How To Figure Out If You Should Accept A Client Project

There’s nothing wrong with doing one-time projects for one-time clients. But it’s not where profit lives. Try this instead!

Photo: Michael Katz, founder and Chief Penguin of Blue Penguin Development; Source: Courtesy Photo

Do you name the meals you regularly cook at home? We do. There’s “Rail Rider,” a sautéed medley of sweet potatoes, onions, chicken sausage, and spices. So-named because it seems like the kind of thing you’d eat in the 1930s while hopping freight trains. (Not that I have any idea.)

We’ve got “Flop-Overs,” round flatbread covered with chicken, onions, beans, cheese and whatever else we have hanging around, which is then “flopped over” in a pan into a half circle.

Our newest addition is “Mussel Beach;” tortellini soup with spinach and, you guessed it, mussels (extra credit for family members who eat shirtless).

Why bother naming them?

Well, for one thing, it’s a convenient shorthand. The names make it easy to refer to a particular meal, as in, “I don’t feel like dealing with Rail Rider; we have that fresh bread so how about Mussel Beach?”

Repeating the same meals is also way easier, logistically. You know which ingredients you need, how long it takes, and where to spot preparation pitfalls. After a few times, you don’t even need a recipe. Until it’s done you wade in it (not literally).


All client projects are not created equal

Repeat work with repeat clients works the same way for many of the same reasons. Last month, for example, I was hired by one of my favorite clients (for whom I produce a monthly newsletter) to work on a small side project.

It involved writing, email, and some design (similar to the newsletter). I quickly realized how much more time and effort was involved in the project. Even though it was comparable work for a familiar company.

The extra work was not so much in doing the task itself, but in figuring out how to get it done. I had no routine – no recipe committed to memory – which meant that I necessarily moved more slowly and even backtracked occasionally to correct earlier process errors. The way I look at it, all clients and projects are not created equal.


How to identify an ideal client project

That’s why I consider two things when attempting to uncover an ideal work situation:

1. Have I done this before?

One-off projects are always complex. Until you’ve done the same thing to completion a few times, you’re destined to spend time and effort figuring out how the pieces fit together.

Even better, not only do I look for things I’ve done before I look for arrangements in which I do the same thing over and over again for the same people.

For example, monthly newsletters, membership clubs, and ongoing coaching are all opportunities to shorten and improve my underlying process.

2. How well do I know these people?

Nearly all the client “gear-grinding” happens at the beginning of the relationship.

Can I trust them to pay on time? Can they trust me to do what I’ve promised? Do we communicate well? One of the reasons I happily never raise prices on existing clients is that I understand the benefits – both in terms of efficiency and predictability – of working with people you already know, like and trust. New clients, no matter how wonderful, require much more vigilance and come with much more risk.


Here’s the bottom line. There’s nothing wrong with doing one-time projects for one-time clients. But it’s not where profit lives.

For that, you’ll want to focus on doing things you are remarkably good at for people you know especially well.

Gotta run! Just got word we’re on for flop-overs tonight.


Michael Katz is the Founder and Chief Penguin of Blue Penguin Development. He specializes in helping professional service providers talk about their work in a way that is clear and compelling. Sign up for his free newsletter, The Likeable Expert Gazette, here.


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