Portfolios – Part 1: It IS About You

Last week I attended a talk on portfolio development and presentation. It included a lot of useful information and the discussion kept me thinking afterwards. I am sharing some of those thoughts over several posts.

Part 1: Don’t compromise your standards in an effort to be marketable.

The presenter was completely correct in emphasizing that it’s not about you. When interviewing with a potential client, you should indeed be focused on learning about their needs and how you might be able to meet them. But you can’t go in with the assumption that you are the right person to solve their problems. Among many in the room, there seemed to be a premium placed on flexibility and versatility over fit. A certain degree of adaptability is a good thing, but saying yes to everything, or trying to get everyone to say yes to you, just makes you a slut. [ Did I just say that out loud? A bit harsh perhaps, but I got your attention, didn’t I? And it does make my point… ] And it makes no business sense.

Every time I’ve taken on a project or client that wasn’t a good fit (read: I did it for the money), I’ve regretted it. I inevitably produced less than my best work because I didn’t have a good rapport with the client and/or I was working outside my expertise. This leads to one of the following unfortunate outcomes:

  1. Client leaves unhappy – not only seeks services elsewhere in future but also tells others about negative experience.
  2. Client insists on refining my subpar work until satisfied – leaves slightly less unhappy but behind schedule, still seeks services elsewhere in future, tells others about negative experience, and I fail to earn a profit on the job because it took ten times longer than it should have.
  3. And occasionally, to my surprise, client is happy – wants to continue working together and refers me to colleagues and friends who are just as poor a fit. All the sudden I’m becoming specialist in a niche I have no interest in or affinity for. Client may be happy, but I’m miserable and still not making a profit. Yikes! what a pickle…

The latter outcome was something I never anticipated being a problem as a new entrepreneur. But it turns out to be something to seriously consider. One thing leads to the next. It is who you know. You have momentum whether you realize it or not. So be choosy. Be selective about your path. Don’t make decisions based on fear. As architect Glenn Murcutt once said “Every compromise you make becomes the quality of your next client.”

During my VA training, we were strongly encouraged to establish high standards for our practices – to get really clear on what we did, who we worked with, how and under what circumstances – and then stick to that. It was emphasized over and over again that when we stood for ourselves, we stood for the client. Our culture does not teach us this; we are taught to conform and to please. But to say no, to say I don’t work that way, to say I’m not the right person for this job, protects your career and honors the client’s needs. Or to put it another way: every time you compromise you compromise the quality of the outcome for the client. When you stand for yourself, it serves the greater good for both parties. So it can be both not about you and about you at the same time.

Which brings us to… Part 2: Specialize

* * * * * * * * * *

If you want to learn more about establishing your standards and developing and documenting the policies and procedures that result from them, please join me for my upcoming workshop Your Business Manual. The 3-week teleclass begins Tuesday, August 5 at 7pm PT – register now.

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