I have been pretty surprised by how many people have taken a genuine interest in seeing my business succeed. Business leaders, thought leaders, and taste makers have all provided invaluable insights into what it takes to start a business and run it in a sustainable and principled way.
As Spark 43 was taking shape a good friend and mentor gave me a piece of advice that was counter intuitive to everything I assumed about building a client base. He told me, “It is okay to say no to clients and say no to projects.” The moral is that taking on the right kind of clients and the right kind of projects for the right reasons is far better than taking on the wrong kind of project for the practical reasons (a paycheck). It is his experience that telling people “No” for right reasons actually had the effect of bringing them back when they had future work that truly was a good fit. In fact, often times, when telling clients that it wasn’t a good, he often found himself in a position where the client was then pitching their project to him in an attempt to get his team to work with them.
I would have never guessed that in the infancy of our practice we would find ourselves in this exact situation. Recently, one of the board members for an office project we completed approached us about designing a factory for his son. I have a tremendous amount of respect for this individual. He values our expertise and is truly the kind of client architects dream about – quick decision maker, results driven, honest fare and reliable. Additionally he was directly responsible for paying our team quickly. Sounds great right? No-brainer right? We would be CRAZY to say no to this guy. the scope of the project would have made our year. But we respectfully declined.
Why? The factory in question manufactures parts that are used to assemble products that are in direct conflict with deeply held personal beliefs. The implications of the project has the ability to impact millions of people. By taking part in this project we would have had indirect responsibility for outcomes for which we had no control.
We met for a beer one night to discuss the project and I explained our position. I explained that we are thrilled to have built a relationship in which the client believes that we provide inherent value to his project and that he trusts to a point that he would just give us the work (despite having no prior experience with this building type). [Never take people like this for granted]. I went on to explain why we could not participate in the project. Understandably, the client was pretty disappointed. He told me that he understood and then came a long pause—–“I understand why you can’t do this project and I appreciate you for being honest with me. We have other projects coming up that I think you will be a good fit for and when we are ready to proceed we would like for you to serve as our architect.”
Those projects haven’t started but I have talked to him several times since. When he is ready to go, I am pretty confident that the phone will ring.