When to Disappoint Others
Here’s a story about first time I got a gig through LinkedIn.
Jennifer worked at a ~~ prestige beauty company ~~ and needed a consultant to revamp the 100-slide PowerPoint about the state of the prestige beauty industry for their upcoming conference.
I said yes, even though (1) the deadline was tiiiiiight, (2) I don’t really love doing this kind of design work, and (3) I don’t know jack about the prestige beauty industry.
The pay was structured as a flat dollar amount per completed slide.
Jennifer sent me the deck from last year that “just needed to be updated” (famous last words).
Each slide had at least 100 different elements on it – dozens of textboxes in 4 point font, photos arrays of expensive neck creams. I very quickly saw that the reasonable dollar amount per slide was going to equate to far under minimum wage, with all the work it would take to redesign even a single slide.
I spent a whole weekend in my office, cranking out remakes according to what I knew to be best practices for slide design.
Sent it off to Jennifer Sunday night.
She freakin hated it.
Her email was something like “this is not prestige, this is not elegant, this is not beautiful.”
That hit me like a gut punch.
I took another shot at it, still without any real idea of what prestige, elegant, and beautiful would look like to Jennifer.
I’m sure I fell short. I sent off the next draft, which, at this point, was like the day before the conference. I never heard from Jennifer again, despite my follow up emails.
I had disappointed her.
The right time to disappoint her would have been back when she slid into my LinkedIn DMs. I should have said no. The project wasn’t a good fit. The answer should have been simple.
Or, I could have asked for a sample slide so I could get a sense of the scope of the work. I woulda opened the sample slide, laughed out loud in my office, then politely declined the job – disappointing her.
What do those two opportunities have in common?
They come before the contract is signed.
The best time to disappoint someone is before you sign official paperwork.
We risk damaging our reputation and wasting everyone’s time and energy when we don’t engage in a thorough discovery phase before we ink signatures.
In order to honestly engage in a discovery phase, you’ve gotta know what work you will and won’t do. What lights you up and what’ll be a slog. Who you love to work for and who you don’t need to support.
Those distinctions are blurry at best when we’re desperate for work or flattered by the ask.
You need clarity about your focus and purpose to enter into a discovery phase. (You also need a list of client red flags to look for.)
Most of us skirt this. Because we want to “remain open to new opportunities.”
But clarity about your focus and purpose brings you strength and confidence.
You might think, what’s the harm? You only lost one weekend of your life saying yes to Jennifer.
Not so, my friend. I lost my time, my energy, and I risked my reputation. And as an entrepreneur, time, energy, and reputation are all you’ve got.
So now I know better. I asked for a sample to get a sense of the scope. It’s part of my discovery process.
Let’s trade stories. How did you disappoint a client, after the contract was signed? And what changes have you made to your discovery phase as a result? Shoot me an email.