• Bill Petrie

When Life Gives you Lemons

ask for limes instead.

When life gives us lemons, we are usually told to “make lemonade.” The idea is that you make the best out of a difficult situation. In life, this isn’t the worst advice. For example, just over seven years ago at the PPAI Expo in Las Vegas, I had the misfortune of rupturing my Achilles tendon. As I did this in front of a group of 13 industry friends, I instantly knew it would be public fodder for many years to come. In my mind, this left me with two choices:

  1. I could grumble, complain, and generally be miserable about it and everyone would give me a hard time

  2. Embrace the situation and have as much fun as I could and everyone would give me a hard time

It likely won’t surprise anyone that I chose the latter and was far better because of it. In this case, one could say I made some pretty sweet lemonade out of a very sour situation.


But what works in our personal lives may not always translate to business. In fact, the advice to “make lemonade” when given lemons by a client is fundamentally flawed. The implication is that you need to accept what is forced upon you and simply make the best of it. Unfortunately, this type of thinking gives far too much control to your client and generally leads to a short-lived partnership where neither side benefits.


Take this scenario: a prospective client issues an RFP for promotional merchandise that demands Net 120 terms, something that makes you very uncomfortable and may even put your organization at risk. Often distributors will assume this is the cost of doing business and forge ahead with the RFP response – a form of “making lemonade” out of lemons. Instead of making lemonade, it’s the perfect opportunity to request limes.

In the RFP example above, offer the payment terms you are willing to live with and share with the client your reasoning. In other words, empower your prospective client with the knowledge as to why the Net 120 day terms don’t work for you and your business. Then, offer them a solution that both of you can live with – perhaps Net 45 payment terms with a 1% discount in the form of an annual rebate for all invoices paid within the agreed-upon parameters. Regardless of the specifics, it needs to be some other creative invoicing that accomplishes the goals of the RFP while not placing unneeded stress on the cash flow aspect of your business.

If you cater to your clients to the point where you are sacrificing your business principles and threatening your profitability (and viability), the lemonade you end up making will be sour to the point where you’ll be bitter every time you consume it.

Next time a prospect or client offers you lemons, change the conversation, shift the paradigm, and ask for limes.

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