1. The people I work with need to be professional at the very least and, ideally, nice in the way that I am nice. I want to work with clients who not only recognize quality work, but who are also quality people. I'm a writer who cares deeply about others. I want them to be successful in their professional and personal lives. I want us to grow together in meaningful ways. When clients feel the same way about me, then we have the basis of a sustainable, even pleasurable, relationship.
I am NOT a transactional person who seeks short-term advantage over others. I'm a fan of building relationships and community. Bob Sutton, a Professor at Stanford and a friend, has "a no asshole rule." He tries not to work with assholes, people who are arrogant, narcissistic, bullying, and transactional, short-term thinkers. I have adopted the same rule, mostly because it protects my mental health and allows me to be creative (it takes mental capacity that can't be tied up in interpersonal drama). Working with good people is the most important rule I have, by far.
2. Learning is a priority in my life, so when I take on clients, I always consider the opportunities to learn. One of my favorite clients right now is an ERP software company. The people I work with there are awesome -- friendly and professional and cool -- and I'm learning a lot about how companies can drive digital transformation through good ERP systems. I know this might not be fascinating or fun for everyone, but it is for me. I've also taken on clients to learn about cryptocurrency and blockchain, the Internet of Things and digital talent platforms.
I try hard not to turn down work simply because it's about things I don't currently understand. I'm always looking to learn, to feed my curiosity about the world, to tell stories in surprising places and in surprising ways. It's not what we know that matters most, but what we can learn. I have a learning mindset and, when I evaluate potential clients, will look for opportunities to learn.
3. Money. Yes, it's great to work with clients who are nice and give you a chance to learn new things, but I also need to be paid for the value I create. One has to pay the mortgage and the necessities and niceties of life. More than this, when you're not being paid what you're worth, resentment creeps into your head and into your work too. To be fully creative, to bring my whole self to every story I write, the money needs to be right, to reflect the value I'm creating.
Will I be flexible on payment for a good cause, a non-profit client, especially when the people are nice and I have a chance to learn something new? Of course I will. But as a general rule, being paid well helps me work well, helps take money out of the equation and lets me focus on what the client wants -- getting great quality work and building a good relationship.
So there you have my three rules for evaluating potential clients. Each of the three criteria are interconnected, and each is important. For me, the people come first, then learning, then money. Ideally, I'd like to work for cool, nice people who pay me a lot to learn new things I'm curious about. Sometimes, however, I'll make trade-offs, not about the people (the "no asshole rule"), but on opportunities to learn or make money. I've found that picking my clients is not an exact science, but it helps a LOT to know who I am and what's important to me.
What are YOUR reasons for working?