Shedding Non-Essentials When Things
Go Wrong

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about stripping down to essentials. If you haven’t read it, please do. What I’m writing today will make more sense.

Every month, I run a little marketing campaign through LinkedIn. In general, I get back notes of reassurance, invitations to lunch, and silence.

But two weeks ago, that changed. Someone reached out to learn more about my services. As you can imagine, I was excited. He’s an old colleague, runs the marketing for a medium-sized company in my niche, and he wanted to put me on retainer for a long-term contract.

We had a conference call, discussed his needs, set up a plan for next steps, and agreed that we would meet to sign contracts and plan out the work. He concluded the call by saying he’d call back that afternoon to set up the meeting.

He hasn’t called back. He hasn’t returned my phone calls. So my hopes and expectations have been derailed.

This has bothered me for 10 days. Every day, even while camping with no cellular service, I’ve looked at my phone, wondering if I had somehow missed a voice mail.

I’ve been caught up in a cycle of distraction. I’ve lost some confidence too. I’ve ruminated and speculated. I found myself wondering, “What did I do wrong? Does my website have a typo? Is there an old client complaining about me in social media?”

But I’ve made a decision today. His project isn’t essential to my success, and so I’m going to stop clinging to it.

It’s natural, when you’re starting out, to cling to every project, because each project is another building block in your capabilities, confidence, and credibility. Plus — no one wants to starve from lack of work.

But no single project is essential to your continued success. Everyone loses projects from time to time, and brooding about lost opportunities is a waste of time.

Once I emotionally detached from his project, I found new perspective that helped me to stop clinging.

When you’re running your business, good customers are an essential part of your success. And good customers keep commitments. This prospect failed to keep even the most basic commitment to me. He said he’d make a phone call and he didn’t.

It left me wondering about his character. I’m willing to cut people slack, and of course there can be extenuating circumstances, but if he won’t make a simple phone call, even to tell me that the project is off, what else would he fail to do? Brief me? Support my work? Pay me?

So I’m back to essentials, focusing on value. As I write this, I received an email of commendation from another client, thanking me for all the effort I put in on her recent cloud computing project. Knowing that I’m doing meaningful work, helping others, building relationships, is the essential, worthwhile part of what I do.

How will you focus on the essential, worthwhile part of what you do when things go wrong?

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Published: October 19, 2012

1 Response to “Shedding Non-Essentials When Things Go Wrong”

  1. Great article, Brian!

    Clients are like friends: they enter our lives for a reason, a season or a lifetime. This situation happened to help you appreciate what you have.

    Experience is a very cruel teacher. You always get the punishment (flaky client) before you learn the lesson (appreciative client). When things go wrong with one deal, move on to the next one. Positive action separates you from the negative past. And before long, it just fades away...


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