create a tapestry of moods, feelings and modulating energy which takes the experience to a deeper level.”  She then offered to recommend artists that she felt would meet the requirements of the client.  A client is a client from the moment they contact you.  Even if your creative business will not be producing art for them, all potential clients are your responsibility.

Of course, my client’s response will fall on deaf ears.  If a potential client is in the market to buy simple transportation (say an entry level Hyundai), unlikely they will see the value of a top-of-the-line Mercedes.  However, you never know what their best friend (or boss) values and treating the wrong client well is both unexpected and always appreciated.  If you can see wrong clients as doing you a favor, you will be in the business of thanking them.

The favor is that it is much, much easier to define who you, your art and your creative business are by what you are not, than what you actually are.  Take my client.  By getting to say that she does not do plain vanilla, only highly custom, she gets to take it further by saying what is necessary to achieve the highly custom.  The wrong client will say that is ridiculous, the right one will say “ahhhhh, exactly what I want and I am ready to give you what you need.”

Ending the exchange with a wrong client with an authentic desire to help is a sign of strength.  It tells everyone that you know who you, your art and creative business are and who you are not.  Moreover, it reflects a desire to have all client’s only get the best artist for them.  If you put the energy out there that you only do your best for those that want what your best is, what do you think will come back?

Wrong clients are a blessing.  Thank them.  Help them. Embrace them.  Work hard to identify who they are.  Just do not create art for them.  Ever.

{ 1 comment }

1 Melissa Paul April 24, 2014 at 12:18 am

Another great article, Sean. We really can’t, and shouldn’t, try to be all, do all for everyone. Knowing our boundaries and enforcing them in a direct, professional manner is empowering. Letting fear of failure or succumbing to the need to please just gets us creatives into a hole that suffocates. “NO” really is a complete sentence.

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