Career Opportunities

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Working where you live

April 23, 2004

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While it may seem only natural to develop as many clients and as much business as possible, you have to be a bit circumspect when combining your professional life with your personal life. I recently observed a situation at my son’s school that points up the dangers of working where you live. While I wasn’t privy to the exact nature of the dispute, it points up some important guidelines to observe when making clients of your friends and neighbors.

Not in front of the children

The reason for this particular dispute remains unknown to most of us, but, whatever the cause, the consequences spilled over onto the school grounds one morning this week. One parent began loudly complaining about another while that parent was clearly within earshot. It was an obvious attempt to enlist other parents in their cause, but the scene quickly turned ugly with loud recriminations and “in-your-face” shouting. Even worse, this battle continued in the afternoon while parents were waiting to pick up their children. Clearly, this was not the time or place to be airing dirty laundry between parents, but people often don’t consider their actions well enough.

As far as I can tell, this started as a professional dispute. One parent recommended a friend to another parent who somehow felt ill-used by this friend. Their anger was then directed at the parent who originally referred this person.

Choose carefully

When my son first started at this school, I wondered aloud to my wife (editor and business advisor) whether it would be a good idea to market my computer services to the parents. It was a potentially lucrative new market of people who had never heard of me before. While the possibility of new clients intrigued me, I immediately saw problems. What would happen if someone was displeased with my work? Would they express their displeasure to the rest of the school? Would my son suffer in the process? Would he suddenly not be able to have a play date with a good friend, just because their parents couldn’t get along?

In the end, I decided against marketing directly to the parents for this and a variety of other reasons. It simply seemed too fraught with problems that could effect the entire family and not just my business. Of course, you can’t always hide your light under a bushel, so some parents found out about my computer work and asked to hire me. So far, these relationships have all been great, but I am constantly on the watch for any issues that might arise. Additionally, I have thought long and hard about the possible ramifications of these issues and how it might effect my family and me.

Satisfaction Guaranteed

One important part of my relationship with these clients, and all my clients, is my firm belief that satisfaction is guaranteed. While I don’t have an official statement of this policy on my business cards or web site, it is part of all the work I do. If a client isn’t happy, not matter the reason, I will do whatever it takes to make them happy. This goes double or triple for someone who is also part of my personal life. It is a sure road to personal unhappiness, if not career failure, to leave these clients unhappy with your work. You have to face these people every day, in most cases, and an unresolved conflict can quickly boil over in such an environment. In extreme cases, I would be willing, if not eager, to fully refund any payments to the client in an effort to resolve the conflict.

Unfortunately, even this might not be enough to repair the damage done. When working for clients that have additional connections to your personal life, you have to be ready to face the fact that you may end up making some enemies along the way. Normally, a disgruntled client, while problematical, doesn’t have the ability to effect your personal life in dramatic ways. Working for fellow parents at your school, friends of your relatives, and other personal connections has the danger of complicating your personal life beyond imagining.

My best advice is to “tread lightly” when mining personal relationships for professional clients. You might find yourself embroiled in highly-charged disputes with someone who is very close to you. Be aware of the potential pitfalls so you can do your best to avoid them. Then, develop plans for dealing with these issues, just in case. Enter into these relationships with open eyes and you will be able to improve your high-tech career without destroying your personal life.

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