Throughout my career I have crossed paths and worked with a lot of different people. This is likely true of everyone, unless you have an unusual job that does not involve face-to-face interaction with coworkers, clients, customers, vendors, the public at large. My point is I have had numerous jobs in the last 35 (gasp!) years, everything from my first jobs (restaurant busing tables and serving) to my “career” jobs (clerk typist to the chief financial officer) to now sole proprietor of my own little firm. Yet of all the people I have met and crossed paths with, those most memorable are ones I either developed a close friendship with that continued once we both moved on OR they left a truly negative impression in their wake. When it was the latter, 99% of the time I can pinpoint the actions or personality trait that invoked such a strong reaction, but the other 1% is when someone just creeps me out for some indefinable reason. Those are the ones I am unlikely to ever truly forget, and thankfully there are only four in my long work history.
Until Friday, and I do believe the number of business contacts who are indefinably creepy to me just ticked up to five. And I am as yet uncertain how to handle it.
A lot of my new clients and business growth comes from referrals. I know several local CPAs and attorneys who have referred me to clients with time and billing system needs or tax clients whose monthly accounting work is too small for a larger firm. For me, just starting out on my own, these referrals are absolutely priceless and I never fail to write a note of thanks and/or send a gift when appropriate. For my part, I do not do income tax work, and I am happy to reciprocate by referring any of my clients needing CPA help to my primary referral sources.
Earlier this week one of my biggest
cheerleaders referral sources sent me a lead for one of his clients who needed some help getting his household finances organized and domenstic payroll and taxes file and paid on time. The referring source said the guy was a little “eccentric” yet felt pretty confident we would be a good fit for his financial issues, hence the referral. I called the potential client on Wednesday and discussed his needs, how I could help, and made an appointment to meet Friday afteroon at his office.
Now, I am not really one to judge others too quickly, and I usually am predisposed to liking just about everyone upon first meeting and letting things evolve organically and impressions to be formed as we gain mutual experience. Every now and again, though, I have an extremely strong negative reaction to someone I meet, and sadly, that was my experience: the guy immediately made my skin crawl.
Not a thing wrong with him. Early 30s (I think – I have never been a good judge of age), fit and handsome, professional, and intense. His handshake was a little too much, though – a cross between crushing and caressing my hand at the same time. I shook off the “run, run away NOW” feeling and mentally reminded myself that I did not really have to like him to do some simple accounting work for him.
So we sat down and talked about his needs, how I could assist him, fees, etc. As these things seem to progress in my life and experiences, we also chatted about ourselves – you know, where we grew up, how we got started on our present careers, hobbies and such outside of work. Throughout the entire conversation he is staring at me intently, like one of my cats gazelle-intense focus when we had the mouse in the cage – and to the point I was really uncomfortable. Nothing he actually DID made me feel uncomfortable, but he did not strike me as eccentric; he struck me as weird.
Somehow conversation got around to my family – I think he asked me if I had children. I told him very briefly about G and C, their partners K and A, and of course about M. I also wear my wedding rings pretty much everywhere except the gym, so it seems normal to mention my fabulous husband. Somehow the conversation turned to fitness – we work out at the same gym although different locations – and he became very animated and interested in my trainer, my program, my diet, supplements I am (or am not) taking, and went on and on and on about it. It got the point where I had to excuse myself for another appointment, and we agreed that I would prepare a formal proposal outlining services and costs for his review.
Okay, that was 24 hours ago. Since then, I have received 47 texts from him, of which only 2 were about the potential proposal and business relationship. The other 45 (and counting), were about training, my trainer, diet, supplements, and things I should attempt to integrate into my exercise program. He also wanted to know if G’s training group (G is coaching a group of new runners for the California International Marathon) had any openings, because he would like to talk with him about running.
This strikes me really weird, and truthfully I’m not sure I want to work with him in any capacity. M suggests he might fall somewhere on the autism spectrum – eccentric but not dangerous – and I really need to get more information from the referring source before I commit to doing anything further with him. Honestly, I cannot keep up with the constant texts, questions, and suggestions. I get a lot of text traffic and emails from clients – comes with the job – and I certainly don’t mind it. But this guy is not even a client (yet) nor is he asking me questions about work. It’s just sort of unnerving. If there was a reasonable explanation – he’s an overarching fitness enthusiast with no social skills – I can deal with that. But until I confirm that, I have had to make it clear that I will not be responding to any further until after I put my proposal together and submit it.
And I feel like a heel for putting that sort of firm boundary in place.
I’m trying to learn how to be self-employed, and establishing my value and appropriate, professional boundaries with clients should not be this challenging. In my mind I have already decided his unique needs may be way too expensive for me in terms of time management; now I just need to figure out a graceful and gracious way to let the referral source know that without damage to our reciprocal relationship.
I am reminding myself each time my phone text tone sounds that I cannot be everything to everyone, and sometimes it is best to just say no. I wish it were not quite this hard for me.