The Customer isn’t always right and the economy is terrible

I run a construction business with my husband and right now, business sucks. No one has any money to do the kind of work we excel at: matching 100 year old flooring, custom making a door for a house built before 1940. Re-roping 100 year old windows. Matching 100 or 50 year old moldings that you can’t even find at Lowe’s. Repairing stained glass windows. We are a niche business and have a barn filled with 100 year old hand tools.

But it is still a customer service business and we spend a lot of time trying to please our customers…even when they are total jerks. (I put a skull and crossbones on bad customers and we won’t go back. For any amount of money. An ass is still an ass, even if you paint stripes on him and put him in the zoo.)beijing_shopping_4374

The business mantra of client service is that ‘the customer is always right’. Unless of course, they want you to do something that will make thier house fall down.
And while customer satisfaction  is important,  price is what really drives our business. Price and skill and work ethic.

It is what distinguishes our business in a sea of intense competition and gives our small businesses an edge over larger, big box organizations. Serving the client should be priority one for any successful freelancer, which is what we are. But, as in life, there are no absolutes.

We choose to freelance because we are afforded freedoms and choices bigger businesses lack, including whether the next project is worth taking on.We’ve had to learn the hard way that it’s perfectly okay to feel free to say ‘no’. (No, we don’t refinish wood floors in an empty house unless the ambient temperature is 70 degrees or it will never dry. No, we can’t use just any old wood for flooring.)

This is difficult, especially  when your funds are running low. We are lucky in that I do have a real job. I know how to live frugally. I also know that this, too will end and things will get better. So I’ve thought up so things that allow us to evaluate a customer/job so we can still look at ourselves in the mirror.We have every right to turn down work that bothers our spiritual or social conscience. We will sleep better at night and possess a clear mind to better focus on our work

Here are three common instances when it’s okay to turn down a customer.

The Work Compromises Your Values
Building small, barely standard “apartments” to cram multiple families into. Oh, they won’t say so, but I can read people and while there is a real need for small, non-fancy housing, there’s no reason to have them live in squalor because the customer chose the cheapest of everything.

No amount of prosperity is worth jeopardizing your own health or values.

The Work Compromises Your Life Balance
Sometimes, too much work is a good sign that your business is growing by leaps and bounds. But if you’re like most freelancers, you probably work alone. You run the hazard of taking on too much and something will give,
either in the quality of your work suffering or  even worse, neglecting the most important aspects of your life such as getting enough rest or spending time with loved ones.

No amount of prosperity is worth jeopardizing your own health or valued personal relationships.

The Work Compromises Your Professional Worth
It’s fine to volunteer your skills to a charitable organization.  But never dedicate your valuable time to be compensated at slave wages or way below your pay grade. Your rate reflects your worth and if you value your highly-skilled work, you will charge accordingly. By low balling your billing, you not only undervalue yourself, but you undermine the worth of your profession and of all your peers in the same discipline. If a client is looking for a deal, tread carefully. If your plan is to come in with the lowest estimate and then make up the money by charging extra for every single change, it’s better to lose him or her as a client and take that time to serve another customer who respects your value as a professional.

Again, the client’s satisfaction is paramount to any competitive business.
But it’s our business and we reserve the right to protect our worth and integrity. By politely refusing the occasional instance where a  client keeps you from maintaining your high standards or living a balanced lifestyle, you leave room for success that’s more than just monetary.

There will always be the customer who feels that she can call at 2:30 in the morning while she frets over the right color of red for the trim on her house.

There will always be the customer who orders custom cabinets and expects them to be delivered tomorrow. There will always be the crotchety customer who points out every little thing, before the finish work has even started. I realize that many customers will only get the chance at a new kitchen once in their lives and every little thing takes on an overwhelming importance (and needs hundreds of calls, day and night).

My husband is a master at what he does. He is a problem solver and can repair anything a man made on or in a house. He does stained glass as if it were an extension of his hands. He can do plasterwork and custom painting that can replicate that of skilled artisans of 100 years ago. He is not a Home Depot kind of guy.

I have taught school for the better part of 30 years. I know children. I know what they like. I know how to engage them and how to teach them. I’m not skilled in the current test test test test theory, but I’ve never sent a child onto the next grade who couldn’t read on grade level.However, I took personal joy in teaching. I loved what I did and I was good at it. I was a person who taught small children. My career didn’t define me then and doesn’t define me now.

I learned  this while raising two children and only once did I over commit myself. I wasn’t able to stay for one of those hundred hour meetings and I excused myself. one of the other teachers snapped at me “You need to get your priorities right!” and I will forever be grateful. I resigned that particular committee because I didn’t have my priorities right. My children were my priority, not a series of 100 hour meetings with people I didn’t like over  issues I didn’t care about.


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