When a company is just starting out, it’s hard to say no to anyone who comes knocking. That was definitely the case for FATFREE in the early days. We needed the work. But over the fifteen years that followed, we’ve learned that even when you feel like you can’t say no, sometimes it’s the smartest decision you can make.
Sure, work generates revenue. But the wrong kind of work can also generate a mountain of problems. When we launched FATFREE, digital channels were just coming into their own. Clients didn’t really know what they wanted or what they were asking. Sites were built from scratch and scope creep was nearly guaranteed as new players would get involved, interested in the web but not really aware of how things worked, and start adding pages and functions and meetings and endless rounds of revisions.
Building in a “Yes, But”
One of the first things we learned to say no to was flat-fee contracts. We had one development project early on that grew to four times its initial scope. I could have walked away, but I didn’t have the heart to leave the client dangling. Three key members of my team essentially worked for free (to the client, not to our company), 100% of the time, until it was complete. But lesson learned一in a big way.
Even in 2020, with more sophisticated clients and our years of learning under our belts, there’s just no way we can be certain of a project’s entire scope going in. So on even the most straightforward-seeming projects, you’ve got to at least have a tripwire that sets a shift to time and materials or a new conversation in motion. By being open and clear about the limits on the scope, we can say yes with confidence and, when new asks come along, no one is surprised or upset when we lay out the extra effort involved.
A Thoughtful “No, Because” Can Work Wonders
We try to ingrain ourselves into our clients’ teams, so we’re as open with them as we are with our own internal colleagues. When it’s necessary, we don’t hesitate to say “No, and here’s why.” Often, these conversations eventually find their way to a yes that we can all agree upon. After all, anything is possible with enough time and money.
People who come to us for our expertise appreciate our perspectives and work with us to scale back, phase the project, revise the strategy, or shift their expectations. These are the people we want to work with, and they tend to be the ones who value our contributions over long, fruitful relationships and recommend us to great prospects.
Saving Energy for a Better Fit
Most of the time, people simply don’t know what they’re asking for. We were recently approached by a startup with a great idea. I was personally really excited about helping them bring it to market. But their budget and timing had no basis in reality. Was I willing to do it for 10% of our estimated costs? Could I cut a schedule down from seven months to three? They even offered equity一but did we want to expand our corporate vision to include a stake in a niche healthcare product? And most important, was I willing to burn out our teams on this? No. No. No. And especially no.
We’ve walked away from projects that just didn’t make sense. Prospects that didn’t feel like the right fit. And challenges that we knew we could never win. While that may have meant passing on a bit of income, it also protected the energy and enthusiasm of our people, and left room in our days to seek out work and relationships that we could all feel good about.