Evaluating New Clients

two-person-in-long-sleeved-shirt-shakehand-955395When I first started teaching high school I took over in January, the middle of the school year. My predecessor had grown frustrated, complacent, and really lost his handle on his classes. Some of the students, then newly my students, wasted no time blaming him for their lack of knowledge. They were excited at the prospect of a new teacher, some in part for a new opportunity to learn, but the worst because they knew they could game the transition to avoid responsibility.

The same kind of thing can happen with new clients: something hit the tipping point with their last IT guy and they’re eager to lambaste him. You, meanwhile, are eager to please and think you’ll be the perfect match to make them happy. That’s probably not quite the full story.

The likelihood is that there’s blame on both sides of the soured relationship you walked into. Sure the breakup might have been a blowout over a big security problem or ill-timed hardware failure, but it’s likely that communication got bad or was bad from the beginning.

Clients have a habit of not communicating their needs in time for IT staff to respond with adequate preparation, and IT staff have a bad habit of not getting the information they need and communicating timetables and updates. Combined, those habits are a recipe for confusion, frustration, and even suspicion. So two suggestions:

First, have policies, and moreover have them in print and formally part of your business arrangement through your Statement of Work and Contract. This includes what you do, what you don’t do, time frames for projects, support request response times, client responsibilities for payment, acceptable means for contacting you, and so on.

Second, have a trial period of a few weeks, a month, or even a quarter. I err on the side of longer, only because the first few weeks of taking on any new client are either stressful as you are adjusting to each other’s needs, or a honeymoon. In both cases the first few weeks are often not a a reliable indicator of what will become your business arrangement.

But if after a few weeks they’re not abiding by the stipulations of what would be your contract and statement of work, or they’re already haggling with you over your prices and responsibilities, or the bills are coming in late, or you just plain aren’t getting along, it’s a good idea to consider whether you’re a good fit.

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