We Often Start in the Same Place
When freelancers get their start, they often use the term “one-stop shop” with their friends, clients, and networks. People hear the phrase and their reaction depends on their experience. Younger folks nod in agreement; more seasoned folks smile with empathy and compassion. Because they’ve been there.
We’ve all been there.
Eventually we discover that our clients had a more pressing objective in mind. They just wanted the work done. Complete. Whole. With a single point of contact.
That doesn’t suggest, nor should it, that the client was asking for a single person to do all the work—especially if it means doing work you’re not skilled at.
And that’s where the mixup comes in.
Because we think our clients’ desire to have a single point of contact means they want us to be a one-stop shop. But think of this another way. Ask yourself if your clients—any of them—have ever wanted to pay for you to learn on the job. Most of us have never had a client say something like:
Go on, I know you don’t know it, but go ahead and meander around and try to figure it out, and just keep track of your hours so I can pay you for learning.
What Clients Want
Clients want optimized and efficient delivery of services (and products), without adding complexity of their side of the business interaction. They want people with experience working on tasks, without having to manage all those people and the potential places where they overlap with each other.
What You Need
And that’s why an account manager, client manager, or project manager (different roles, but similar if the size of your WordPress professional service company is small) is critical to your success.
But how do you find them? And how can you determine that they’re going to be able to really help your organization?
Three Critical Traits
Here are the three most critical traits I’ve found are needed for that role.
1. They must be people who can stay calm.
I find that people who, either temperamentally or through skill, can stay calm when others are freaking out are excellent in the role of a account manager (AM), or project manager (PM).
When clients are frustrated, the last thing you want is for the emotions of your own staff to enter into the dynamic and escalate things. If the person can take their own emotions out of the equation, and focus purely on a client (and their emotions), you’ll have found a winner.
2. They must be people who can make decisions quickly.
My friends and I in college took the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) several times—checking and re-checking to see when and if we had changed our types. While for some people it did change, for others it never did. The last letter in the acronym can be, for those who don’t know the test, either a J or a P.
Myers Briggs puts it this way:
In dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided or do you prefer to stay open to new information and options? This is called Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).
Trust me when I tell you that in this role, people leaning strongly J are most helpful. Of course that doesn’t mean you want people running around making crazy decisions without any consideration. But you want someone who is comfortable putting a question to bed by making a decision and then moving forward.
3. They must be people who can negotiate.
There will often be a document of scope. There will often be things that are missing from it. There will often be new items a client requests. Sure, you can do a change order for every. single. thing.
But you don’t have to with the right AM or PM. Because if they can negotiate well, they can massage things over with a bit of trade-off decision making. I can’t tell you the number of times a PM has sat with a client and said, “I can get that for you. But…it likely means we’ll have to limit how much we spend on something else, like that for example.”
In the end, we cut something the client doesn’t feel is as urgent (even though it was in the initial formal scope), and add something that they do feel is more urgent. All without having to create more paperwork. Or approvals. Or drama.
In short, don’t skimp on this role. This isn’t a role you fill when someone can’t cut it in QA or development. This isn’t a role for the designer to fill in when they’re not designing. This role is a key component in keeping things running smooth in your business. But more importantly, it’s a key component in your ability to earn revenue. So choose carefully and hire well.
Oh, and once you have them, make sure they know how much you appreciate them!
Chris Lema is the VP of Software Engineering at Emphasys Software, where he manages high performers and oversees product development and innovation. He’s also a blogger, ebook author and runs a WordPress meetup in North County San Diego. His coaching focuses on helping WordPress businesses, or businesses wanting to leverage WordPress.