In my book, The Absolutely Unbreakable Rules of Service Delivery, I mention that I have worked hard to apply certain rules across both my personal and professional lives. One of these rules has served me well across the board: We Only Work with People We Like
At home, this is largely about work/life balance and leading a basically stress-free life. At work, it’s also about productivity, team development, and supreme customer service.
Too many people — maybe even the majority — start out their businesses believing that they have to take every job and every dollar they’re offered. In fact, I’ve read in books the offhand statement that, “when you start out and have to take any job you can . . ..” But that’s not true! (This book also has chapters explaining why you don’t have to take every penny that’s offered to you.)
But the rule about working with people we like is not about money, or the fear of losing it. It’s about creating a much better, healthier, more profitable business if you choose to work with people you like. Plus, there’s a bonus: You won’t get a bleeding ulcer from the stress of a business you created but don’t enjoy working in.
Working with people you like will dramatically reduce the stress in your company. I hope that just makes sense. Think about your favorite client. They make you happy, right? Now think about your least favorite client. Did your blood pressure just go up? Are you on the verge of telling me what those losers did just last week?
Many, many, many business owners have argued with me about this over the years. They are adamant that they have to work with jerks because they need the money.
Trust me: There are enough nice people in the world that you can base your business on working with nice people! The number of nice people might appear to have gone down recently, but if you get off Facebook and go talk to business owners, it’s still a significant chunk of the population.
You really can build a business only dealing with people who are not rude, not arrogant, and not abusive.
The second largest client I ever fired had been with me for about ten years. Our relationship started out super-friendly. They were really great to work with. I remember when my brother Manuel came to work for me and went to this client for the first time. He sent me a text message that said, “Man, these people love you. They will never leave you.”
This client was run by a man and wife team. She was always nice to us, but we saw her turn on people and become arrogant and abusive to others. One by one, as they became richer and more successful, she fell out with one vendor (or employee) after another.
Eventually, they became arrogant and abusive of my technicians. I sat them down and I said, “This is a one-strike-and-you’re-out kind of thing. You cannot talk to my technicians like that.” It did not go over well. They made it clear that they were the boss, they were paying the bills, and they can do whatever they want. I was a contractor and not in charge of this relationship.
So, I wrote them a note and I fired them. That contract was worth about $75,000 per year. It hurt at first. But this move also dramatically reduced the stress inside my business and let my employees know that they are valuable to me.
Several good things came out of this. First, my employees loved it. They clearly knew where they stood: Above one of our largest clients. For a few years, technicians would tell that story to new employees. So, you see, the culture begins to perpetuate itself.
Second, because that client had gradually become “difficult” through the years, they were less profitable than other clients. So we took that labor capacity and sold it to other companies for more money.
And, third, of course, we reduced the stress inside our own company. Part of it was the stress of working with that client, and part was the stress of worrying that we would continue to work with such clients.
This applies to more than clients. We only work with employees we like, suppliers we like, and vendors we like.
This rule is difficult to apply when you first choose a company to work with because most companies are very nice and loving before you sign a contract. Every once in a while you’ll see a company that just turns you off. If you start to feel uncomfortable and think, “I really don’t like how they do business,” that’s a good sign that you really won’t like working with them three years down the road.
When you build a culture where you work with people you like, your employees start projecting that to each other and the world. I remember when my company had about twelve employees, and we were really in a groove with great clients and great employees. One day, someone walked into the office and spontaneously said to everyone, “God, I love working here!”
And then it became a thing. Almost every day, somebody would walk in the office and say, “God, I love working here!” It made me happy that my team honestly and sincerely loved how we operated, and who we worked with.
So, if you want your technicians to love you, and if you want to make everything in your life better, work with people you like.
One final story along these lines.
One time, Microsoft hired our company to go work with a few select clients. They were trying to figure out a problem with the installation of the original SBS Essentials product, which became Windows Server Essentials. They hired us to try to figure this out, and they sent us three or four clients. We ran through the install again and again and again. We did eventually document both the problem and the solution.
One of the companies that they sent us had an on-site manager who had to get everything approved by the owner. Mike and I showed up for our appointment and this guy brought us into his office. He said, “Let me call the boss. I know that he wants to be here when you guys are here.”
So, he calls the owner on a speaker phone and says, “The guys from Microsoft are here.” And his boss immediately blurts out a massive blue streak of swearing,
“You stupid son of a blah, blah, blah, blah, blah! You know I wanted to be there. What the hell? What kind of a moron are you?” etc.
He just exploded on this poor manager, who then had to interrupt and tell him he was on speaker phone. Imagine how that went.
Mike and I looked at each other and we knew instantly that this was not going to be our client. No question. We will do this job, but we won’t even ask them if they want to sign a contract. They will never be our client.
You really can make this easy. There are enough nice people in the universe. You don’t have to build a business working with jerks.
As I look back at the last two decades, this truth remains. Even in two nasty economic downturns. You just don’t have to work with jerks.