When I was a young girl, my mother took me aside and gave me the “All-About-Boys Talk.”
It’s the conversation many mothers have with their daughters when talking about dating and boys.
One piece of advice that puzzled me? Play “hard to get.”
Every woman knows what it means. So do men.
But what I didn’t realize at the time was that this was a lesson that would go far beyond trying to score a weekend date with a cute boy from high school. In fact, the meaning of that phrase would make countless appearances as I navigated through my personal and professional life.
Nine years ago I was a relationship coach for single women over 40. Since I had married for the first time at age 39 (and because I had spent years learning about relationships), I knew how difficult it was to find someone special after one exited their twenties.
My understanding of the concept “playing hard to get” had evolved. What struck me as manipulative and conniving as a young girl now had developed into a more mature perspective.
Put simply, “playing hard to get” – when done right – is about self-respect.
For instance, as a young girl, my mother instructed me to never accept a date for the upcoming weekend after Wednesday night. So if a boy called me Thursday to ask for a date on Saturday, even if I didn’t have plans, I was to say, “Sorry. I’m busy.”
It didn’t make sense to me.
“Mom, why would I say no if I didn’t have plans and I really wanted to go out with the boy? What if he didn’t ask me out again?”
My mom looked at me and sighed.
“Honey, if you accept last-minute dates, you’re showing the boy you’re desperate. Before you know it, he’ll call last minute on a Friday night or Saturday night to see if you want to go out. You’ll get a reputation for being a second or third choice after they ask out their first choices, since the girls who are usually their first choice will already have turned them down for a last-minute date because…”
“They respected themselves?” I answered uncertainly.
“Yes. You have to train boys to respect you. It doesn’t happen automatically. When a boy realizes he can’t just snap his fingers and have you jump through hoops to be with him, he’s going to respect you more. He’s going to fight for you and you’re going to be his first choice. Why? Because it wasn’t easy to get you. When something is ‘hard-to-get,’ it makes it more valuable and worth pursuing. You never want to appear ‘easy’ by saying yes too quickly. People who do this are usually the ones who are taken advantage of by others.”
It was a lot for a thirteen-year old to absorb.
But I tucked away her words of wisdom in my heart, and for the most part followed them.
Surprise… It’s True!
As a good marketer, I tested both approaches (of course). I accepted last minute dates and then I accepted dates which were planned earlier in advance.
And… my mom was right.
I was stunned. I didn’t want to admit she was right, but doggonit… I couldn’t argue with the facts.
And the fact was, when I accepted a last-minute date, the quality of the date (and the resulting quality of the relationship) usually was disappointing. Often the boy wouldn’t put any effort into planning the date. It was last-minute and the entire date felt rushed and lacking any real thought or meaning.
But years and years after high school – when I said yes to a man who actually planned the date well in advance – it was a whole other ball game.
He asked me out the week before our chosen day and time. We decided on dinner and stargazing afterward. He researched nearby restaurants and presented me with several choices. We agreed on one restaurant that seemed promising.
We were to meet at Caesar’s Creek State Park. He emailed me directions and then told me he’d check with the park ranger to make sure it was okay to be in the park after dark.
I remember the night so vividly. I pulled up in Caesar’s Creek parking lot and greeted him. After initial pleasantries, we got in his car and headed to the restaurant. Dinner was very enjoyable as we laughed and got to know each other even more.
Finally, we headed back to the park for some stargazing. I’ll never forget how I felt when the park ranger swung by and said he thought we’d be closer to the lake. My date explained that he was concerned that the large telescopes might have been too much for the sand so he chose the parking lot instead. If that was okay, of course.
The park ranger said it was, wished us well and left.
At that moment, I knew I could trust my date. He told me what he was going to do. And he did what he said he would do. This became his track record. He treated me with respect and courtesy throughout the entire evening. And he was handsome.
I promptly married him.
How This Applies to Marketing Yourself
The same principle my mother taught me about dating can be directly applied to marketing yourself as a solopreneur or creative freelancer.
You know you need clients. You also know you’d prefer to work with clients who respected what you can do for their business.
You don’t want the wrong type of client. Instead, you want the kind that gives you plenty of space to deliver the goods and one who is interested in building a long-term client relationship with you.
And the first step you must take to get the good clients is to know how to weed out the bad ones.
Here are a few you want to avoid:
Last-Minute Larry – This is the type of client who contacts you on Tuesday and wants the first draft of web copy on Wednesday. In less than 24 hours, you’re expected to whip up dynamite sales copy that will perfectly position his company in a highly competitive niche. Don’t marry Larry.
Nitpicking Nellie – This is the type of client who questions every jot and tittle of your creation. If it’s website design, her nephew – who just graduated from a local design school – could do better. If it’s writing, her grand-daughter – who won a high school essay contest – could do better. Heck, even she could do better. Whoa, Nellie. You don’t want a savvy solopreneur. You want a slave. Put the nix on Nell and kick her quickly to the curb. Otherwise, be prepared for a lot of sleepless nights.
Clueless Christopher – This client really doesn’t have a clue how to communicate what he wants. This type of client is especially frustrating for the visual artist. A common response: “I’m not sure what I want but I’ll know it when I see it.” No. He won’t. If a client can’t clearly communicate their brand message, you won’t be able to either. Ciao, C-Chris.
Perfect Patty – This client is related to Nitpicking Nellie. She is often seen harassing copywriters with her prefect grasp of grammar. She’ll argue with you why the Oxford Comma is a life or death situation for her web copy. Meanwhile, her insistence on absolute adherence to her version of perfect grammar will forever clog up the wheels of progress. Get out now… before you force-feed her an unabridged copy of Merriam-Webster’s dictionary along with Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style.
Deadbeat Dan – This client expects you to churn out one creative idea after another… for free. Many solopreneurs and creative freelancers have offered a potential client a few good ideas to prove their value. But it should stop there. When Deadbeat Dan comes knocking, it’s not just one or two ideas. He wants more. One phone call turns into two. Two emails turn into four. Meanwhile, your billable hours are circling the drain. Make it clear to Deadbeat Dan that he needs to pay for your brilliance. After all, you’re a business. Not a charity.
All of these potentially bad clients have one thing in common:
They don’t respect you.
They will take every opportunity to take advantage of you. They’re the ones who call last minute, are demanding, over-critical, and will try to skip out on an invoice.
How can you avoid them?
It’s always a challenge for the solopreneur, but the above are a few tell-tale signs that you’re dealing with a bad client.
And the word you’ll have to get used to saying often is “No.”
Or perhaps better, “No. I don’t do business that way. However, here is a way that I can help you…”
And then you explain it to them clearly and concisely, not wasting their time or yours.
Solopreneurs, creative freelancers and lonely high-school girls accept last-minute invitations for one reason and one reason only.
And what is at the core of desperation?
Fear of not being noticed, recognized or asked out on a date. Or the fear of not getting a new client.
You have to find a way to conquer that fear. You have to find a way to believe that there are clients out there who will appreciate you and respect you for what you do.
Because if you are worth your weight in gold, it will happen. But it won’t happen if you give yourself away to every tightwad out there who expects you to jump through hoops for a tiny sliver of their business pie.
Heed my wise mother’s words. Respect yourself. And enjoy the benefits of saying “no” to the wrong clients so you can say “yes” to the right ones.