While I was working at Boxkite Media in Athens, I would occasionally get some pretty humorous assignments. One of these was converting a PHP application we had written, and designed to run on Linux, into a PHP application that would run just as well on a Windows server with PHP installed. If I recall correctly, we ended up performing that conversion for our client at a loss. We lost their yearly hosting revenue, and I don’t think we ever broke even on the amount of work that was required to do the conversion. I don’t recall now the reason the client wanted that change done, whether it was for pure financial reasons or something else, but I do remember that it was an obnoxious situation from an engineering point of view.
Something that I learned in the midst of that from Len, my boss at the time, was that there are days where the dollars and cents matter less than what a client will say about you when asked. He would have been completely justified in turning down the request for that conversion if he knew it wasn’t possible to do it profitably, and safely rest on the seat of fiduciary responsibility to the company. Yet, he didn’t. We instead went the “extra mile” and did everything in our power that their experience in transitioning away from our services was as pleasant as their transition in was when they first became a client.
In my career thus far, especially since I’ve been back in the ring of bidding for consulting work for Crazy Goat Creative, I’ve had more than one negotiation for work that broke down over one matter or another. For consulting in particular, hourly rate tends to be a big one. Verily, in any set of cases where two parties are trying to come to an agreement there will be some subset where they cannot. Knowing that, it’s largely my choice how I want to respond to those cases where my potential client and I can’t come to terms that allow us to both feel good about ourselves at the end of the day. I can choose to be upset, or I can choose not to be. I can choose to completely cut off contact with the client, or I can choose to put them in touch with others who might better fit their needs or priorities. I can own how pleasant or unpleasant the situation has to be and, knowing that, I can also own what the client has to say about me when they walk away.
Maya Angelou is oft quoted as saying, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” We are paying the closest attention to the quality of somebody’s character when things aren’t working in that somebody’s favor. Even in a town as big as Atlanta, someone, at some point, is going to mention my name to a person who declined to work with me. When they do that person’s commentary may indeed be along the lines of “he was a bit too expensive for us” or “he didn’t quite have the skill set we needed.” Yet, if how I navigated those conversations causes them to end their commentary with something like “he was a class act all the way,” then I still come out ahead.
Indeed, in those cases I will have succeeded in adding to the number who can testify that they walked away from me with a positive feeling on a day when things didn’t go my way, and to someone down the road that may well be a testimony that matters a great deal.
(As always, show me some love in the comments here, or on hacker news if you’re feeling so inclined. Love hearing from you guys.)