Five Questions to Ask When Choosing Clients

At most agencies, the job of finding and landing clients is so pre-eminent, you may forget that the "choosing" isn't all on one side. Taking on a new client is really about making a match. You're entering into an intimate relationship, one that you hope will deepen and grow with time. So put yourself in the role of matchmaker.

Here are five questions we ask ourselves when we're thinking about a potential partner:

1. Do We Have the Ability to Win?

The first consideration is believing that, together, you will succeed. If you don't have confidence in your client, you can't help them. More importantly, they can't help you. If your client doesn't win, it doesn't matter how hard you worked for them, because as Bill Parcells says, "At the end of the day, you're as good as your record says you are."

Picking winners is important; better still is finding clients who win, in part, because of your contribution. The best clients are the clients you can serve best, particularly when they talk about the good work you've done for them with others.

2. Are We Jointly Committed to Realistic Goals?

Clients and agencies need to be on the same page, with mutually agreed expectations, in order for a relationship to work. When we hear requests like, "I want leads at $0.02," "I want you to grow my database by 1000 percent this quarter," or "Your competitor said they could guarantee us position one on Google," we know this is a client who is never going to be happy. And a disappointed client is worse than no client.

3. Do We Have a Strategic Plan?

Talk to your client about how they plan to win, and be sure their vision is one that you can execute on. Are the tactics they intend to use right for their strategy? Are they realistic about their products, their market and their team? Do they have the resources to reach their goals, and if not, are they willing to spend what it takes to acquire them? It's critical that the end result be achievable.

4. Like-ability?

Pay attention to how clients treat you during the "getting to know you" phase of negotiations. If their demands feel unreasonable now, what will they be like when you're under contract?

5. Is This Someone Who Will Accept Me as a True Partner?

Even clients who are respectful of your time may not be interested in a true collaboration. Some will be happy to pay for your experience, insights and abilities, but then dismiss your recommendations with arbitrary reasons, or none at all, which makes it difficult to do your job. The best partners are those who want to make the best use of our talents, who can acknowledge our strengths and recognize our limitations and who are willing to change course with us when circumstances change.

Without clients, agencies can't survive, and everyone goes through hard times when it can be difficult to turn down a prospective client. But, remember that you always have a choice, and "no" is the most powerful word in the English language.