Good Cop & Bad Cop: Laying Down the Law and Keeping People Happy As an Independent Business Owner

Earlier this week I met up for coffee with a client of mine. The two of us originally met when his employeer was my client and after leaving that job he hired me to customize his personal blog and we formed our own client/designer relationship. I was excited when he emailed me last week with the news that he was starting a new business venture and wanted to discuss working with me on branding and marketing materials.

We filled each other in on all that we’ve been up to, talked about family and pets and work. He expressed his excitement over building his business (which is a partnership with another owner) and that while he is working non-stop, he is loving it! We talked about dealing with clients… the art of retaining clients vs selling to new ones. The balance of looking out for your clients and also not being a push over. He said, “I don’t know how you handle this without a business partner. I need a ‘good cop’ in the scenario — I’m only capable of being ‘bad cop.'”

This got me thinking — am I both Good Cop and Bad Cop? I guess as an Independent business owner, you kind of have to be! It’s delicate balance of being able to lay down the law and tell a client something they may not want to hear, holding your foot firm on policies and generally being able to deal with people on a purely “getting business done” level and the Good Cop side is the smile you close with, the empathetic comment you offer when a frustrating situation arises, the hand holding for those high maintenance clients. It’s tough to play both of these rolls, but not impossible.

I’ve been dealing with a frustrating project lately. A client wants a feature added to a project that was not part of the original scope — trouble is, they didn’t anticipate the added cost of this from the get go, so they are struggling with passing along that expense to THIER client. It’s a mess and while yesterday I had almost reached the point of saying “I don’t care WHAT you do, here’s the bill for the time I put in — and here is some referrals to other devs you could hire to finish the project!” Instead I slept on it, pulled myself together (the good and bad halves) and told them “I know you’re in a really frustrating situation since you did not anticipate this feature being part of the project so the added cost was not part of your original budget (that was the Good Cop, now time to switch gears… Bad Cop, I know you have a ‘but’, right?) — BUT I have offered up some really good solutions and you can either go with the less expensive one that is CLOSE to what they want, but not exactly… OR you can go with the more expensive option that’s going to give that JUST what they want.” While the previous email from the client had been a little huffy — her next response after this message said “Thank you so much for all the time you’ve put into this! I am going to talk this over with my client and follow up with you next week.”

Thank you Good Cop and Bad Cop for Liz and her clients sane! :)

Do you recognize this in yourself? Is there one side you feel you need to get more in touch with?