If you’ve never heard of Pareto’s Principle, it’s an economic principle saying; 20% of something is always responsible for 80% of the results. Or more simply, that 20% of your clients will be responsible for 80% of your work.

When this number is commensurate with income, meaning 20% of your clients = 80% of your work and 80% of your income it’s great. Otherwise, it’s a nightmare. Most of your effort is only a fraction of your income.

The bottom line as a service provider. Don’t spend 80% of your time for 20% of your income. It’s all the better if you can catch the potential problems during the sales process before you start to work.

Sometimes The Warnings Are Clear

Last year, I had one of the funniest business phone calls I can remember, from a possible client, I was already leery to take on. Leery or not, I’d had hours of meetings with this would-be-client. I met with the marketing team and was asked to write up a scope of work. The handshakes had gone around and we were all ready to start as soon as I wrote up the SoW we agreed on.

Late on a Friday evening, I sent out the scope of work with the agreed information. A few hours later the CEO sent me a text to ask if we could set a meeting at his office for Monday morning to, “Answer some questions I have”. The history this particular person had about sending texts instead of email, phone calls instead of texts and meetings instead of phone calls was already a concern of mine, and this was not helping his case.

It was 10:30 and I shouldn’t have, but I responded asking him to email me the questions he had. Since he was one of several people on the email, I would have thought a reply all was in order. I said I’d do my best to answer them over the weekend and save us both some time. I was pretty busy on Monday with (paying) clients, and I had already spent two days in one week at this potential client’s office. So, I offered to set up a call to go over everything and make revisions, if needed.

I Didn’t Read the Scope of Work, Let’s Talk About it.

Apparently, this was not going to fly! In the next ten minutes, I received 15 texts explaining to me how I would fail if I didn’t cater to client needs better than this. I then got a call from this guy. He was ranting about how he liked to do business face to face and couldn’t believe I would be so unreasonable. It was now 10:45 pm on Friday, but I told him to ask me any questions he had about my SoW and I would answer them.

The priceless response was:  “So I must have a list of questions before the meeting?” — I started laughing a bit, hearing those words from the man who needed a face to face meeting so I could answer his questions. We talked for about an hour and I was able to read the answers to his three questions from the scope of work he clearly had not read. For the record, this guy was the CEO of a 60+ person company – not huge, but more than just a small startup. The meltdown was kind of surprising.

This Was a Long Time Comming.

You may think I sound a little unreasonable, but this was not the first sign of trouble. I had 4 hours of meetings by phone, 7 hours of meetings in their office and 2.5 hours of transit time all for a project that, in a perfect world, would have taken less than 40 hours of work. So far every indication I had been given was that this project was going to be made to take 120 hours.

I kept getting the feeling that I was going to either not be paid, or deal with a ton of “scope creep”. I’m also not entirely trusting of a CEO who would set a meeting for Monday morning at 11:00 Friday night.

I now know two other people who almost worked with this client and were screwed over in one way or another. Both of the problems my friends had stemmed from bad communication practices (late night texting as a substitute for email as an example). I feel I made the right call. I wish I had the time I spent back. But I was better off than the project had moved forward.

Sadly, I think most of us end up having to learn our lessons the hard way. But here are some great articles on this topic, Beating Busters: How to Identify and Avoid Bad Clients and How to Avoid Working With Clients You Want to Avoid Working With. These kinds of articles help me not second-guess myself.

Edit: This post was deleted at some point during a database optimization mishap. On April 4th, 2019, this post was republished on the original date. Some of the contents were changed, due to spelling, grammar and personal growth. – Mason Pelt

Header Image by Matt From London

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