Red Flags & Rose-Colored Glasses: A $625 Dollar Lesson

I’ll be the first to admit—I could have predicted this.

I should have never agreed to work with this client. But she said she really needed my help. And I really wanted to help! My good intentions made me move ahead when I shouldn’t have. And just in case you’re wondering—this isn’t the first time. The sheer desire to help has left me blindsided by a schmoozy deejay and attempting things far beyond my skill level (just to name a few).

In every version of reality, this client was someone I could never make happy. And she sounded plenty of blaring sirens about that fact, including:

  • …when she agreed to my estimate and told me the deposit was on the way—and then went missing for 6 months (despite my follow ups).
  • …when again, she agreed to my estimate (and to send a deposit) and disappeared for 3 more months.
  • …when she admitted she’d gone missing because she was working with other copywriters who “just couldn’t deliver.”
  • …when she told me she fired her web designer.
  • …when she mentioned that she had gotten headshots but hated them and was redoing them with another photographer.
  • …when I spent extra time walking her through my approach and recommendations, but I still didn’t feel that she was on board (even though she said she was).

My goodness, I can’t believe how naïve I was! She was nearly shouting from the rooftops, “I can’t be helped!” But silly me—I wanted to help so badly that I didn’t pay attention.

Ready for today’s biggest non-shocker? After I sent the first draft, she called and spoke to me in the most condescending, argumentative way I think I’ve ever been spoken to—completely devaluing my time, my effort and my abilities. She ignored all of my efforts to keep the call professional and come to a peaceful resolution. Somewhere in the middle of her onslaught, she demanded her $625 deposit back.

My stomach thumped and swirled with queasiness. Truth be told, I’m not a fighter. I know this for sure: Life is better when we communicate with honey, not venom.

All she had to say was, “Deidre, this doesn’t feel right. I appreciate the time you put in—but it’s not working for me. It’s not what I envisioned.”

I would have happily given her a refund. After all, my goal is to make clients happy!

So, what about the money?

I decided to return her $625 deposit (definitely not because she asked nicely)—but because I need to walk away with a clean conscience. I need to know that I do, in fact, make my clients happy. By taking this woman on as my client, I took on this responsibility. And even if she was impossible to make happy—that is on me.

Ultimately, this wasn’t a good fit from the beginning. And it was my job to know that. $625 is a lot of money. But I should have never taken it in the first place.

For me, it’s a $625 lesson. Listen to the red flags, Deidre. You can’t help everyone.

Here’s the thing—this wasn’t just a bad client.

After a chat with Ilise Benun (marketing mentor/marketing therapist who sees the truth so clearly it’s scary), and a good night’s sleep, I realized it’s me.

Even though I’d been given every possible warning, there is something inside me that WANTS TO HELP so badly—I’ll try, even to my own detriment.

Why would I put so much time and effort into trying to help this person—when she gave me every clue possible that she either couldn’t, or wasn’t ready to be helped? Don’t get me wrong—I still believe all people can be helped. But I recognize that some need more help than I’m capable of giving.

It’s nice to want to help people. It’s nice to have a big heart and try to give our support, talent and effort to others. But when it’s at our own detriment—who are we really helping? We are giving away our innate gift as helpers if we spend our time, heart and energy on those who don’t get anything from it.

In the time I spent losing $625 dollars…

I could have helped many other clients who actually need and value what I can provide. It’s a hard lesson to learn. But I don’t want this lesson to be for naught. As someone who genuinely wants to help—I’m hoping this post helps one of you, my fellow wearer of rose-colored glasses!

“You know, it’s funny; when you look at someone through rose-colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags.” - Wanda the Owl, BoJack Horseman (still from Netflix’s Bojack Horseman)

Recently I created a Should I take it? Checklist to help me decide whether or not to take projects outside my comfort zone. I would like to officially add another marker: Can I make this person happy? Or actually, what I really mean is: Can this person be made happy?

So, should we keep wearing our rose-colored glasses?

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