Today's market wants "faster" and "cheaper." In your effort to meet those goals, it's easy to forget some important principles.

Your company has spent considerable time and money acquiring clients, and you work hard to keep them happy. However, it's easy to make mistakes that can cost you those clients. Here are 10 mistakes you must make a conscious effort to prevent.

Mistake No. 1 - Over-expertising. If a job or task is outside your area of expertise, don't do it. Photo 1 illustrates an entire category of work normally performed by unqualified people. Your reputation is one of your most valuable assets, and it depends on quality work. When you don't attempt work you can't do, your clients will appreciate your forthright honesty more than they will appreciate botched work. However, your clients look to you for answers, so don't make this next mistake.

Mistake No. 2 - Failing to network. Suppose you install new lighting in an industrial plant. The client is pleased with your work and asks you to install a new speed door. You've never done a speed door before, and after thinking about the programming, sensor placement and other issues involved, you decline the work. You've been fair and honest with your customer, but you haven't been helpful. Therefore, your client is not likely to think of you as a "first stop" - meaning you will lose both work and the power to refer work to people who can bring you other work. Instead, use your contacts to find someone who can help. Don't just give a referral, be a matchmaker. Take the time to build a list of services any of your clients could possibly ask you about and then find someone who can do each of those services. Meet with those other providers and set up a referral agreement.

Mistake No. 3 - Under-resourcing. Resources make a big difference in productivity and quality. If your engineers design with underpowered computers, your field people lack adequate test equipment and anyone lacks sufficient training, you're at a competitive disadvantage. If you're going to go after a certain kind of work, have the equipment to do the job. This will improve efficiency, on-time delivery, work quality, employee retention and customer satisfaction - which collectively determine a business' survival.

Mistake No. 4 - Under-planning. Sure, you plan each job. But, how do you plan for obtaining capital? Are you looking at industry trends and planning a path to new markets? What are your plans for obtaining and retaining the key talent you need to build a business - or help it survive a raid from a competitor? What about advancement planning - are you grooming a trusted lieutenant to take your place so you can take on new responsibilities and gain greater rewards? If your plan doesn't include employee development, your own career track will suffer.

Mistake No. 5 - Overcommitting. A big project can seem like a blessing, until you can't take care of your regular clients. When that project is done, you have too much staff and not enough work. Other ways of overcommitting include tight scheduling of niche talent, such as your certified thermographer or your controls guru.

Take note of what commitments you make for capital equipment, such as trucks and lifts. Watch where you allocate specialized tools and specialized safety equipment. Some contractors deal with overcommitting by overworking employees, compromising on work quality or simply delivering late on their promises.

If you find yourself overcommitted, it's a good idea to farm out some of the work, hire some temporary help, or renegotiate some completion dates. Then carefully examine how you became overcommitted in the first place and make process corrections to prevent a recurrence.

Mistake No. 6 - Criticizing. Although your projects may be critical, your comments about clients, suppliers or employees should not be. It's a common practice to point out a client's design deficiencies, poor workmanship, housekeeping and maintenance. However, think how you would feel if you and your client reversed roles. There is a better way: what might happen if you point out the advantages and benefits of a proposed fix to one of these concerns? Now you are offering your client something worth buying, and not insulting that client while you're at it.

Criticizing employees is a death sentence to productivity, but pointing out how they can improve their work is productive - especially if you provide training or some other type of help.

Mistake No. 7 - Compromising. The customer isn't always right. The courts have held, in civil and criminal suits, that the client relies upon the contractor's superior knowledge. Thus, if your client insists on design or installation decisions that you know are unsafe, you must decline the work. Photo 2 shows a situation in which several contractors obviously compromised. Would you decline the work or accept the risk?

Mistake No. 8 - Covering a mistake. If you make a small mistake and can correct it quickly, the client probably doesn't need to know about it. However, a major mistake - especially one that compromises the performance, safety, reliability or timely completion of the system or project you are doing - needs the client's attention. By disclosing and discussing the problem, you build trust - and that fosters cooperation. If you present the problem as one needing both parties to resolve it, you can get a surprising amount of assistance from the client. This also works when you ask the client for input on how to resolve a client error in a drawing or specification. The bottom line here is honesty works.

Mistake No. 9 - Slacking on safety. You don't save money by having a weak safety policy. The savings from a strong safety program go beyond just having lower insurance rates and fewer injury-related losses of labor time.

Many corporations now have "floors" for safety records - if you've had too many industrial accidents, they won't consider you. A safety culture is about thinking how to approach your work. This approach increases workmanship and efficiency, which means you get a happier client at less cost. This effect isn't just theory - process industry players like Dow Chemical have documented it for decades.

Mistake No. 10 - Being a bad housekeeper. It's simply not possible to do good work in a messy environment. Rehandling materials and hunting for things you had just a minute ago are classic signs of this. And bad housekeeping has a direct correlation to industrial accidents. To improve your safety record, train your workers to put things away - or at least out of the way - when those things aren't in use. Portable cords are often subject to housekeeping abuse - left on stairways as tripping hazards or left in aisles and damaged by vehicles. It's not good public relations to leave a mess behind for your client to clean up. When you leave a job site, it should look at least as good as when you arrived.

Don't forget the little touches, either - such as preventing and repairing panel scratches. In Photo 3, electricians are installing a panel door they stored behind protective plywood to protect its appearance. This attention to "fit and finish" helps to make the client happy with the purchase. Making your clients happy is what turns one job into many.