Archive for May 31st, 2010

Flexibility for Flexibility’s Sake is No Flexibility At All

Flexibility for Flexibility's Sake is No Flexibility at All

Hey, that sounds like a song. But really, it’s an important idea to examine, particularly if you are newer in business.

Sadly, here is the all-too-common way things go for far too many people in our industry when they first start their businesses:

You’re a craftsman—a self-employed service provider. You don’t want to run some big business or become a manager of people. Doing the hands-on work is exactly why you went into business for yourself. It’s as much about meeting the needs of your soul, having an outlet to express your talents and skills, and finding meaning and purpose in your work as it is having more control over the quality of your life and income. And that makes you perfectly happy.

But you’ve never run a business before in your life, and are blissfully unaware at this point what you are really in for.

You go about trying to get clients, any clients, any way you can. “Whatever the client wants,” is your motto; you’ve never heard of the concepts of standards and “ideal clients” and being selective and discerning about who you take on. And because you’ve never run a business, you go about this as if trying to land a job instead of clients. You don’t know any differently (yet).

So you get a client. Yay! You’re so excited! Every thing is hunky-dory… at first.

But then this client starts “bossing” you around, and asking you to do things that weren’t part of the bargain. You do them anyway–you’re nothing if not flexible! But soon enough you start to feel the inklings of resentment. You don’t like the way you’re being addressed. This client doesn’t seem to respect you as a fellow professional. More and more, this client seems to think you aren’t even worthy of complete sentences, only orders barked or grunted at you.

Eventually, you attempt to get things back on track and salvage the relationship. The client on the other hand doesn’t appreciate that you’re “getting uppity” with him; after all he’s paying you to do his bidding (at least that’s his understanding) and doesn’t want any flak.

This client also has no sense of boundaries. You’ve been so “flexible” with him that he now pretty much thinks it’s okay to call you at all hours of the day or night, intrude upon your personal life, and that no matter what hoops he asks you to jump through, you supposed to  simply ask “how high?” And he expects things to be done as soon as he’s barked out the order. After all, you’ve based your whole brand identity on “flexibility” and “instant, on-demand assistance.”

So now this client is putting demands on you that you never bargained for. In an effort to ever be the people-pleaser, you try to accomplish his every command and expectation. And that’s another thing—this client’s attitude has become one of self-entitlement, not appreciation. You rarely get a thank you or good word on a job well done. And now he is starting to ask you to do stuff that isn’t even administrative, much less part of the scope of support that was outlined (albeit only generally) when you first started working together.

You now dread dealing with this person and find yourself avoiding the phone. This client’s work is piling up. You keep procrastinating out of resentment and overwhelm. He’s piled so much on your plate that you are completely miserable and stressed out by it all.

You (finally!) get a clue that this client thinks he’s your boss, not your client! You realize this is really your own fault because that’s exactly how you marketed yourself and your services and how you’ve been delivering them. Like an assistant… an employee… an employee who has no say in who she works for, what work she will provide and in what way and when that work will be accomplished and delivered. Like spoiling a child, you’ve created your own monster by setting no limits or parameters for working together. And like a spoiled child, this client has become obnoxious and intolerable to be around.

You’re also not making any money because you’re spending a ton of unpaid time trying to please this one spoiled, demanding, self-entitled client. You’re definitely not charging enough, and you have zero time and energy left for anyone or anything else. You haven’t earned a penny’s profit, and this client is sucking the life right out of you—and your business.

Miracle of miracles, you do manage to land another couple clients throughout everything, but you’ve got absolutely no control over your schedule, the work nor the demands placed on your time because you’ve established no control and no boundaries. Your every waking hour is now spent trying to keep up with everything, putting out the biggest fires first, and succeeding well in neither. You also now find yourself spending your weekends, evenings and family time on work, and still missing deadlines.

Your newest clients are much more ideal for you–hey, at least you learned a thing or two about choosing who to work with! They’d be dreams if you didn’t have so much darn “flexibility” in your life, but now they, too, are getting frustrated with you because you aren’t living up to the promises you made. You try to hide it, but deep down you know you aren’t doing good work for them because of the way things are in your business, and it wouldn’t surprise you if they bailed on you tomorrow.

Forget taking on any other clients. You’re unhappy. You’re existing clients are unhappy. You have zero room on your plate for anything else. Ironically, in trying to be totally flexible and make everybody else happy, you now have no flexibility whatsoever and no life of your own. And none of the reasons and rewards of working for yourself exist anymore because in trying to chase this “flexibility” ideal, you haven’t taken care of your needs and those of your business first.

This is what happens when people don’t have a deeper understanding of what “flexibility” is really about. Flexibility comes with boundaries, standards, processes, and thinking things through. What kills flexibility is not having that kind of infrastructure in place in your business. Sometimes, in order to do best by your clients, you have to say “no” to ways of working together that are ultimately going to zap your ability to be flexible.

You will have flexibility to give if you instill a foundation that actually creates it. But flexibility for flexibility’s sake is no flexibility at all. It’s a precurser to chaos, unmanageability and unprofitability in your business. Taking heed and learning what that really means in your business is going to help build a foundation upon which you can get the right kind of clients, do the work you enjoy (and do well), and have space and flexibility to deliver the absolute best service to clients that you can.

The bottom line is this: Flexibility without any rules or standards will cage you in a prison of your own making.

Flexibility with standards and boundaries will allow you to soar and create a life and business you love.

What can you learn from the scenario I painted above? What boundaries and standards will you set in place to avoid this from happening in your business?

Have you started making a list yet of the traits and characteristics of both your ideal and un-ideal clients so you can better recognize them when they show up at your door?

How will your business work and what will your day look like once you have more than one or two clients? Will the way you are doing things now work as well, give you space around the work and maintain your sanity once you have more than one client? What policies and procedures can you put in place NOW that will allow your business to grow smoothly and profitably into that future vision?