Take This Job and Shove It

May 03, 2004

“Take this job and shove it” was a phrase popularized by country singer Johnny Paycheck back in the 1970s. The song told a story about a hard-working factory man whose wife left him, so he decided to quit his job. I’d like to write a modern-day rendition of the song for architects and engineers….that they can use with bad clients. Can’t you see it now? The client, who still owes the money for the last project the firm did for him, wants the design firm to do twice what they should have to do for half the pay on the next project. Then, when it comes time to sign the contract, the A/E firm principal refuses and immediately breaks out in song: “Take this job and shove it!” How sweet that is. But in all seriousness, until we start to develop more of this attitude with our clients, we, as individual firms and as a group of companies, are going to keep getting ripped off. And it’s bad for all of us. It hurts our firms and hurts our self-image. Here are some tell-tale signs of bad clients and bad jobs to be avoided: Clients who endlessly negotiate on every little thing. Let’s face it. There are some people who are cheap and will never be happy unless they think they are getting a “deal” on everything they buy. The problem is they make bad clients for A/E firms that provide high-quality, specialized, differentiated services! Clients who continuously run down the other A/E firms they have worked with. There are clients out there who are simply problem clients. They are never happy. They are always smarter than everyone they interact with. They never have anything nice to say about anyone else. When you hear nothing but complaining from a potential client about how all architects and engineers are idiots, run! Odds are that Ü client is going to be saying the same thing about you before long. Clients who don’t want to have a clear scope and that too early in your relationship tell you they just want to have a “relationship of trust.” It takes a long time to develop trust. Trust given before it is earned is something I almost always regret later. So when someone I don’t really know tells me right off the bat we don’t need good agreements to work together, I am concerned. Clients who don’t return phone calls promptly. It’s just a lack of respect. And over time, it will probably get worse, not better. What happens when the job is underway? Clients who always find fault with what you did in an attempt to stall. This is another bad client tactic. Find fault and that legitimizes foot-dragging when it comes to paying the bill or getting the job completed and off your back. If you see signs of this, run! Clients who dangle the carrot of the next job. This is one of the favored tactics of clients who don’t pay well or clients who won’t give you a good fee for the job. They tell you about the NEXT job they are going to give you and how good that one is going to be. It’s amazing to me how many architects and engineers fall for this line! We are too desperate. Clients who constantly remind you that you owe them. I don’t like this either. I may owe a lot of people who have contributed to our success, but that doesn’t mean I need to be told that like some spoiled child. Any relationship that is viewed as benefiting one party more than the other is destined to have problems. At least that’s my experience! Clients who arbitrarily pay you less than what your bill is or who take discounts that aren’t authorized. That’s stealing, plain and simple. Again, the client could have all kinds of work for us to do, but I would never tolerate that and surely would not work for that firm again! Clients who brag too much about all the money they have and then nickel and dime their consultants. I have seen developers and other consultants who take this approach. They have to brag about the colleges their kids are going to and their new S-Class Mercedes and their vacation house on the Gulf Coast, but there is no way they will agree to a decent fee for the project they want you to do. Shove it! Clients who have overhead caps, salary rate caps, or billing rate caps. A couple times a year I hear from A/E or environmental firms that face this from certain government or private clients. Why do they put up with it? Until we each say, in unison, “Take this job and shove it,” we’re going to have to deal with this nonsense. Originally published 05/03/2004

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