Several weeks ago, my flight’s landing into Las Vegas, McCarran International Airport was aborted at the very last minute.
While it was not an oxygen-mask-deploying, Denzel-Washington-piloting, grown-men-sobbing (hey, I never said I was brave) abort, it was scary all the same. We were coming in for what seemed like a normal landing on a beautiful, clear day.
Suddenly, with the runway already visible, the plane abruptly changed its mind and steeply banked upward for several minutes, going back up through the clouds.
We eventually leveled off, circled around and landed. The pilot later explained, there was another plane on the ground that had not quite cleared the runway in time, so he was required to pull up and try again.
Rules: don’t do business without them
My little aviation escapade reminded me that rules are important. Not arbitrary rules, but rules that matter. The trick, of course, and particularly if you own your own company, is distinguishing between the two.
Pay your taxes, don’t cheat people … no running with scissors. After that, it’s pretty much wide open.
Do you need a business plan? Lots of people say yes; I’ve never had one.
Should you charge a fee when you refer business to somebody else? It’s your call.
Do you give away free advice to those who want to buy you coffee and “pick your brain?” And, if so, how much and under what circumstances?
The list goes on and on.
Write your own rules in business
All that said, there is one rule that I strongly suggest you follow: Develop a list of rules that you follow. Not other people’s rules – your rules.
Policies and principles that govern the way you work, particularly as it relates to interactions with others. It need not be fancy. Just take out a piece of paper and start writing. Why bother? I can think of at least two reasons:
It will help you think clearly
Let’s say, for example, you prefer to get a deposit, up front, before beginning work with a new client. You’ve been burned before by nonpayment and you don’t want it to happen again. But it’s been a slow couple of months and you’re feeling kind of desperate. A company shows up and wants to hire you, but … they’d like to start right away and pay you “in about a month.”
Depending on your frame of mind, you may agree, even though your more rational self knows it won’t end well. If, however, you’ve got a rule – a written policy – that says, “I require a 50% deposit up front for any work with a new client,” you’ll find it much (as in, waaaaay) easier to stand by it, regardless of how the wind is blowing in your brain on that particular day.
It will make you powerful
Clients pay us, so we should do whatever they say, whenever and however they want it done. Right? Wrong! In fact, I’m pretty sure what you just described is a thing known as “a job.” (Ewww!)
You don’t have a job—you have a business, a profession, an expertise that people need. Believe me, if your clients could solve their own problems, they would. It’s easier and less expensive. When clients come to you, it’s because they can’t do it themselves. That’s an important insight.
They’re not doing you a favor by hiring you – it’s an even exchange. Their money in exchange for the value you provide. Everybody wins. But that’s easy to forget. Especially, again, when things don’t appear to be going so well with your business.
That’s where your list of rules comes in. You get to make them up; you get to put them in place; you get to decide who you’re going to work with and how. And … who you’re going to walk away from. Like I said, powerful.
Here’s the bottom line
You don’t need a single client or a day’s worth of experience as a business owner to decide how and under what conditions your company is going to work. But until you take the time to make some rules, somebody else is going to make them for you.
This article has been edited.
Michael Katz is the founder and Chief Penguin of Blue Penguin Development. He specializes in developing email newsletters for professional service firms. Sign up for his free newsletter, The Likeable Expert Gazette, here. Connect with @MichaelJKatz on Twitter.