While we all have some level of responsibility to help grow our businesses – and for business leaders, there’s the added responsibility of keeping our employees employed – sometimes, as painful as it might be, there are projects that you just need to walk away from. Why? Because taking on those projects can do more harm than good.
Based on conversations with clients and my own experience, there are 5 times when you should turn down a project:
- It’s a bad fit with your capabilities. Sometimes, especially if revenue has been down lately, you’ll take on a project where the skills/services required are outside of your wheelhouse. Maybe you think you can figure out how to do it in-house or that you can find a partner to outsource to. And if you can – great. But what if you can’t? What if you can’t figure it out in time? When that happens – when you overpromise and underdeliver – you damage your credibility in the marketplace. And people talk.
- It’s a bad fit with your brand. You’ve spent a long time building a brand in the marketplace. You’ve carved out a position and have a true point of differentiation among your competitors. But when you take on projects that conflict with your brand, you begin to dilute it. Do enough of those kinds of projects and before you know it, your brand is just like everyone else’s. And a brand like that is no brand at all.
- The client is an ass! So, what’s the big deal? They’re a high-profile Fortune 500 company… surely you can put up with a jerk for a little while. Well, maybe you can… but you’re not the one who has to work with that jerk every day. It’s your staff on the front lines that has to take the brunt of their verbal abuse, condescension and miserable attitude. And the stress and frustration it causes them is simply not worth it.
- The project has unreasonable requirements. Sometimes, your clients don’t have a clue how a project ought to move forward. Maybe they’re inexperienced… or maybe they’re getting pressure from their bosses… or maybe they screwed up the front end of the project and now they’re using you to make up for it, but regardless – what they ask of you is almost silly. And the most common ‘silly request’ is an unreasonable time frame. Don’t do it. Like a bad fit with your capabilities (above), a project like this is forcing you to overpromise and – likely – under-deliver. And that’s bad.
- The client wants it on the cheap. We’ve all been there… the prospect is a high-profile company (one you’ve always wanted on your client list), the work itself is a slam-dunk for your team’s skill set, and the people are as nice as any you’ve ever worked with. So, what’s the problem? They want the work done for a LOT less than you quoted. Not 5% less… but a drastic 20, 30 or 40% price reduction. Again, don’t do it. If you do – even as a way to finally break into this client – you’re setting the expectation that you’ll cave under pressure and do work on the cheap. And people talk. [I think I already said that!]
Conclusion. Hopefully, you’re not faced with the dilemma of turning down a project too often, because it really is a very difficult decision. But if you have to make a decision on a project like this, remember these key guidelines:
- Know who you are.
- Play to your strengths.
- Take care of your team.
- Live your brand.
Whaddaya think… did I miss any? Agree or disagree with my comments above? Have you ever walked away from a project… and why? We’d love to hear your thoughts.