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Handling the Well-Meaning Helpers

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It’s probably happened to every freelancer. Your friends, relatives, and acquaintances heard about your business – especially your never-ending quest to find and retain good clients – and they try to help.

Sometimes, this help can be just what you need. I can remember when I finished my first-ever website design back in 1996. The client was my father, who was an engineering consultant. He was so happy with his site that he got on the phone and told all of his colleagues about it. The happy result was a nice influx of business for Yours Truly. Two of those colleagues remain clients to this day.

Then there are those helpers who mean well, but let’s just say that their help isn’t terribly helpful. Take, for example, a retired university professor I recently met.

He’s one of those guys who’s forever encouraging his former colleagues to apply for grants, and guess what. If they haven’t applied for those grants already, they probably aren’t going to do so.

Not that such things stop this guy. He persists. With long, rambling e-mails that border on incoherence. I asked an acquaintance, who’s also on the retired prof’s e-mailing list, what he does with them. His reply sounded like very good advice: “Oh, I just delete ‘em. I don’t have time for that stuff.”

 

If Only It Was That Easy

After a lovely Sunday bicycle ride around Tucson, I came home to a phone message on my studio line. It was the retired prof. And he was very excited about some national conference that’s coming to Tucson! Why, this could be a big opportunity for me! So big that I should reply to all the other people on the e-mail that he sent!

Uh-oh. “Reply to All.” The fastest way to look like a fool to a lot of other people.

I waited until Monday morning to open that e-mail. The conference is slated for November 2012, and the prof was urging me to contact the organizers to design its website.

A quick Internet search revealed that the conference already has a site. I know from past experience that organizers of large national conferences start their planning at least 18 months in advance. So, the window of opportunity for the site design job closed six months ago. That’s what I said in my return e-mail to the prof – and no one else. No “Reply to All” for this camper.

His response: “This conference needs a logo – perhaps you could design it!”

My return e-mail noted that the conference website prominently displays the logo. And it’s doubtful that the organization would have it redesigned in the midst of promoting the upcoming conference.

The Situation Persists

This guy doesn’t give up easily. His third e-mail was all about the name of the conference. Wasn’t the right name for branding the event. Perhaps I could help the organizers with that.

“Not my forte,” I replied. Besides, I added, a decision on changing the name would be best handled within the organization.

He responded with a brief “thank you” e-mail, and I haven’t heard from him since.

Be nice, but be careful about getting involved in anything they may be excited about.

A very good friend told me that she used to be on this man’s e-mailing list. How did she get deleted from it? “I stopped responding to him,” was her matter-of-fact reply.

Which leads to my first bit of advice on handling the well-meaning helpers. Be nice, but be careful about getting involved in anything they may be excited about.

In the case of the retired prof, he’s probably a member of the aforementioned organization, but I doubt that he’s on the national conference planning committee. I suspect that he may have some age-related issues with cognition, and that could explain the long, rambling e-mails. So, I’m keeping a polite but respectful distance.

Okay, we’ve dealt with well-meaning people who may have some form of mental impairment. What about those people who are just plain enthusiastic about you and your business?

Getting the Right Referrals

These are the folks who are forever offering referrals. But they’re to the wrong kind of client. Let’s say you’re an architectural photographer specializing in commercial, rather than residential, projects. To some people, “photographer” means “weddings” and nothing else. So, they refer you to couples planning their nuptials.

The solution to this problem? It has two parts:

  • Give your enthusiasts the name of a good wedding photographer. Then let that photographer know that a referral is headed her way.
  • Next, share your Ideal Client Profile with your enthusiasts. Getting back to the photographer example, your enthusiasts may know an architect or developer who needs the services you’re most qualified to offer. So, get them on your side and be prepared for the referrals you’ve been seeking.

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