A story about boundaries in business

14 Oct 2016

Wanting it all...

ONCE upon a time, a man wanted a new car. His budget was limited, so he went to the garage, decided on a contract hire, and went for the cheapest model he could get. He negotiated as best he could at the point of sale and everything was contracted, so both parties knew where they stood.

After a while, the man really wanted air conditioning, so he went back to the garage and demanded they add it for free. The garage said they could add it, but it would cost £500.

Next, the man sent one of his sons to negotiate with the garage; he explained that he suffered from hayfever and that air conditioning with a pollen filter would really help him. The garage said they’d be happy to fit the air con, and that it would cost his dad £500.

The man was feeling more and more frustrated. One day, he’d have far more money, and the garage should understand that if they looked after him well now, one day he might go back and buy a top of the line Mercedes from them. And maybe a Ferrari for the weekend.

He sent his wife in – she was great at negotiating. She told the garage how awful it was for her to have a sweaty husband at the end of the day and how much it would help her if they’d be willing to fit air conditioning. The garage said they’d be happy to help, and it would cost her husband £500. She cried. The garage handed her a tissue, made her a cup of tea and listened, at no additional charge. She asked again for the air con. They quoted £500.

The man tried again and again. He asked for leather seats, a CD changer and an MP3 connector. Each time, the garage quoted their price and wouldn’t budge. Each time he got upset, or sent in his son, or his wife, and even his business coach, the garage listened, supported and advised, but the bolt-on services all had a fixed price.

Eventually, the man convinced himself that he wasn’t getting enough for his rock-bottom monthly fee. He handed back the the car with a huff and proudly announced that he had found another service provider that would give him all the extras at no additional cost.

The man’s new car was from a guy he found on eBay, who ran his cash-only business from a field. His new car had leather seats, air conditioning, a cassette player and a battery-operated MP3/CD player sitting loose in the passenger footwell. It had no MOT, no log book and no wheels.

The people at the first garage sold car on to someone who was just starting out in business, who was overjoyed at them being able to find him such an affordable vehicle, happy to have the safety of a contract and delighted that the team had plenty of expertise and a willingness to advise and support him.

The moral of the story


  • If you need business support from someone with expertise and credibility, do all your negotiating up front and don’t keep expecting something for nothing. Be grateful for all the unbilled advice and knowledge they provide to support your journey.
  • If you’re in business, provide a clear contract, know how much additional work you’re willing to do as a freebie and value yourself enough to not cross that line. If you have a client who continually demands work over and above the contract at no additional fee, be polite, hold your ground, advise them on the best way to achieve their aims and, ultimately, be prepared to walk away cleanly, clearly and without ill feeling.
  • Finally, if you want a car with mod cons at a knockdown price, first check it has wheels.