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Should I "fire" my client?

September 5th, 2008 · No Comments

Recently I took on a consulting project.

A fast-growing flower/plant retailer was looking for someone to help figure out what’s wrong with their online selling channel — the revenue has dropped by 90% in the past 3 months.

After an initial discussion, both the owner and I knew that I could help this company. We agreed on a rate — it’s above average, but not exceedingly expensive.

The retailer’s online revenue is in millions of dollars. And the margin is high compare to industry average. But, it’s still run by the original owner who bootstrapped the business and survived the dotcom bubble. The owner was very frugal and kept saying that "we cannot really afford you. We pay our employees 30-40K a year. You’re really expensive. Can you please just tell us what to do, but don’t spend too many hours. You’re expensive."

It turned out that I was able to figure out their problem very quickly, but it’s not something they had the internal expertise to figure out. However, I felt very unmotivated with this client — in every interaction, the owner started the conversation by saying "you’re expensive, let’s make it quick".

In addition to help identify the cause of their revenue dip, I could really help them drive more revenue — I had exactly the right kind of experience and expertise to help. But, to implement the improvements I had in mind, I needed spend some time to train their employees, and also put processes in place. The owner told me that nobody made more than $40,000 in his company, and he didn’t want me to spend more than a few hours on this. So, we didn’t implement the improvements that could potentially grow the company’s revenue and profit significantly.

Although I really appreciate the owner’s cost conscious mind set, I think this is a case that the owner is thinking too much in term of cost, not the value that I as a consultant have brought in.

Questions I have been asking myself:
1) Is it always this challenging to work and serve small business owners? I hope not because I have always had a health respect for small businesses. I understand that this particular owner has to be very frugal to survive and prosper. But, my 3-hour of consulting had helped them recover 90% of their revenue dip. In addition to focus on bottom line, he needs to think about top lines as well in order to grow the business.

2) Should I "fire" this client? He is happy with my service and wants to continue to use my service. But, clearly, I get a sense that he is trying to "squeeze" as much out of me as possible. It’s just not a good feeling.

3) I’ve always been a "product" guy. Working as a consultant is an interesting experience — how should I align my interest with my client’s? I think there is an interesting balance between helping your client vs. looking after your own interest.

Any small business owners out there? Any moonlighting consultant out there? I’d like to hear your thoughts. 🙂

Tags: Multiple Income Stream

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