Good Clients Don’t Just Happen

(Listen to this post, here.)

I like to think of myself as open minded.

So when my wife, Linda, suggested we purchase some “garden art” and become the sort of people who display this sort of thing, I said OK.

Sure enough, just a few days later, we had installed a bronze flowery thing in our back garden (see photo).

But it’s not just a flowery thing – it’s a spinning flowery thing that speeds up, slows down and rotates based on the strength and direction of the wind.

I have to say, I kind of love it.

It’s fun to watch and, because it’s pretty much always moving, it makes you feel like there’s somebody out back doing yard work. A somebody who, thankfully, is not you.

I’m also quite proud of the fact that I followed the directions closely and took great pains to ensure the support pole was perfectly vertical.

As the installation manual explained, if the pole is installed correctly, the flowery thing will spin silently and smoothly. You’ll be pleased to know, it does exactly that.

When it comes to your business and, more specifically, your level of satisfaction in working with clients, the corollary of a pole that is “perfectly vertical,” is a target client that is well defined.

Here as well, if you take the time to do this right at the beginning, your work life will likewise spin silently and smoothly (see what I did there?). If you don’t, you’ll spend a fair amount of time trying to fix things after the fact.

Good clients don’t just happen

I’m not exaggerating when I say I don’t have a single client that I don’t like and enjoy spending time with.

But it’s not an accident.

It’s because I’m very clear about the type of people I work best with and the type of work I’m particularly good at. With that knowledge in hand, I go about looking for these people.

Some of the features I’m in search of are just basic demographics: size, industry, location, years in business, etc. And when you ask people to describe their perfect client, that’s more or less what you hear.

But don’t stop there.

In my experience, it’s the “soft stuff” that makes the difference between day-to-day interactions that are at best, wonderful and at worst, miserable.

So when I’m talking to potential clients, here’s what I’m looking for…

Are they good listeners?

Do they welcome push back and differing points of view?

Do they appreciate the value of marketing, or are they just trying to check a box?

Are they looking for a partner or a vendor?

Do they think they already know all the answers?

Are they fun to interact with or are they all business?

This isn’t the right list, it’s just my list. I’m sure yours will be different.

The important thing, though, is to take the time to make a list in the first place.

Then try and be as honest as possible with yourself the next time the “wrong” prospective client starts waving money around – even if it means walking away .

And I know, it’s not easy to do.

But if you sell a professional service, nearly all of your income comes from your clients. If you are not deliberate about picking the right ones, it doesn’t take much wind for things to spin wildly out of control.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you read instruction manuals?
  2. Your spouse and I don’t believe you.
  3. What “soft” things do you look for in a client?

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15 thoughts on “Good Clients Don’t Just Happen

  1. Albert Kaufman

    Directions? Not so great.
    Lately, new clients = people/projects I pursue.
    I hardly work with anyone besides that and some referrals
    Everything else you wrote and how ready are you to either plant a meadow or forest in that lawn? I will come help 🙂

  2. Jean F

    You do love analogies, don’t you, Michael?
    If a client makes an appointment for a phone or in-person chat or says they will send an email with info and those things don’t happen or they are dreadfully late, I’ve learned it’s best to turn down their work at the outset. The subtext of their behavior is that they don’t keep their word. That gets to be a real problem once the work is done and payment doesn’t materialize as expected. (So now you know I’m guilty of doing this wrong in the past because I was too hungry for work. It doesn’t happen anymore.)

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      That’s a great “red flag.” I also think it suggests that they don’t see you as an equal. I’m sure they follow through with the things and people that matter!

      And you’re right about my love of analogies. To me, a good analogy is like a, like a … well, I can’t think of an analogy, but i agree.

  3. Jean F

    Maybe not that they don’t see me as an equal but rather that their time is worth more than mine. To them, that is.
    A good analogy is like a song.


    1) Yes
    2) Just ask Lois, my mantra is RTFM. I admit was was put to the test with our new car…where the “quick start” document was 100 pages long.
    3) My anti-selection criterion is…do they interact with me as if I were an employee they are hiring to do what I am told to do.

  5. Jack L. Peters


    You can never say this enough. I appreciate you addressing this issue. Being desperate or hungry for money can lead you into some trouble. The clues are hanging out there, waiting for us to pick them. We have to step back and analyze their behavior to see if working with them is worth the trouble.

    When will we ever learn?

    All the best,


    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Probably never, unfortunately! The funny thing is, when you ask people about the “problem clients,” we can usually point out that we knew it was a bad idea going in. But hard to resist.

  6. Liz Farr

    Directions? Of course. I learned that from my scientist parents. And my husband always hands them to me.
    The soft thing I look for in a new client? Someone in the organization must be a well-known thought leader in the accounting world. Way more fun to work with really smart people.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I think that’s a great point. When you have clients who really know their stuff, it makes marketing (and writing for them, in particular) go much more smoothly!

  7. Maggie Schuette

    Yup, I do read the directions – I need a map.
    My perpetual fiance will try to wing it until I say “how about we read the directions?” (It’s like story-time!)
    And (I know you hear Aretha) r-e-s-p-e-c-t that I know what I’m doing.
    I also like what the others wrote. I will keep those things stored in my noggin’ for future reference.

  8. Sharyn

    1) Give me an Ikea instruction manual and a flat pack, and I go to my happy place.
    2) My husband would agree that I’m about the manual (he’s more of an I’ve-got-this kinda guy).
    3) Favorite quote from your post, “Are they looking for a partner or a vendor [or my favorite, ‘order-taker’]?” Says it all. Thanks for writing about this, Michael.


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