Archive for the ‘Bad Clients’ Category

How NOT to Choose Your Clients (and What to Do Instead)

How NOT to Choose Your Clients (and What to Do Instead)

One of the best investments you can make in the long-term sustainability of your business, happiness and peace of mind is choosing your clients wisely.

As you grow in your business, your selection process will evolve and your discernment skills will improve.

No matter how young or inexperienced your business is, though, having clients meet at least some minimal criteria before you allow them on your roster will always serve you well.

That’s because choosing to work with shady or otherwise unideal clients will come back to bite you in the butt, one way or another, either sooner or later.

I was reminded recently of a colleague who reached out to me after being approached by a client who raised all kinds of red flags with her.

Being new in business, she asked me what I thought she should do, and I gave her the advice I always give in this situation: trust your gut.

And she, as new people often do, ignored her own wise counsel and all the telltale signs indicating that this was a bad idea and took the client on anyway.

While she found this client’s honesty and integrity questionable, she wanted the experience and was too eager and impatient for clients to let this first one go.

She rationalized this decision by telling herself that it wasn’t her place to judge, that everyone deserves benefit of the doubt, that she would just put blinders on and do whatever honest work she was given and not involve herself in anything beyond that, and that it wasn’t her place to question things.

She wouldn’t engage in anything illegal, unethical or dishonest, she told herself, and what she didn’t know beyond that wasn’t any of her business.

But here’s the thing: It IS your business to question things. You are deluding yourself if you think you can keep it separate and not be complicit.

Well, long story short, this did come back to haunt her, as all her instincts about this client (the ones she chose to ignore) turned out to be accurate.

It came to light that this client was engaging in some disreputable and unethical practices and ended up being sued by several parties.

She was forced legally into all the drama which caused her a lot of stress and anxiety, not to mention diverted her time, attention and energy away from her own business.

Ultimately, this client lost his business and because she had put all her eggs into this one basket, she was left with no client and no income at all. Back to square one.

These were very painful lessons she learned from this experience that caused her serious damage and could have been avoided.

It took her more than a year to start over. But I don’t think she ever gained any confidence back in herself, and it wasn’t long before her enthusiasm for her business petered out and she closed up shop.

The takeaways I hope people can glean from this are:

  1. You can’t separate your values and principles from your business. They are each a reflection of the other.
  2. You can’t associate with dishonest, unscrupulous people and expect to come out unscathed.
  3. You can’t afford to work with shady or otherwise unideal clients. It will cost you in far more ways than you realize with potentially disastrous results you may not be able to recover from. It’s an unwise, unshaky platform on which to build your business and reputation.
  4. All good things come to those who wait. Don’t be so desperate to take on the first client who comes along if they are not a good fit.
  5. Always trust your gut. It won’t ever steer you wrong.
  6. It’s okay to make mistakes. Just be aware that the damage bad clients can do to you can sometimes be devastating. Walk away from any client, immediately, who doesn’t seem like a good fit.
  7. Maintain an abundance mindset. This is not the last or only client in the world. Walking away from problem clients opens you up to attracting better, more positive and ideal ones.
  8. Never put all your eggs in one basket. A good rule of thumb is that no one client should make up more than 20% of your business and income.

What can you do to avoid this trap in your administrative support business?

  1. Sit down now and list the values, standards and principles that are important to you in life. The act of writing things down formalizes these standards and makes them more concrete and tangible. Continue to add to this list throughout the life of your business. Then devise your policies, protocols and procedures around these standards and values.
  2. Create ideal and unideal client profile lists. These lists, again, are extremely useful tools that help you formalize your intentions around choosing ideal clients and avoiding bad ones. As you go along in your business, use these lists to note those traits, behaviors, conditions, etc., that are and are not a fit for you. This will help you be more and more conscious about who you do and don’t want to work with. Any time you are tempted to ignore your standards and gut instincts, pull these lists out for a jolt back to reality.
  3. Always conduct a thorough, formal consultation with each and every client. Don’t take shortcuts with this process. It’s an incredibly important and useful step in helping you identify and choose the most ideal clients for you and your business. (And if you aren’t sure how to conduct a good consultation, you can get my complete, step-by-step guide that will show you exactly how to do it as well as beef up blind spots and make improvements to your existing process.)

You’ve heard some version of the fable of the scorpion and the frog, I’m sure. The bottom-line is this: A slippery eel is a slippery eel. Don’t let one sweet-talk you out of your better judgment.

How about you? Have you ever taken on or been tempted to take on a client you had reservations about? How did it turn out? How did you resolve to do better the next time around? What insights do you have to share with others on this topic?

How to Come Back from Burnout

How to Come Back from Burnout

A recent article I came across on Lifehacker (What Causes Burnout and How to Avoid It) inspired some thoughts about burnout.

Burnout happens to everyone in our business, to varying degrees, at one time or another.

Some of it is the natural ebb and flow of things, and it’s good to be cognizant of that.

It’s also not necessarily a permanent state. There are some underlying causes for burnout that you have some measure of control over.

For example, burnout can happen if we don’t feel appreciated in our work, if we aren’t getting enough positive (or any) feedback from clients, if we’re being treated like a peon rather than a respected administrative partner:

Burnout can also happen when we over-complicate our business. What are some of the things you can examine there?

  • Can your systems and processes be simplified?
  • Are you making exceptions to your normal processes for certain clients? (Maybe it’s time to stop doing that.)
  • Are you billing by the hour and tracking time for clients and submitting time reports to them? Maybe it’s time to stop doing that as well.  (That was a rhetorical question. Yes, it’s HIGH time everyone stops doing that!).
  • Are you charging different rates for different clients? How about deciding what and how you charge and applying it to ALL of your clients?

Every exception you make, every standard you step over, every policy you bend, is making your business (and life) more difficult. More ease goes a long way in curing burnout.

Maybe you aren’t charging enough and constantly being broke is bringing you down. Well, things are never going to change until you do something different.

What could you differently there? RAISE YOUR FEES, SISTAH!

The alternative is to stay broke and unhappy in your business, which I’m going to guess is not what you went to the trouble of starting it for, now is it?

  • If you’ve never done any kind of proper business planning around fees, be sure to download our free ACA Income & Pricing Calculator. This is going to help you get clear and conscious about the economics of business and what you really need to be charging for a profitable, sustainable business that will earn what you need to thrive.
  • Get off the hourly-billing merry-go-round — because it’s killing your business. Watch this video to learn why.
  • Learn how to implement value-based pricing instead in your administrative support business. This will teach you a whole other simpler, yet more profitable, way to run your business and offer your support.

Have you experienced a bit of burnout at any time in your business? What did you feel was the root cause of the burnout? Were you able to overcome it and get inspired again? What helped you?

Reminder to Clients: People Are Not Vending Machines

Reminder to Clients: People Are Not Vending Machines

People need human kindness and appreciation. Remember their dates. Don’t grunt requests at them, as if they aren’t worthy of the extra two seconds of time it takes to speak to them in complete sentences. Say “please” and “thank you.” Human beings are not vending machines.

These thoughts arose from a situation in my personal life, but it’s a good reminder for clients as well.

If you find yourself with a client who exhibits any of these disrespectful behaviors, it’s an indication that they may not understand their role in the relationship (namely, that of client, not employer).

Make sure you don’t leave them any room for misunderstanding that. It’s too important to your success in working together and your own personal happiness in your business.

You set the tone for that by marketing yourself as a strategic support partner and administrative expert, not their assistant.

Dear Danielle: What Are Your Thoughts About this Deadbeat Client?

Dear Danielle:

I recently experienced every startup business owner’s nightmare. One of my clients (a fast talker) was extremely upset because I had to resort to threats of involving my business attorney. It is absolutely outlined and spelled out in all of my contracts. He went off on me, tried to avoid payment, but I did not back down. He refused and did not pay the late fees that are also outlined in my contract as well, then had the audacity to tell me, “I’ve been in business for 35 years and never seen such aggressive payment policies.” I reminded him how I bent all my rules for him from the start in order to accommodate his needs, drastically lowered my pay, and okayed him to pay upon invoice vs. upfront for projects. After he found that I was not going to back down and accept the loss, the funds miraculously appeared in my account. However, he did not pay the late fees he had incurred. He is someone I will always run into as we are associated with the same Chamber. Not only did he insult me countless times, but he left some very rude messages. I stayed calm the entire time and continually reminded him of the contract we had gone over together and signed, and how with any business, his included, no one will render services without payment. My attorney advised me to take the loss for the fees because he eventually paid and to let it go, especially considering how low the amount was from start. Needless to say, after a long disturbing message from client, he says, “We will no longer do business. Don’t call us anymore.” I laughed thinking, he can’t be serious? Surely, he couldn’t have thought there would be any more services after that. Ultimately, I thought about it; he knew I had just begun. What he didn’t know is that I have many years of experience behind me. Just because a business is up and coming, that doesn’t mean you’re illiterate as to how business should flow. I am now considering that he may taint my good name with lies to cover what he has done. What are your thoughts? —Chaunte’

I’m guessing while you are justifiably upset, you may also be feeling a bit beat up and second-guessing yourself, wondering if you were out-of-line in any way.

I don’t know the backstory here so I’m not entirely sure what happened, but if you did work he engaged you to do, you are certainly entitled to be paid.

That said, I call these first clients (the ones we take on when we’re new and not entirely sure what we’re doing just yet) “practice” clients.

We learn a lot from these initial clients, particularly what we don’t want in our businesses, who we want to avoid working with in the future (i.e., un-ideal clients), and what red flags to look for and be conscious of going forward.

We also have to cut ourselves a little slack when we’re new, forgive our missteps and possible clumsiness.

The good news is that we can learn from these experiences, gain clarity about how to do things differently next time, tweak and adjust our processes and infrastructure accordingly, and improve our finesse.

Since you asked for thoughts, I’ll share a few in no particular order in the hope that you find some useful ideas…

  1. The first thing I keyed in on was your characterization of this client as being “a fast talker.” This seems like the first red flag to appear that you recognized, and yet you took him on anyway. It would be worthwhile to do a bit of soul-searching and ask yourself why? If it was clear to you that this client was a bit of a “Slick Willy,” what made you ignore that red flag and not trust your first instincts? Will you ignore your intuition the next time this kind of client approaches you? Is this the kind of client you really want to be working with? If not, what will you do differently next time?
  2. The other related thing that stood out was your mention of how you bent over backwards for this client, gave him discounts and breaks you normally wouldn’t, and stepped over your own policies and self-interests. Why? Because no good ever comes from this; all it does is teach clients how to treat us poorly and take us for granted. So it would be good to ponder and examine what might be going on here. What I see that often happens is when we are new (and I had a very similar problem when I was new in business myself), and we don’t yet have a firm frame of reference of our value, we tend to overcompensate. We don’t think what we offer is enough; we think we need to “prove” ourselves. In fact, this is the worst thing we can indulge in when we’re new because the worst kind of clients smell that neediness and desperation like blood in the water. A lot of this clears up as we gain experience in business and working with clients. But often a person can go out of business before they can gain the insights, professional self-esteem and confidence to overcome these debilitating tendencies. This is why I always tell people that they can’t afford to work with crappy clients, not for any amount of money — they’re business killers. They can destroy a person’s morale and confidence in the blink of an eye.
  3. This does not sound like a joyful experience whatsoever. If you have clients you have to threaten with attorneys and legal action, there is something very wrong. Sure, you might be in the right, but do you really want a life and business working with people who are not honorable, that you can’t trust, who disrespect you with nonpayment? I’m guessing not. So, one important step to avoid this in your business moving forward is to start two lists: one for all the traits and characteristics of your ideal client and one for all the traits and characteristics of your UN-ideal client. Continue to add to these lists with every new client experience throughout the life of your business. It will be a constant work in progress; the point is that it is one of the very best exercises in getting clear about who you do and don’t want as clients so that you heed red flags and trust your gut in the future. As you consult with new clients, keep those lists handy. They’ll remind you whenever you’re tempted to step over your own standards about who you do and don’t want to work with (and more importantly, why).
  4. Yes, it’s good to have proper contracts with legal language that spells out what the recourse and late fees will be if a client doesn’t pay. At the same time, this should always be a very last resort for the very worst case scenarios. The best course is to avoid working with crappy clients in the first place. The better, more productive, focus is not to underscore every legal point to hammer clients over the head with them, but to improve the ways in which you get clients and how they are educated all along the way. This is why we have a website and steer clients there first so it can pre-educate them and set the proper context. It’s why we have a specific consultation process to further instill proper mindsets and education, as well as determine fit, before we take on clients. It’s why we need to get clear about the business we intend to be in (e.g., do you want to be in the project business where everything is a transaction, or in the business of ongoing administrative support where there is a more personal relationship and where you can charge an upfront retainer?). It’s why we are discerning about the clients we take on and go through specific, intentional steps in onboarding new clients (e.g., having a Client Guide and conducting a new client orientation with new administrative support clients). It’s why we get clear about our own standards, values and goals and what is important to us in our businesses — so that we can establish the policies, procedures and protocols that support them.
  5. I agree with your attorney. Even though you may be entitled to them, forget about the late fees. It sounds like you got the principle amount. This client is not worth allowing him to suck any more of your precious attention. To continue to let it take up space in your mind is giving energy to the wrong thing, to your detriment. For your own sake, forget about this client and move on.
  6. Deadbeat clients can happen to the best of us, particularly when we’re new. At the same time, clients often don’t pay because they aren’t happy with something. Did he give any reasons for why he wasn’t paying? Did you ask him? A lot of times some honest dialogue and meaningful probing can unearth what the real problem is. Barring a client just being a jerk and thinking he can take advantage (which it sounds like this client was), it’s very useful to us to forget about being in the right and make a sincere attempt to see things from the other person’s perspective when an issue crops up (which it can even in the best client relationships). The insight and feedback we can gain is like gold to our businesses — as long as we make good use of it.  So don’t shy away from direct, honest, respectful dialogue with clients. Don’t be afraid to ask — and hear — what could I do differently? What would make this better for you? You can use it to figure out where your blindspots might be and improve your systems and processes (for them and for you).
  7. One way to avoid deadbeat or otherwise un-ideal clients is to have a website. I noticed you don’t have one yet. While I get that people often want to take on clients before they have a website in place to start making money right away (and there is no shortage of morons out there telling people they don’t need a website to start their business), I would argue that this is a mistake. It is not to your benefit in any way for you to be doing business without a website. In so many ways, your website IS the business. Your website isn’t just a way to market what you have to offer. Its other value to you is that it provides a tool with which you can properly educate clients and set and manage their expectations and mindsets before you ever start working together. This is what will get you more consults with more (and better) clients.  To take on clients without the benefit of a website where you can send them to get informed about how things work in your business, what business you are actually in, who you are looking to work with (and who you’re not), etc., is like charging into battle without a gun. Your website can help you prequalify and attract more of your ideal clients, educate them in the way you need them to be so they enter the relationship with the right expectations and mindsets and understandings (and respect!), and weed out those who are not a good fit for you so your time is not wasted.
  8. It’s important to note that this was a project client, not a retained client where you were providing an ongoing relationship of administrative support. These are two completely different business models. It’s worth getting clear and intentional about which kind of business you want to have because the kind of clients you get, the way you work together, how you get them, how you make your money, and the processes you go through with each are very, very different from each other.
  9. Another way to get more intentional about the business you consciously choose to be in and the kind of clients you want to work with is to choose a target market. A target market is simply a field/industry/profession that you cater your administrative support to (like attorneys or financial advisors or coaches or speakers, etc., etc.). The benefit is that when you know specifically who you’re focusing on, you can get clear (more quickly and easily) about how to craft your solutions, how to market them, and where to find and get clients more quickly and easily. When you have a target market, you don’t have to take on projects with any ol’ client for not enough money. It helps you get more of your ideal clients and provide more ideal solutions designed specifically for them (which allows you to command higher fees).
  10. We always get a do-over. Each and every day is a new chance to learn, improve, do differently and grow.

***

What about you? Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? How did you resolve it and what did you change moving forward?Save

Dear Danielle: Client Is a No-Show, What Should I Do Now?

Dear Danielle: Client Is a No-Show, What Should I Do Now?

Dear Danielle:

I’m sitting here waiting for a local client to show up in my office to pick up their “rush” job that they wanted me to drop everything for yesterday. I worked on this project for them until well past midnight. They said they would be here to collect my work at a certain time. I’ve been waiting now for over three hours with no sign of them, much less a phone call. I’m fuming! And this isn’t the first time this has happened. How should I handle this? –NT

What I don’t understand is why people in our industry seem to think “local” has to mean “in-person.”

Why treat local clients differently than you would clients in any other part of the world?

It shouldn’t matter where the clients operate or how you initially met them.

None of your business and transactions require you to have an office or do anything in-person. All of your business, local and otherwise, can be conducted “online” (i.e., via email, shared file drive, Skype, delivery, etc.).

I would even tell you it should all be done that way if you want to manage the business efficiently and have more time available for billable work and clients.

Think, really think, about just how much of your business resources are used up doing anything in-person for one client: the scheduling time, the travel to and from, time preparing, time spent getting professionally presentable, the time it takes away from your other clients and paying work, the loss of concentration and interruption of workflow…

In-person work and meetings cost vastly more in any business, even more so ours, because they take up much more time and energy. You can work with 10 x the number of clients — and make more money — in one hour of online time vs. one-hour of in-person time with one client.

If you’re going to do anything in-person with clients, you can charge a MUCH higher premium because it is a special service and consideration outside your normal operating procedures.

Doesn’t matter if a client is local. I don’t allow them to come to my home/office to drop off or pick up documents.

That’s what couriers, delivery services, the mail, and online shared document drives are for.

And I set those expectations upfront before I ever work with them.

I accomplish this by having a client intake/onboarding process.

This involves giving them a New Client Welcome Kit that explains things work in my business and what the policies and procedures are for working together, and then going over these things with them in a new client orientation meeting (which is done over the phone or Skype).

I certainly wouldn’t allow a client to continue to disrespect and abuse my time. Remember, we train people how to treat us. Trust me, you and your business will benefit greatly by nipping this practice in the bud.

So here’s what I would do:

  • Be direct and let this client know that you have an expectation that your time is respected in the same way you respect theirs.
  • Discontinue this ill-conceived idea of doing in-person work and transactions.
  • Draft a letter to your local clients and let them know that you’re implementing new policies and procedures in your business that ultimately allow you to serve them better. Point out that you are discontinuing the policy of office pickups and drop-offs, and that anything that can’t be sent back and forth electronically or via online shared directory in some way, may be couriered (or mailed, or whatever) to and from your office.
  • Adopt a special rush fee policy and get that into your contracts (this is already included in our contract templates from the ACA Success Store).
  • Send an official communication out to all your clients that rush projects may incur extra fees at your discretion.
  • Alternatively, you can also make it a standard in your business not to accept any rush work and require clients to plan ahead within your specified guidelines. (That doesn’t mean you can’t still help out a great client in a pinch if you so choose, but you want it to the exception, not the rule.)
  • Reevaluate your clients and consider firing the bad ones who can’t get with the program and consistently demonstrate a lack of appreciation and respect for you. Just because you have a policy to penalize bad clients doesn’t mean you should keep working with them. They are demoralizing and de-energizing to your business and exact a heavy toll that none of us in solo practice can afford. 😉
  • Start an Ideal Client list and an Un-Ideal Client list. Write down all the traits and characteristics of an ideal client for you (e.g., has no problem working together virtually, respects my time, follows my policies and procedures). Then write down all the traits and characteristics of all the bad clients you’ve had (e.g., disrespects my time, doesn’t show up or follow through when they say they will, is constantly disorganized and in a rush, always wants me to do rush work, but then doesn’t appreciate it when I do, wants everything yesterday…). You get the idea. Keep updating and honing these lists throughout the life of your business. Pull them out anytime you need to remember why you are in business for yourself and what you want for your life and happiness, and any time you are tempted to step over your standards and take on a client who exhibits any of those red flags.

Rant: I Have Never Seen Bigger Crybabies

Rant: I've Never Seen Bigger Crybabies

Rant warning here. This has been brewing for a couple months now, and I just have to get it out of my system, lol.

There is this crybaby series of articles that Freelancers Union puts out that have been driving me a bit nuts.

Every ezine issue, they feature some sob story from a freelancer about how a mean, evil client stiffed them hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Omg, I’ve never seen a bigger bunch of professional victims.

And now they’ve got this ridiculous “Freelancing Isn’t Free” campaign to get some new laws on the books to protect freelancers from deadbeat clients, as if they themselves play no role in why they aren’t getting paid.

The one thing, the ONE SINGLE PROBLEM at the root of all of this is that these people can’t seem to grasp or get it through their thick skulls that as freelancers they are in business for themselves.

And business owners decide how things work in their relationships with clients. Business owners choose who they work with and who they don’t. Business owners determine what they are paid, when they are paid and how they are paid.

Business owners can either run their business like a business, or they can be morons. The choice is theirs.

What contributes to this mindset of idiocy and victimhood is the word “freelancer.” That word needs to be abolished.

In society at large, people don’t understand that freelancer is merely another word for business owner.

It doesn’t matter if you have a day job and do a little work on the side. When you are doing that side work, you are being in business for yourself and wearing the hat of business owner. There is no in-between classification. It’s either/or. One or the other. That’s it.

So when you’re working your day job, you’re wearing your employee hat and all the rules, laws and taxes that apply to employment are in play.

And when you work for yourself and hire yourself out to people, you are wearing the hat of business owner. Doesn’t matter if it’s part-time, full-time or just a little here and there; doesn’t matter if you use the term freelancer, independent contractor, self-employed or whatever—these are all terms for the same thing: BUSINESS OPERATOR.

The sooner you get that through your head, the better off you will be because THEN you can start running your business like a business the way you should be.

Let Me Demonstrate

There are some common themes running through all of these stories. Here’s an example from the most recent victim article. This “freelancer” says:

“In 2015, I agreed to do some editorial work for a client. The agreement was verbal and, because I trusted her to some extent, we did not have a contract. Shortly after I completed the agreed-upon work, she slightly altered the work I produced, claimed everything as her own intellectual property, and failed to pay the $500 she owes me.”

Her first mistake was not formalizing the agreement in writing with a proper business contract. Whose mistake is that? It’s not the client’s job to do that, it’s hers. And she made the choice not to use one.

While a verbal agreement is still a legally binding agreement, it does make it more difficult should you have to take things to court. So, when you are a freelancer, you are in business, and that means conducting business properly and using proper legal business contracts — upfront, every time, with every client, no ifs ands or buts.

The other problem here is that this freelancer’s client seems to assume that their business arrangement was a work-for-hire one.

This is another reason you always, always use a proper business contract. It’s why I always rail against work-for-hire agreements as well, which is different from a business contract.

When you blindly and ignorantly enter into a work-for-hire agreement you can be giving away all your intellectual property, which you may or may not have bargained for.

The work you do and the ownership of a creative work are two separate legal values. This is why they are stipulated and charged for separately. And ownership of a work cannot be given away without express legal written permission.

If you don’t know what you are doing, are using the wrong kind of contract, or haven’t had an attorney draft or approve your business contacts, you could be signing away all rights to the creative works and proprietary intellectual property that you created!

Because of these critical distinctions in the law, it’s imperative as a business owner for you to get yourself some basic intellectual property education.

For example, let’s say as a business, I have a client with a particular need. I end up developing a tool for that need that ends up being useful for any number of my current and future clients. I realize that I could license use of this tool to others and add a lucrative additional revenue stream for myself, and decide to put it out to market.

However, if I entered into a work-for-hire agreement with a client, that tool could actually be owned by them automatically. Meaning, they could be free to sell it or do anything they want with it, including telling you that you may not sell it or use it with anyone else, and that it belongs to them because you were in a work-for-hire agreement and anything you create in the course of working with them belongs to them.

How would that sit with you?

As a business, I am damn sure not going to hand over ownership of my creative works, inventions and intellectual property or proprietary processes lock, stock and barrel. That would mean I couldn’t continue to profit from them, use them with others, or in any other way adapt them for other uses.

Even if I was a mind to do that, I wouldn’t be giving away that ownership for free. Oh, hell no!

But there would be nothing you could do because you were the fool who entered into a work-for-hire agreement instead of a proper business contract and didn’t set the terms properly.

This is why it’s so important to NEVER blindly enter into any blanket work-for-hire agreement, or ANY kind of work-for-hire agreement in my opinion, and to use proper business-to-business legal contracts that contain the proper languaging and terms when it comes defining the relationship and who owns intellectual property.

Here’s another excerpt:

“Although $500 may not sound like much, I’ve put together many small deals for less than a thousand dollars. If all my clients were to behave this way, my life would be a constant nightmare of living in fear of being shortchanged. Though it may seem disadvantageous to go through the stress of chasing down a couple hundred dollars, that couple hundred dollars could cover my electricity bill, or even groceries for a couple weeks.”

Wahwahwah. Then don’t do things that way. You act like you were prevented from doing things any other way.

Wrong. You made a choice.

On top of running your business like a business and using proper business contracts, upfront, every time, as a business you also have the CHOICE about who you work with.

Vet your clients properly. Put them through a consultation process so you have at least some idea of who you are doing business with and what they may or may not be like. You get to screen and prequalify clients as a business owner.

A proper consultation can help alert you to red flags that indicate someone may not be worth working with.

Stop rushing or bypassing these vital and important business protocols which also, by the way, help clients understand the CORRECT nature of the relationship and give it proper professional respect. These steps play a big role in setting the stage to make sure you get paid, in full and on time, every time. HUGE!

Likewise, who says you have to wait until work is done to be paid? You can charge the full fee upfront if that’s what you want to do. It’s a perfectly usual, legal, established standard business practice and option.

You can also split a project into phases with the payment for each phase due upfront before beginning work on any next phase. Or, you can charge a deposit or a percentage upfront.

Mitigate your losses if you are taking a chance on a client you don’t know and have never worked with before by getting some kind of payment upfront. Likewise, they’re going to take the business more seriously when they have skin in the game.

There Don’t Need to Be Any New Laws

There are already laws on the books to protect you in these matters and you’ve always had the choice to avail yourself of those recourses.

The problem is being a business moron and not conducting business according to how business is conducted.

It’s that YOU don’t understand that as a freelancer you are a business, and that YOU define these things in your contract that you should have been requiring clients to sign upfront.

You’re not a temp, you’re not a “contract worker.” (Tip: A contract worker is an employee, not an independent self-employed business owner.)

Stop letting clients tell you how things work in your business.

And stop accepting “positions” with companies that should be paying you like an employee but instead are stealing from you by illegally classifying you as an independent contractor. (Hint: Business owners don’t work in positions; that’s an EMPLOYEE.)

If that’s what they are doing, turn their asses in to the IRS and your state Department of Revenue and Employment Security Department.

Because if you really are an employee (which is determined according to the federal laws that define these two distinctions and which employers don’t get to just decide arbitrarily), then they are stealing from you your rightful wages and employer-paid share of taxes and benefits.

By not understanding these distinctions, by not educating yourself, by willfully disregarding these things, YOU are equally guilty of perpetuating the problem of deadbeat clients.

Stop being a bunch of wishy-washy, crybaby pushovers who whine about being victimized all the time. You have the power and the choice to do things differently!

Sure deadbeat clients are shitty people; there’s a special place in hell for them. But guess what? You allowed them to treat you that way by all the choices you made.

No one can take advantage of you without your permission. Stop acting like a victim and like you had nothing to do with it, and start running your business like a business.

Take responsibility for the choices YOU made to not run your business like a business, rushing processes, not conducting proper consultations and due diligence, choosing crappy clients, not using contracts, and not getting at least some money upfront. It’s really simple.

Until you take responsibility for that, nothing in your business and life will change.

And listen, I don’t mean to be picking on anyone personally.

It’s one thing to be new in business and learning the ropes and making newbie mistakes. There’s a learning curve. We’ve ALL been there.

Beyond that, though, there is just too much information out there any direction you look to remain ignorant long. These aren’t people who are new making these dumb choices; these are people who knew better and what they should have done and chose not to do it.

I’m equally annoyed with organizations like Freelancers Union that don’t do their job as a professional organization which should be to properly educate their members and the marketplace, so the stupidity continues.

Because 99% of these problems wouldn’t exist if these people understood how business works, how it is properly conducted between two businesses, and that as freelancers they are business owners (not “contract workers” or employees).

I’m sick to death of all these whiny articles collectively because they don’t empower anyone, they just keep them acting like victims who blame others for their problems and many of whom are going to keep doing the same bone-headed things over and over.

Want More Dissections?

Here’s another example:

“Because I knew and trust my contact in NYC, I went ahead and started work without a contract, though I did send my salary requirements and scope of work via email for their records. I was told the contract was in the works.”

Same ol’ song and dance. You don’t do business without a contract and you don’t start work until that contract is signed and everything is agreed upon.

The other problem here is this freelancer uses the phrase “salary requirements.” Um, business owners – which again, is what freelancers are — are not paid a salary. EMPLOYEES are paid a salary. Someone who is in business for themselves charges a fee or rate and tells the client what, how and when they are required to pay, not the other way around.

And another:

“I proceeded to organize vendors, source supplies, find caterers, etc. There was some drama around whether to have the launch party in the office or at a venue nearby. They changed their minds about 6 or 7 times. The indecisiveness was alarming, but I rolled with it and did my work. The entire time I kept asking for the contract.”

You should haven’t kept asking. You should have stopped working and told them that the contract was required before any work was to begin or continue. Period.

This also hints that there was either no consultation conducted or it was a sloppy, not very thorough one. Otherwise, you could have established all the specifications about how the work and decisions were going to be made, who the ONE contact person was that you would be dealing with, etc., and avoided all their internal drama. There is no reason you needed to be part of that.

Moreover:

“Finally, the week of September 21, the majority of the folks from Europe came to town. I had a few meetings and eventually received the contract. The rate was correct, but the terms and conditions were way out of line. I wasn’t about to agree to a six-month non-compete and 90-day payment terms. It just didn’t make sense for the scope of my work! So I redlined the contract and sent it back.”

So let me get this straight, you let them write your contract for you? Ridiculous!

You’re the business owner; your contract is YOUR job. You don’t abdicate that responsibility to clients. Your business requires YOU to set the terms. Clients have only to agree and sign or suggest changes. Or you don’t do business together, simple as that.

Instead, you let the client treat you as if they were your employer and it was their role to call the shots here. WRONG. And stupid. NOTHING should have moved forward until the terms were finalized and YOUR contract signed by the client.

And:

“At this point, I was told that I was only hired for the month of September and not October. They hired an office manager and I was to give her a download on everything I had set up, which I did without complaint. I was now a week out of the job and still hadn’t received payment. When I followed up, I was told there was an issue with my invoice and that the company wanted a work log. I had never been asked to submit my hourly tasks and my rate was a day rate. Furthermore, I had clearly stated overtime fee after an 8-hour day.”

This person clearly doesn’t understand that she is not an employee. She uses employment terminology, lets the client operate as if they were her employer and isn’t understanding how she herself is allowing the lines of employment and business to be blurred.

You aren’t “hired” by clients, you are “engaged” by them. And you don’t get “overtime” as a business owner. Overtime is something employees are entitled to, not business owners.

Instead, business owners stipulate IN THE TERMS OF THEIR BUSINESS CONTRACT BETWEEN THEMSELVES AND THE CLIENT when late, rush or after-hours fees and charges will be incurred.

If you don’t want to be in business for yourself, and you are working with a client as if you are an employee, then you ARE an employee, and they legally need to be putting you on payroll and adhering to employment laws.

On the other hand, if you do want to be in business (which you are, automatically, if you work for yourself at any time), then you have to run your business like a business. There just isn’t any way around this.

But here again, this is yet another freelancer who doesn’t understand that they are a business owner and is letting a client operate with the mentality that they are some kind of employer and dictating things to her, which they have absolutely no legal right to do. She abdicated her own business responsibilities and now that she’s having problems with them is her own damn fault.

I know YOU are going to be smarter in your business, right?

PS: If you want to save yourself these problems and learn how to conduct business properly, be sure to also read my article How to Avoid Getting Stiffed on Payment

Too Bad, So Sad

Too Bad, So Sad

Seen around the Internet:

Hi All! I would appreciate your input and opinions on my current scenario.
 
I have a potential new client starting next week who is guaranteeing me 20 hours of work per week. Because he is guaranteeing 80 hours per month, I’ve reluctantly accepted a rate that is less than my typical hourly rate.
 
I operate on a monthly prepaid retainer that’s worked into my contract, as most of us do. The client is not willing to prepay and would rather pay “immediately via Paypal at the end of each week for hours worked”.
 
I’m having a hard time accepting this. How would you respond? Would it be fair to respond by asking for prepayment for each the week? (rather than at the end of the week)
 
I don’t want to lose the opportunity but I do need to hold strong on my policies. I should mention that this client was referred to me by someone I trust and who also works with him.

Fuck that guy. 😉

Seriously.

All snarkiness aside, you’ve answered your own question: “I do need to hold strong on my policies.”

So what’s the problem? Why are you trying to talk yourself into stepping over your own standards?

This is a bad client waiting to happen.

And by acquiescing when you’ve already made your policy clear, you are teaching this client that you will simply roll-over at the first hint of objection. Hell, you already let him put you on the sale rack in the bargain basement. Not a good precedent to set in the relationship whatsoever.

Stop letting clients tell you what to do in your own business.

You simply tell him pleasantly and matter-of-factly, without any angst, anger or apology, “This is how I work with clients… This is how things work in my business… This is who I’m looking to work with, who is a fit for my practice… This is who I do my best work for and who gets the most out of working with me… If that works for you, great. If not, I’m afraid we won’t be able to work together and I wish you well.”

(HINT: And who is it you work best with? People who don’t try to bargain down your fees and who pay upfront according to your billing policies without trying to haggle and dicker and argue with you over them.)

Period.

If you want a business that makes you happy and doesn’t cause you a bunch of problems and headaches, stop letting wrong-fitting clients talk you into things you don’t want to do.

Stop talking yourself into doing them and being a self-sabotager.

Even if you decide (or rather, talk yourself into being okay with) getting paid upfront each week instead of each month, and assuming this prospective client agrees to that, you’d be making an exception in your business that is only going to make more work for yourself by complicating your business and billing—for this one client with whom you’ve never worked before and who hasn’t earned any reason for you to be bending over backward to twist your policies and administration into pretzels for him.

There are PLENTY of clients in the world… ones who will happily and easily work with the standards and policies you’ve set for your business.

Focus on that fact and those clients.

Because if you keep yourself stuck in poverty/scarcity mindset, all you’ll ever have are un-ideal, pain-in-the-ass clients, and you will forever be held hostage by them in your business (and your life).

I want you to sit down right now and start a list of all the traits and characteristics that make up an ideal client for you. Every time you work with a great client, update this list. Do this throughout the life of your business.

HINT: Working easily with the standards and policies you’ve set in your business should be item #1. Being ready, able and willing to make the commitment to working together in whatever way you’ve decided works best for you (e.g., upfront monthly retainer) should be item #2.

Then, start a list of all the characteristics of an UN-ideal client for you. These are all the red flags that tell you when you are dealing with someone who is going to be a PIA. And write down WHY those traits and characteristics make for an un-ideal client. Every time you work with a less than ideal, unhappy-making, pain-in-the-ass client, update this list. Do this throughout the life of your business. This exercise makes you more conscious of all the red flag signals your intuition starts waving at you when you find yourself dealing with someone who is not going to be great to work with.

Then, next time you are tempted to step over your standards and be your own worst enemy, pull these lists out to remind yourself why it’s not a good idea and why it’s always better to hold out for what you want in your life and not settle for anything that is less than ideal.

Of course, the other way to really learn this lesson is to take on every client who comes your way without barrier, without discernment, without any thought or prequalification for whether or not they are ideal or un-ideal for you. Let each of them individually dictate how you run your business and what your standards and policies will be.

You’ll find out real quick why it’s not a good idea to step over your standards and ignore what your gut is telling you.

See also: Dear Danielle: I’ve Lost All Boundaries; Is this Relationship Salvageable?

(You also would get some serious benefit from my pricing and packaging guide, which also teaches you how to present support plans and talk about fees and navigate that whole conversation around getting paid.)

Punishment Fees Are Not Good Business

Punishment Fees Are Not Good Business

Punishing clients with the threat of charging them more money to get them to stop doing something you don’t want is a terrible business practice and a rotten dynamic to create in your relationship.

Paying you should feel good. It should feel like a reward for getting something great that they gain from, that improves their life and business.

Instead, you are training them to view paying you as a negative experience, a punishment.

I get that sometimes we take on bad clients. Sometimes when we are new, we sometimes expect clients to just “know” how our business runs and how they are to interact with us. And yes, you do need to put certain terms in your contract (such as late fees and interest rates and in what situations they will be applied) in order to have legally enforceable contracts.

But here’s a better idea:  choose better clients. 😉

Don’t take on just any client, and never take on clients just for the money. That never ends well.

Get clear about who an ideal client is in your business and who is not. Write those things down.

List what red flags to watch out and listen for that tell you someone is likely to be a pain in the ass who doesn’t respect you or your business. And then don’t work with those people.

Pay attention to your gut when it tells you someone isn’t going to be a fit. Don’t ignore it and step over your standards.

Stop being desperate. Be more discerning about who you allow on your client roster.

Do more prequalifying.

Conduct more thorough consultations (get my guide that shows you EXACTLY how to do that).

Get clearer about what your standards, boundaries, policies and procedures are in your business. 

Then do a better job of communicating those things to clients by writing them down in a Client Guide, giving it to every new client, and then going over that information with them (in the case of retainer clients) in a New Client Orientation before you begin working together.

Fire any client who can’t get with the program and continues to ignore your policies and processes and/or disrespect you.

Bad clients are unprofitable. Working with bad clients is never worth the trouble. It’s also unethical to work with bad clients because you can’t do your best work for any client you don’t have good feelings for and are drained by.

They eat up far more space in your business than you realize with the negative energy and problems they create. The psychological toll that takes costs more than any money you might be able to recoup. 

How Do I Deal with a Client Who Constantly Misses Appointments?

How Do I Deal with a Client Who Constantly Misses Appointments?

A good question came up on one of the LinkedIn groups I belong to about a topic that is a frequent source of vexation for people in our industry:

“I have a client that is continuously scheduling my time and then when it’s time to “meet” she is otherwise engaged with family, etc. I understand “things come up,” however this is becoming a pattern. She is not very versed in the world of business and I’m not into giving my time away. This has happened three times now. I plan to begin billing for this time moving forward and want to put a policy in place. Thank you in advance for any guidance or words of wisdom you can share with me!!”

This falls under the category of “we teach our clients how to treat us.”

If a client normally respects your time and keeps their appointments with you, it’s easy to be understanding when life gets in the way and they are unable to give you sufficient notice when they need to cancel or reschedule a meeting with you.

However, once you recognize a pattern, and it’s causing you wasted time, irritation and resentment, that’s when you need to nip things in the bud.

Here are a few ways to help prevent this problem in the first place, as well as what to do when it does occur:

  1. Work with ideal clients. It’s fine to add a policy for the sake of clear understanding and communication (and you would not legally be able to impose fees if that language isn’t in your contract), but there’s something else to consider here: why would you want to work with the kind of clients who would only respect your time under threat of penalty? And what if the added charges don’t deter or change the behavior? You’d still have a PIA (pain-in-the-ass) client causing problems and negative energy in your practice. Examine whether that client is really worth continuing to work with.
  2. Run your business like a business. That means having a professional web presence, proper email and signature lines, formal business policies, documents and procedures, etc. The more you present yourself as a business, the more clients will respect it (and you) as such.
  3. Always have clients sign a contract. A contract isn’t just for legal purposes. It’s also to help clients take you and your business seriously, to view your business as a business. People who see you as a professional are more likely to respect your time.
  4. Include a section in both your contract and your New Client Guide that talks about the importance to the relationship of respecting each other’s time, what your expectations are of them (and that you will extend the same to them) and what the policies are around canceling and missed appointments. For example, how much notice do you ask clients provide if they need to cancel an appointment (this is common courtesy and respect)? Do you charge for missed appointments, and if so, how much? How long will you wait for a late-arriving client before you will no longer meet with them for that day? By informing them upfront what your policy is on this, you are indicating the value and respect you place on your time (as well as that of your other clients and priorities). Personally, I wait no more than 10 or 15 minutes; after that, they will need to reschedule their appointment for the following week. So, this is the other thing that contracts are for: formalizing what your expectations are for each other and the relationship and informing clients how things work in your business.
  5. Don’t be so quick to always instantly respond to clients. I know this sounds counter-intuitive because you want clients to feel you are responsive, but there is such a thing as being a too-eager beaver. When that’s the impression clients have, they think you have nothing better to do than sit there waiting for them to tell you to “jump.” You undermine your own authority in that way. Establish a communication standard in your business of 24-48 hours turn-around time in your replies, whether you have other clients or not. This helps set proper business expectations and clients will respect your time more appropriately.
  6. Don’t let clients slide. As soon as you realize you’ve clearly got a client who has no regard for you or your time, you’ve got to have a conversation about what is going on. Be prepared to fire any client who continues to abuse your time after this conversation. Because by letting them continue to do so, you are teaching them that your word, your time and your value mean nothing and they are free to do as they please and you’re just going to keep taking it. If you don’t respect your boundaries, clients won’t either.
  7. Re-examine your business, your standards, and who you are choosing as clients. If you have clients who continuously abuse your time there are two things going on: a) you are not working with ideal clients (and starting an Ideal Client Profile list is going to help you tremendously), and b) there are areas in your business, how you are presenting it and how you are working with clients that is contributing to this problem. This presents you with a good opportunity to improve your business, who you accept onto your client roster, how you might better communicate your needs and expectations of clients, and how to identify and get better, more ideal clients. Because if you are working with clients too informally, too loosey-goosey, and not being selective about who gets a place on your roster, those are definitely underlying root causes.

How Do You Know If a Potential Client Will Be a Good One?

How Do You Know If a Potential Client Will Be a Good One?

Someone on one of the LinkedIn groups I belong to asked this question not long ago:

I have a client that I really don’t think can handle a virtual work situation. She doesn’t communicate well, doesn’t want to set aside time that I can ask questions about work. She expects me to understand everything the first time she tells me. I could go on. I want to learn from this situation and compile some questions I can ask future potential clients to determine if they can work virtually with me. Any ideas?

My advice to her?

Run away, lol.

You already see the red flags. This is not someone who is likely to make for a good client, and will probably end up making you pull your hair out.

Start a list called Unideal Client Profile. Then, list each characteristic you’ve listed in your post.

Whenever you are tempted to step over your standards and ignore when your gut is telling you someone is not a good client candidate, take that list out to remind you why you don’t want to take on any client like that.

Unideal client are far too costly and unprofitable to work with. They cost your business far more than you realize, and not just monetarily.

The psychological toll they take is not anything you can afford.

Every unideal client takes up 3-4 times the space in your practice that an ideal client does because an unfit client generates huge negative energy that drains you while ideal clients create positive reciprocal energy that invigorates you.

You also want to start your Ideal Client Profile and add the opposite of these characteristics to that list.

Every time you realize a positive or negative attribute of a prospect or client, add those to your lists. This is an exercise you should conduct throughout the life of your business.

These lists help you get conscious and intentional about the clients you choose by documenting and formalizing your standards around who is the best fit for you—and who isn’t.

You never want to take on any ol’ client just for the money. That’s where 90% of problems start in the first place.

And you can’t serve well and do your best work for any client who simply isn’t a good mutual fit. It would actually be unethical to take that kind of client on.

The other part of this is using your website to prequalify prospective clients.

So in the course of your website content and marketing message, you want to make clear the kind of clients you’re looking to work with, who you work best with, what kind of clients benefits most from working with you and this way of working together (this is your ideal client) as well as who doesn’t (your unideal client, the client who isn’t a good fit for working with you). These Ideal and UN-Ideal Client Profiles help you with that.

There’s a whole host of other ways you can prequalify clients, but this is a start.

These steps will help you avoid wasting precious time in conversations and consultations with people who don’t fit that initial level of qualification as a good client candidate.

(And if you want to save yourself all kinds of angst and wasted time, money and effort and start getting more ideal clients and more action from your website, check out my Build a Website that WORKS guide.)