What We Want + What We Ask For


A while back a client and I did the “let’s work together” dance and we settled upon a project. Traffic to the website was poor, workshop attendance was low, not a lot of new folks were darkening the physical or digital door steps. Feedback from a few trusted friends was a mixed bag.

A laundry list of known issues were shared, a well-thought out plan was hatched.

The project required that we arm the client with knowledge. They didn’t want to hire someone for the long haul so they needed tools that would guide them long after our time was done. Expertise, perspective, specificity.

We told them that we’d dig deep and look at what's going on, what’s going well, not well.

“There will be homework,” was part of our offer.

The client - eager for happier days agreed.

“Whatever it takes.”

And we set off.

And then something happened.

The client made the decision not to do the work.

Instead, the client presumed that they didn’t need to do the work, that running the business was the work itself and “that’s why I hired you”.

The truth is, they did hire us to help them. But without their investment of time and effort, the project struggled. We facilitate change. We don’t manufacture miracles. Sure a technical tip here and a best practice there can help.  But what we are really doing is drawing the answers out and presenting it back in a way that you can identify with it.

In the end - we put in extra time to cover gaps left by the client. We forged ahead with some additional market research and offered up case studies as examples.

It was a little sad to be told “I will never use that tool” when we presented a carefully mapped out plan that was built according to their requests. We asked the right questions, we drew out the gems, we checked for understanding.

Frustrated, the client blurted, “I don’t really understand why I’m paying you”

What unfolded was a conversation about expectations. The client wanted a magical formula. The client wanted do This and get That.

Sadly, the client expressed this expectation more than once.

We were delivering what they asked for

Each time we reminded them that our work is a result of their work. We reminded them that the interwebs are filled to the brim with click-baity links luring you to follow these three steps to instant success.

Formulas exist, and many at some level are helpful.  But at the end of the day you have to know your business and be willing to do the work.

For some clients we know that paying someone to help with some intangible and esoteric things that they “can probably figure out on their own but can’t be bothered” is a tough call.  For some clients we’ve been one of their first consultants.

It’s scary opening up to someone who doesn’t eat, sleep, live and breathe your business.  It’s scary talking about what’s not working and exposing the goopy bits.

But it’s also gratifying.

Most of the time, clients feel even more productive once we get past the initial download.

Which is why we are careful with our words, why we make sure we explain the pieces that may be puzzling, and toss the buzzwords out the window.  It’s why we say yes to meetings at kitchen tables because that’s the CEO’s office.

Coming up with the resources to pay someone to help, in any way with your business is a big deal. So do them and yourselves a favor. If there’s homework, do it.

Does an employee have the tools they need to do the job?  Get them.

Does your intern need instructions while you are away? Set them up.

Does your vendor ask you questions? Answer them.

If you are paying the plumber to fix the leak - then by all means welcome them in the door, lead them to the semi-flooded kitchen, and let them work their magic.

But if you want to know what happened and what to do and how to not let it get to that point, then you owe it to everyone to get in there and apply what’s been shared with you.

The unusual thing is that the client continuously positioned themselves as someone who only wanted to attract people who were committed and invested in their well-being. In the end, we wrapped things up as cohesively as possible, we delivered everything that was asked of us, plus some extra.

But they weren’t getting what they really wanted

This is the part where you start think of the many ways that you’d mutter comments about accountability and forest for the trees.

There’s a difference between what you want and what you ask for. Make sure that you understand the difference.