Stick to what you know (or say "no")

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It's always tempting to stray out of your lane. This is not always a bad thing: as long as your supplier relationships and project management skills are up to scratch, you can learn new things, build deeper customer relationships, and push up your revenue.

But, more often, the reverse happens: you end up looking stupid, dishonest and lose your customer's trust (while being completely stressed yourself!).

Our business is food waste composting. And we've been doing this for over 10 years. So we know a lot. Our skill and knowledge are both broad and deep. And we're comfortable working in this space and, occasionally, expanding it a bit broader to encompass organic waste as a whole.

We have also successfully installed, with partners, an industrial effluent system using biological treatments (we know about biology and microbes). This installation promptly saved our customer over R400,000 (South African Rand) per month. So good result.

We were asked if could help with the composting of sewage output. This seems reasonable. There's a lot of stuff around "humanure" and we have come across composted sewage waste before (we've also quite happily used composting toilets). So we went to site to checkout how the specific plant worked, what was possible, and where the gaps in our knowledge lay.

We then put a report together which mentioned that one of our composting machines could work well for composting the output from the system. But, that we needed confirmation on a number of very important biological, waste volumes, system processes, and compliance details before we could prepare a project proposal (and proper quotation).

The report sat with our client for a few weeks. And then we were asked, with a deadline of the next day, to prepare a quotation as per the approach we'd outlined in our report back from the site visit.

We said "no". As we (a) didn't have the details requested, and (b) the deadline was too tight.

Our customer was pretty irate. They obviously had a tight deadline form their client (which they hadn't managed properly). We refused to budge as we also knew that their client was a major global mining company. And this customer was particularly demanding (we'd had some experience with them before) who would not put up with any excuses once a proposal had been made.

Especially, as would have been the case, if the proposal was half-arsed (or, just as bad, would need pages and pages of defensive exclusions and assumptions).

So the financial and reputational risks, for our business, were too high. And in the end, if things went wrong, it would be my company that was blamed (and not my customer pushing for a quote because they'd messed up on their deadline).

If you have limited time, insufficient detail, and the project is out of your field of expertise DON'T DO IT!

Or, as Harvey McKay wrote, say "no" (until your tongue bleeds).