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Painful lessons

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I’m grateful for many of my bad customers. They’ve taught me so much.

I think that my journey to love bad customers started with Warren. He was making a reasonable living out of multi-level marketing and wanted to embrace the internet.

Highly enthusiastic, Warren would never plan because planning and paperwork were beneath him. Instead, everything occurred at the last minute and had to be the latest technology because he was dynamic go-getter. Over a 12 month period, Warren taught me a variety of things about writing proposals, service delivery and collecting cash.

Warren taught me that my ideas are just as valuable as my work. He would endlessly ask for advice and insist it was part of the sales process and not chargeable. He taught me to write proposals for the consulting and initial design, not just provide it free.

He taught me to avoid showing costs for individual line items in my proposals if I could avoid it. If a costed item wasn’t the core deliverable, but part of a quality approach, he would ask for it to be removed to lower the cost.

Warren also helped me understand that the customer wants best quality for the lowest price. Offering him choices via more than one proposal, allowed me to negotiate in the quality/price/timing tradeoff.

Warren never bothered to keep any paperwork. He was a wheeler-dealer. To get paid, he would write “approved” on invoices and get us to claim them on his Diners Club.

At the end of our relationship, he rang Diners Club and advised them that he hadn’t approved a number of things we had claimed and that we were bad guys. I spent a lovely afternoon with Diners Club working through his file and proving we weren’t. I am glad he taught me to keep good records.

Finally, Warren taught me that no one respects lawyers’ warning letters. Go hard and sue as fast as you can. It appears that a lot more people respect a summons. Thank you, Warren.

Then there was Joe. Joe taught me to specify deliverables carefully because Joe would always fight to include as much as possible into a fixed price.

Dealing with Joe was difficult. He would also introduce additional items, “just add a little here, it’s nothing”. Downstream, of course, he would argue that we had not delivered in the timeframe we had promised, even though it was all his little changes that had created the differences.

While I was dealing with Joe, I was renovating my house. I found that I was signing variations on my house, and that even when there was no cost impact, there was always a time impact. “You want us to not fit out your kitchen? That will reduce your costs by $12,500 but your contract time is increased by 20 days.”

With Joe I started generating variation agreements: one-page documents that would get signed, or not signed at our weekly meetings. I found that there was never a complaint when this discipline was introduced from the beginning.

The there was Linda. She taught that me that I need to specify exactly how my warranty worked, because unless I told her upfront, I would always end up wasting time and pissing her off when she found out my work wasn’t guaranteed forever, even after her cousin had made some minor changes.

Finally there was Mark. Mark taught me that everyone is an expert. Mark used to look at my quotations for multimedia work and insist that it wouldn’t take as long as I forecast.

His position was that he shouldn’t have to pay for my time checking my work as I should be getting it right in the first place. Mark taught me to quote on deliverables, rather than provide hour estimates.

Thank you, guys.

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