Why Clients Should Not Define Your Self-Worth

Many professionals are driven by values of service. They do their utmost to satisfy clients, often being available at short notice and going beyond agreed scope of work. They form deep relationships with clients and value their role as trusted advisers.

However, I regularly come across professionals for whom this dependence on client-feedback (or practice of over-servicing) starts to become unhealthy. Examples:

1 – When the client senses the dependence and exploits this to get preferential rates or service…often invoking “our long history together”. Even when the client is not exploitative, the professional often ends up under-quoting fees for their work.

2 – Some clients resent a professional who wants to grow and develop. They like you to stay exactly as you are: continuing to deliver the same service year after year. They may use a feedback moment (formal or informal) to convey this message to you.

3 – Even when it’s not exploited, the dependence on client testimonials and satisfaction is often symptomatic of a professional’s low esteem of their work, possibly also indicative of low self-worth. Hence, they seek constant validation from others.

4 – This latter vulnerability is often accompanied by a sense of constant anxiety, which fuels the behaviour of over-servicing clients. Ironically, this often undermines a “trusted adviser” relationship because it’s hard to trust someone who is constantly insecure.

Of course, client relationships are important, but healthy relationships are based on partnership, not servitude. This is particularly important in today’s volatile world, where it’s very easy to slip into servitude relationships in a desperate attempt to hold on to the revenue. Not only does this massively erode profits, but it also encourages even more discounting, dissatisfaction and unpaid bills. The real casualty is business-development, which invariably suffers when all the energy goes into managing those difficult clients.

That’s why an accountant once said to me, “clients can keep you poor”. In twenty-two years of working with professionals, I’ve never heard a single one express the wish that they had stayed longer with a dysfunctional client. I’ve heard many say they wish they had called it a day many months earlier.

As a professional, your future depends on being ahead of your clients: not just “meeting requirements”. It’s worth remembering this as you think about your professional identity… and your self-worth.

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