Hunger Games

I live by two simple rules:

Rule #1: Never sit in the front row of a comedy or dolphin show. In both cases, you’re liable to be more involved than you’d like.

Rule #2: Never shop for food when you’re hungry. Here, you’re apt to buy things that you neither want nor need.

And yet there I was, just this past Sunday, strolling into the Hannaford Supermarket around 2pm.

I’d been running around all morning.

I hadn’t eaten lunch.

We were going out to dinner that night and this was my only window of opportunity to pick some things up.

It started out just fine.

Eggs? Check. Milk? No problem. Bread? Right there on the shelf.

But then I turned the corner and saw the Shrimp Tortellini in Alfredo Sauce. “Hmm… that seems right,” I said to nobody in particular. Into the cart it went.

A package of Swiss cheese and a pound of sliced turkey at the deli counter? Totally reasonable; I was back on track.

That is, until somebody (I’m pretty sure it was me) said:

“Oh, and can I get a medium container of General Gau’s Chicken and a quart of Seafood Chowder?”

It only got worse from there (I hadn’t even visited the chip aisle yet).

In the end, I left with about twice as much “food” as usual (General Gau was an unfortunate casualty of the drive home), much of which consisted of things I didn’t really want.

Indeed, Rule #2, when you follow it, is a good rule.

Which is why I hesitated – and ultimately turned down – a request to “jump on a content project superfast” for a company that called on Monday.

The problem is that they were too hungry. And hungry people, as my trip to the supermarket reminded me, make bad decisions (and lousy clients).

“Now hold on there just a minute, Mr. Clever-Food-Analogy-Guy,” you’re probably saying, in-between bites of chowder.

“Aren’t desperate, time-constrained clients good? They don’t have time to shop around and they’re generally willing to pay a premium.”

My answer? No. And here’s why:

  1. Hungry people don’t consider other options.
    So sure, they’ll hire you. But without giving any real thought into whether or not who you are and what you do is what they really need.

    As a result, you’re very likely to butt heads throughout the entire project.

  2. Hungry people don’t care how things taste.
    During the early stages of a project with a hungry client, they’ll happily eat anything you give them (because they’re hungry).

    But as time goes on and the urgency dissipates – as it nearly always does – they’ll start thinking more clearly.

    They’ll forget about how you saved the day and begin wondering about things like your higher-than-normal fee and the specifics of the arrangement they agreed to in the heat of the moment.

  3. Hungry people regret what they’ve eaten.
    The guy in the store eyeing the chicken is not the same guy sitting at home a couple of hours later. At that point, his motivation and priorities have changed.

    Similarly, the desperate soul who calls you Monday morning begging for help will soon be replaced by an entirely different person. A person who, chances are, would not have bought what he bought, in the same way, had he not been under the gun.

  4. Hungry people are already in trouble.
    I wasn’t hungry at 2pm on a Sunday for no reason. It’s because I did (or didn’t do) a number of things prior which led me to shop at the wrong time.

    The desperate prospect has also been travelling down a path long before getting in touch. Did somebody quit? Did he overpromise on the timing? Is there a crazy boss or client of his own on the other end of the transaction that you can’t even see? Whatever the reason, the minute you say yes to the project, you inherit all the insanity that led up to today’s fire alarm. (Hint: There’s more coming.)

    Here’s the bottom line. Urgency on the part of a prospective client is a big (HUGE) red flag. Rather than being an opportunity for you, more often than not, it’s a sign that things are already off track and about to get much worse.

The only question is whether or not you choose to climb aboard.

Discussion Questions:

  1. You’re still thinking about the shrimp tortellini, aren’t you?
  2. What’s the worst, hunger-based food choice you’ve ever made?
  3. What other red flags help warn you away from problem projects/clients?

Share your comments below!


44 thoughts on “Hunger Games

  1. Anita

    This is so true. When I was first starting out as a freelancer, I welcomed this kind of client. But now, I shy away from them. If they’re on a tight deadline and need things YESTERDAY, I walk away. The situation usually doesn’t turn out very well. Great advice!

  2. Evelyn

    Other situations to run from? The prospect who responds to your elevator summary with “Oh, well what would you charge for…?” Price shoppers and tire kickers give themselves away early and often and make lousy clients.

  3. John Temple

    Also beware of “I’d do it myself if I had the time.”
    (a) Warning: dangerous ego at work, leading to…
    (b) It doesn’t occur to them that you might do it better, or
    (c) They won’t recognize better if they see it.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Absolutely, John. I’ll try that with my doctor next time: “I’d take my own appendix out, of course, but I have a really busy week.” A surefire red flag.

  4. Michelle

    1. Yes
    2. Quite a bit like yours actually, it was blur of the deli counter, and other purchases of food items that go bad pretty quickly, while the quantity purchased was unnecessary.
    3. One very big red flag for me, so far in what I’ve experienced, is when the person asking for something to be done will not let go of the reigns and give authority to the person carrying out a specific plan. If you aren’t going to give someone the authority to make even the smallest of decisions once you’ve asked them to take care of something, a project, process, or task will always come to a halt. Once work gets halted several times in a row, a project will normally never be completed before something else arises. At the end of the day, you just have several projects that have started.

  5. Joanne Meehl

    You’re absolutely spot on, Michael! You articulated very well the issues that come from solo entrepreneurs taking on clients whose work or life is one ongoing emergency. Saying “no” is the best option. You’ll thank yourself.

  6. Terry Matlen, ACSW

    This is quite a revelation for me, Michael. I WORK with people who inherently, are impulsive people (ADHD adults). I’m about to promote a service I offer but think I will insist that clients wait 24 hours before hiring me. This should be interesting…..

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      That’s an interesting twist, Terry. Another option (in association with the 24 hours or not) is to require that they fill out some kind of brief survey to be considered as a client. That extra step can also serve to slow down the people who are just acting on impulse in the moment.

      Keep us posted!

      1. Terry Matlen, ACSW

        Well, I do ask them to fill out a form describing what they need help with, so maybe that slows them down- I don’t know. Believe it or not, many who are requesting a consultation with me do that but then don’t follow through with setting up an appointment. Very frustrating.

  7. Bruce Horwitz

    Great advice.

    another Red Flag – the person you are supporting, say the VP of lunch, tells you that you have to meet (and re-sell) the CEO/President. That tells me that Mr./Ms. Big has not learned to delegate authority and you will be forever caught between the VP with responsibility and the boss who holds the authority.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Wait a second, are you saying that companies now have a VP of Lunch? I definitely left corporate too early.

      But that’s a great point about getting stuck in the middle!

  8. Allison Rapp

    What hit me between the eyes in this post was the idea that people who are desperate didn’t just wake up that way this morning. They have been doing things over time that create that state, and now they have pushed themselves so far that they can’t cope and need to be rescued. If you’re about to jump into that energy field, you should know that the habits that produced it are still operating at peak capacity.

    Most of my clients take a couple of days to think about what they are going to do, after we have The Talk–near the end of which. I generally ask:
    “What do you know about yourself that would stop you from getting the most out of working with me?”
    — and I listen very carefully to the answer. The best one is “Nothing! If I decide to do this, I’m going to be there 100%”

    The Red Flag answer is an annotated list.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      That’s a great question to ask, Allison.

      And for me, this (generally) relates to people/firms who I haven’t worked with before. So I’m totally there for an existing client who’s in a jam, it’s the people who suddenly appear that I’m worried about.

  9. Corey

    All of your newsletters are great and helpful, but this one is the best. I’m a realtor in an overheated market, and I get a lot of “urgent” calls from strangers needing help ASAP. My one rule that I stick to is….they have to come to the office and talk with me for 30 minutes before looking at houses. If they aren’t willing to do that, they aren’t serious clients, and/or they will take advantage of me at every turn. I have a complicated enough schedule as it is, so it is imperative that I set the tone. And, when we have established the relationship and needs, I am available for urgent needs.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      That’s a great idea for setting the bar on new people. I can easily see how in your business, you could have a lot of people who show up frantic!

  10. Jennifer Leary

    Thanks for the clue. Newsletters could be my first niche; specifically newsletters for attorneys. They most often take a slow approach to anything in print.

    So, I’m studying you and what you do to decide what to do.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Attorneys are a good group (I only work with professional service providers so they fall solidly within that). They tend to be nice to work with (despite all the lawyer jokes out there!) and they are good at making decisions.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Always a good decision to run (just hard to remember sometimes when we’re in the middle of it)!

  11. Charles Alexander

    1. A little
    2. Not food. Beer. Peach beer to be exact. There was nothing else in the fridge, and I’m not sure how it got there. But it was bad. Both of them.
    3. “The last person we had do this was didn’t really get the job done!” Run from those people.

  12. Michael McLaughlin


    Great ideas, as always.

    For me, Red Flag #112: “We tried this project last year with another person and it didn’t work out as we planned.”

    Normally, I’m running (at least in my mind) before the person finishes that sentence.


  13. Laura

    Oh so true. In real estate, I have learned to beware of the person who calls and says, “I’m sitting outside of 123 Any St. I HAVE to see it right now!”. This often happens in the summer when people have been visiting someone at their cottage and decide they would like to own the dream too (often after a beverage or two at the beach). As a rookie, I would move heaven and earth to show that house/cottage. Now, I can’t possibly because I am already fully booked. I have learned the hard way that quality clients do their homework, about their area of interest and/or their realtor (me) and MAKE APPOINTMENTS! The other lovely people are just enthusiastic dreamers wanting the weekend to never end, bless their lovely souls.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Laura,
      One thing I really like about the way you describe this is the reminder within that we get to set the rules for how we work with clients. It’s a two-way street and our (good) clients need us as much as we need them!

  14. Tracey

    I got a call from a recruiter looking to fill a position for a company that wanted to “move quickly”. In the accounting world, a company that wants to move quickly in January has been left in the lurch by someone who jumped ship and it will be a thankless job with tons of overtime and disastrous records… Been there, done that, no thanks.

  15. Dana Leigh Lyons

    1. Trying really hard not to. Thanks.

    2. Well, the five-dessert sampler at Chocolate Cafe last week was a little much.

    3. I’m especially wary of clients seeking a quick fix for struggles around food and eating…but who, right from the get-go, declare they will not–under any circumstances– keep a food log.

    Changing patterns around eating is really hard and requires the client to really show up for practical as well as internal-investigative “work.” If they won’t keep a food log (my rules for which are super-minimalist and flexible), it’s a solid indicator they won’t show up in other ways either. Usually, this sort of client will expect me to change a lifetime’s worth of patterning in 30 days…as they sit back and eat shrimp tortellini.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Dana!
      I like your #3 a lot. One of the things we develop in my six-month group class is a list of “lines I will not cross.” Very specific stuff based on each person’s particular business. Looks like you’ve got a great example of one of these for yourself of what a successful client needs to commit to.

  16. Diane Spadola

    So Michael—when I was on my weight loss journey 4-5 years ago…the program supervisor said “NEVER EVER shop when you are hungry, you will make poor choices!” Specifically, my downfall was the homemade pistachio muffins, which I would always pay for, but usually presented to the cashier as an empty bag…with guilt ridden face. Now you know why my struggle was a “journey” and not an immediate destination.

    But I digress. When a client calls me for a last minute booking (I am a party entertainer), I add on a $50-75 up charge (“PIA” fee) to my usual rates. This additional fee is like a nuisance charge since I know that they are disorganized, and the party and all goes with it to it will suffer from that disorganization: guests will be late, there will no other entertainment planned, food will be all sugary stuff, kids will be horribly behaved (having functioned in a house in chaos for the previous few days) and there might be some crying.

    The extra money helps to insure that the tears don’t come from me.

    Great newsletter BTW

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Diane!
      I never thought about how much can go wrong at a party (I must have blocked it out now that my kids are older). Do you ever just tell these “likely to be trouble people” flat out no, or does the additional $$ make it worth it?

  17. Diane

    The only time I say no…is if there are big warning bells in the initial phone call, like: they don’t know what services they want, they don’t know how many people are coming, or they don’t return my urgent return of their urgent initial inquiry. Those three things steer me away….and they are unlikely to hire me at the up charged price point anyway.


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