When Is A Client Not A Client

I gave a little presentation about my business to a class at VCU recently so that they could use me as a subject for an assignment. During the interview questions, one of them (of course) asked about cupcakes.

Pffft...Now, I don't do cupcakes. It's all over my website that I don't do cupcakes. I will refer you to someone who does cupcakes if you want them, but I don't do them. So why did this student ask about cupcakes? He wanted to know what I would do if a client came to me and wanted cupcakes.

I told him that I'd refer them to someone else. He responded with something that I'd said earlier, that your focus should be on your customer, not on yourself. I told him that while that's true, by referring the customer to someone who could do what they wanted you're still helping the customer.

Naturally, I forgot to add the most important thing. NOT EVERYONE IS YOUR CUSTOMER.

Someone who calls me wanting to order cupcakes is not my customer. They're a cupcake customer, and I don't do that. If I want a delicious steak dinner, I don't go to McDonald's and get mad when they won't make me one. If I'm a McDonald's customer I go get the things that they make, and if I'm not, I don't go there, I go somewhere else.

This is probably one of the most common mistakes that people make when they first start out in business. You want the work, so you agree to do things that you don't want to do, don't know how to do well, or just don't like doing, all to get the job.

Making those types of concessions out of desperation isn't smart in the long run. If you do a bad job because it's not something you know how to do, that will reflect poorly on you. But what happens if you do a good job? Well, that customer is going to come back wanting more cupcakes. Or she'll be telling all her friends where she got the cupcakes, and this will lead to more cupcake orders from them.

If you decide to REALLY  say no more cupcakes, that stream of business would come to an end, and the customers would probably be pretty p.o.'ed. Which means bad word of mouth from them, and who needs that?

It's better to set your limits and define your business up front, then stick with it. Just refer out if you don't provide a service, and don't feel bad about it. It's called setting limits, quality control, and not being the Walmart of cakes.

Nobody does everything, and nobody should. That's why more than one cake business exists in the world. Go ahead and refer out and make your non-customer happy.

Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC, custom wedding cakes in Richmond VA