The Rules That Matter

I get a lot of views and comments about my Rules page on my corporate website. In the 20+ years since I wrote my first rule, I think I received one semi-negative comment and hundreds of positive ones.

My Rules came out of a bad situation with a big client. They were demanding and difficult to the extreme. Unfortunately, my little consulting/speaking business was still very new. I "needed" this client and they represented something like 60% of my total revenues, to boot.

No kidding they were demanding. They called all the time for something. I'd get faxes and phone calls in the middle of the night asking me to respond immediately. They never actually threatened to fire me, but it was abundantly clear reading between the lines they knew they had me over a barrel.

I was totally stressed out. I couldn't sleep. I became a total grouch to my wife. I was miserable.

After putting up with this for several months, I finally had a heart-to-heart conversation with myself.

Was I happy? No.
Was I stressed? Yes.
Was I losing sleep because of this client? Yes.
Was I having fun? No.
Is this what I expected from owning my own business. NO!

Kay and I talked about it. We went round and round looking for ways to make the situation better. We both understood the financial implications this client represented. And no matter how much we tried to convince ourselves it would get better, we knew we were kidding ourselves. It became clear what we needed to do.

We fired them.

We bit the bullet and fired our biggest client. We fired over 60% of our gross revenues and at the time we certainly didn't have anything standing in the wings to replace it.

Of course, it was one of the best decisions we ever made. Yes, it was financially tight for us at the time. Kay had left her high-paying sales job with Walker Automotive to help The Adventure. (I affectionately called her Muffler Mama. She could bend pipes with the best of them!) We wanted to have a kid.

It took quite a few months to get business back to the same level, but we both learned a valuable lesson from the experience.

I didn't start The Adventure to end up as nothing more than an outside employee. I didn't start it to be unhappy, or stressed, or sleepless in Federal Way.

I started The Adventure to make me happy. I started it for the freedom it gave me. I started it to be MINE. And both Kay and I wanted to make sure we didn't slip back into the same situation, which would have been very easy, actually.

So I sat down and wrote my Rules for doing business. At first I only had a few, maybe five or six, but as we went on more were added.

My first Rule was the Rule of Fun. I defined it this way:

I believe we tend to ourselves and our work too seriously. Work should be serious fun.

 I explained to my clients that I would never be frivilous, but I will take a light perspective on our work. We're not curing cancer or world hunger, so let's not act like we are.

My second Rule was the Rule of Family:

My family is more important than you and I expect your family to be more important than me. There may be times we must choose between work and family. Let's choose family.

This is really important to me. Frankly, I didn't have a great family life growing up. I had no intention of that experience repeating with Kay and Kelly and I wanted my clients to respect that. The big client we fired did not respect that. They expected me to jump when they said so, even if it was Kelly's birthday.

So I made Kelly's birthday a NATIONAL HOLIDAY. My calendar is on The Adventure website and every year August 16th is blocked. There is no negotiation on that point. I am not available.

I'm not going to go through the rest of the Rules. You can read them all yourself. But each and every client of mine understands and agrees to them. New prospects must read and agree with them before we start working together. If there is any problem with any of my Rules, then we will not be working together.

Some people feel I'm too inflexible. Not very many. Most really like my Rules. Many people ask if they can use them for their businesses. I always say yes, but wouldn't it better if they were to start from scratch and write their own list?

Why are we in business? Just to get a paycheck? We spend at least a third of our lives working. As best as possible and if it doesn't cause harm to anyone else, shouldn't we live by our Rules?

Just as clearly written contracts are better than handshakes, Rules set expectations and relationships in advance. Both sides know what to expect.

One of the unexpected and unintended consequences of my Rules is they've also become an integral part of my brand. Looking back, it only makes sense, of course. I don't wear ties. I don't do RFP's. My fees are based on Value, not time. These are things I don't have to explain as we work together. Does it mean I lose some business? Sometimes. But my clients understand everyone is treated the same. I'm consistent. They like that.

People often ask if I've fired clients for breaking any of the Rules. Yes, I have and I will again, if I have to. I don't ever want to fire anybody, but I will.

How do I feel about the saying, "The customer is always right?" That's pretty simple. The customer is not always right. Customers should never be allowed to ruin your life. They should never be allowed to disparage you and your employees. They should never treat you like their slave.

You don't have to agree with my Rules. That's okay. They're not your Rules. They're mine. You should, however, have your own Rules, too.

Think about it. What would be your FIRST Rule? Why not tell me through the Comments section below?