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Why “I won’t waste your money” became my credo

Over the past decade, one statement I make to prospective clients has consistently garnered pause. I tell them I can make them one promise. I can’t promise that my work will make them more money or famous or attract hundreds of new leads. I can’t promise it will even work.

But what I can promise is this: I will not waste your money.

When small businesses and nonprofits hire a marketing consultant they’ll likely enter the relationship carrying one of three expectations:

  • You’re here to do everything I ask you to do. After all, the customer is always right. Or,

  • You’re here to guarantee results I wasn’t able to get on my own. Or,

  • You’re here to make my life easier.

  • I’ll be the first to admit that there is merit to each of these expectations and there are consultants who are a good fit for fulfilling each of them. But here’s why the last expectation—you’re here to make my life easier—is one I’d put my money behind any day of the week.

When I tell prospective clients I will not waste your money what I’m really saying is that I have zero interest in churning out ineffective work for an hourly billable rate—relationships where the client is primarily interested in production (often based on “how we’ve always done things") versus sound strategy. And trust me, I’ve been there. I’ve taken pause and dissolved well-paying contracts because I knew the work my team and I were producing wasn’t moving the business forward. Because I was wasting the client’s money.

I get that this is a controversial stance. Because “the customer’s always right” has been an accepted adage for decades. But no one is always right, least of all me. If what you’ve been doing isn’t working, isn’t it possible there’s a better way?

In my first conversation with a prospect, I ask what motivated them to seek the support of a consultant. And I ask them to imagine we’ve completed our work and it’s 6-12 months from now—what does “success” look like?

Sometimes the prospect says outright—I need more sales, more revenue. Wonderful, I love helping businesses and nonprofits stabilize their revenue streams. But sometimes the pathway to “better revenue results” is a little longer than some clients initially assume.

More marketing, or a wider channel of marketing that promotes a product or service that offers little compelling value, is not going to achieve magical results in revenue growth. Even the most brilliant marketer can’t promote a “bad” product well. People are far too smart—they see right through the shiny creative.

Instead, let’s take a gamble and pause your marketing entirely while we address the gaps in your competitive health. While we get more clear on things like how your customer defines value, and how you can deliver that value in a unique and compelling way that sets you apart from the competition. Once we have that ironed out, by all means, let’s expand and widen your marketing efforts using messaging and channels that meet the right prospects where they live.

In other cases, prospects come to me wanting “more revenue,” with an eye toward getting more and more customers rather than a focus on keeping more of the customers they have. It costs 4-6 times more to acquire a new customer than it does to keep the one you have. Another common statistic says that 20% of your customers bring you 80% of your revenue—an adage that speaks to the value of keeping customers happy and extending their lifecycle. Not wasting a client’s money is also about helping direct your limited resources for the best possible ROI, such as attending to customer retention. And not instead of getting new customers but in addition to it. Otherwise, six months from now you're likely to be in same boat.

I will not waste your money.

Instead, I want to make your life easier—as an executive director, CEO, business owner or fundraiser. I believe it’s my charge to bring efficiency and value to my clients at every turn. In every client relationship, my goal is to leverage the client’s dollar to move their small business or nonprofit forward—in a scalable, sustainable way, supporting their improved competitive health.

But, sometimes our partnership requires some heavy lifting participation from the client, especially in addressing gaps in competitive health. After all, this is your business or nonprofit, not mine. I need your partnership. I rely on you to trust me, and to push back. I’m going to ask you some tough questions you may not have an answer to (yet). Questions that might make some of your team feel uncomfortable. And I may suggest some ideas that are a substantial shift from how you do business right now, all in the interest of moving your business forward.

This requires partnership between client and consultant, and a commitment to participate in a deep and meaningful way, trusting that the short- and long-term benefits will be substantial.

Not every client is up to the task. That’s fine. Thankfully, there are many other consultants to choose from. As for me, I plan on sticking with my credo.

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