Do you think perfectionism is a good goal to have? I did. For years. You bet!
After all, I’m a copywriter who enjoys a bit of editing and proofreading on the side. I wore it like a huge badge of honour or a t-shirt that read:
‘You can trust me because I’m a perfectionist’
Of course, you’d need a very large t-shirt or badge to fit that declaration, but you see my point. For me, perfectionism was something to strive for, and let’s be honest, brag about.
That started to change the moment I began working for a perfectionist! It should have been a match made in heaven – but let me assure you – it was not!
Why? Because apparently, my work wasn’t good enough…ever. I know – shocking right? Even then, when my roles were admin-centric, my ability to write professional, compelling documents had always been consistently recognised and appreciated.
Perfectionism kills efficiency and self-belief
Imagine my horror the first time I saw the red pen come out of the desk drawer and dance all over the hard copy of my report! My face was a pretty good match for the colour of the ink. I felt weighed down with the shame of failure (perfectionists don’t handle criticism well).
This daily dose of ‘constructive’ criticism wasn’t constructive at all. I couldn’t distinguish between the genuinely helpful criticism and the habitual response of, ‘something isn’t quite right (because my way is the only way)’. It began to chip away at my confidence and sabotage everything I did at work.
I worried about whether I’d said the right thing in a meeting or even during a casual conversation in the lift. I asked for second opinions about my choice of wording for everyday emails. YES! A damn email inviting people to drinks was now taking me twice as long because I constantly doubted myself!
It made for some pretty excruciating days. Often, I wanted to stay home under my non-judgemental doona. And, eventually, I left the job.
I’d had worse bosses. I’d worked for worse companies. And I’d definitely earned less money.
But I couldn’t stay in such a confidence-crushing environment. My decision-making ability was so diminished, I almost needed help choosing my clothes every morning.
You get better results with high standards than perfection
I’m not bitter about this experience – I’m incredibly grateful.
It woke me up. I finally understood that perfectionism is a time waster, particularly for a professional writer (someone, somewhere will always think your idea of perfect is, well, ‘mehhhh’).
But as a small business owner, chasing perfection is even more unproductive because you have limited resources and time to achieve all the things.
Now don’t get me wrong – I’m no fan of slapdash. I still believe in setting high standards and putting everything into achieving them.
And whether I’m writing website content, a newsletter or a business award application, I’m determined to deliver the best possible results for my clients – every time.
But instead of wasting hours trying to attain perfection, I put that time into listening to what my clients need and I set clear parameters for how I work.
So, when you’re honest about what you can and can’t deliver, your customers understand what to expect from the outset. If you do this right – there shouldn’t be any nasty surprises for you or your clients.
Manage expectations with clear processes
– Include a ‘How I Work’ section or page on your website, and anywhere else you attract clients. Include it in your proposal, so you can refer clients back to it if they have a query about your process later on.
– Set boundaries in your terms and conditions because, if your client is a perfectionist, chances are they’ll never be 100% satisfied.
My terms and conditions clearly state that additional work outside the scope of the project will increase the cost. So, my clients know they have two sets of amendments already included in my fee, but they can go beyond that if they pay an additional fee.
– Listen and learn. Your customer’s feedback or complaint is always useful. Don’t be dismissive, defensive or emotional. Whether you feel they have a genuine reason for being dissatisfied, or not, try to resolve the issue amicably and learn where the confusion snuck in.
Your business will be the winner if you turn a disappointed client into a raving fan.
– Learn when to let go. If you’ve tried everything and you still can’t meet your client’s expectations, wish them well and let them go.
Finalise the project or issue a refund – they’re not your ideal client and they won’t help you attract your ideal client. Any more time and effort invested is taking you away from the people you want to work with.
– Ask for feedback and testimonials. Asking for feedback can be a little scary, but it’s the best tool for learning what you did well and how you can improve. A fabulous review offers social proof you can share to help others understand what you can do for them.
So, if you really want to make your business a success – forget about perfectionism. Manage expectations by being clear and honest in all your communications and strive for excellence instead – your clients will love you for it!
What do you think? Should you push for perfection regardless?
Or learn when to say ‘that’s good enough’?