Archive for the ‘Boundaries and Standards’ Category

Why Being a “One-Stop Shop” Is BS

Why Being a "One-Stop" Shop is BS

I think the idea that very commonly travels around our circles that we should be “one-stop” shops is dangerous.

Dangerous in that it sets you up for failure and mediocrity.

Dangerous because it’s rooted in employee mindset.

Dangerous because it stems from an underlying lack of healthy professional self-esteem that who you are and what you do is ENOUGH.

And dangerous because it teaches clients and others to devalue the expertise you ARE in business to provide.

It is ENOUGH to be in one business, not a million different businesses at once (i.e., administrative support… not administrative support AND web design AND graphic design AND bookkeeping AND marketing AND social media AND writing/copywriting, and any and every other hat you can find to put on).

That BS is something employers pulled on their admin staff because they could get away with it (i.e., dumping every kind of work and role onto them beyond their job description without any promotion in title or pay).

You don’t need to carry that wrong and negative influence over into your business. And you shouldn’t.

Because you are not a human garbage dump.

Because business and employment are not the same thing.

And because running your business and working with clients as if you were still an employee keeps your business from really flourishing.

It is ENOUGH to keep your eye on your one focus and discipline.

In that way, you beat mediocrity and can be the very best you can be at the particular thing you are in business to do.

Trying to diversify and be all the things to every body keeps you unfocused and dilutes the time and energy needed to do any one thing particularly well.

People who specialize in mediocrity don’t make the big bucks, are tired and scattered all the time, and never gain traction in their businesses.

You DON’T have to solve ALL problems for clients. You only have to solve the problem your business is set up to solve.

You DON’T have to be all things to every body.

Dear Danielle: Client Wants Me to Cut My Fees By $200 a Month

Dear Danielle: Client Wants Me to Cut My Fees by $200 a Month

Dear Danielle:

I recently had a contract client who could no longer afford to pay me the regular contracted amount because of a slowdown in her business so she asked that I drop my price about $200 until she was back on her feet. How should I deal with that? She’s been my client for 3 years and she’s always paid on time and every penny. I agreed to the cut but not sure for how long. Any words of advice? —KP

It sounds like this is a good client with whom you’ve had a happy, healthy business relationship thus far.

It also sounds like this client is paying some sort of monthly fee, if I am surmising things correctly.

And there’s no reason to throw all that away.

BUT there’s also no reason why this client’s financial woes should be your problem. Especially since you aren’t sure how long it will continue.

There IS a compassionate, client-centric way you can offer to help this client out during what I assume is only a temporary predicament without sacrificing your own business needs and well-being.

And it starts with this handy phrase: You don’t get what you don’t pay for.

That’s obviously not very client-centric the way it’s phrased, but the solution in its meaning is, very simply, to take something off the table.

What that means is, if you are selling hours, take $200 worth of hours away from their retainer. Only work up to the number of hours they have paid for.

If they can only pay for 15 hours instead of the usual 20, then they should only get 15 hours of support, not 20.

Alternatively, if you are using my value-based pricing methodology (which is a faster, more effective way to make an impact and give clients more readily apparent, targeted results), take a $200 task/function/role away from the monthly support plan.

Have a conversation with the client, identify what the most important functions are to their operations during this financial lean-time, and then offer to remove/temporarily suspend a $200 value task/function/role that is least necessary and will have the least impact on their continued smooth functioning and profits.

Give them two or three options of what could be removed for $200 less a month, and let them decide which one to sacrifice.

It’s also possible during this discussion that the client realizes even more the value of what you do for their business and decides to find the money to keep paying your full fee for full services to continue.

If this were me, I would also be curious about the reasons for this client’s financial down-turn.

If they were open to sharing, it’s possible I would have some ideas and insights on what we could do and where we could focus our work to create some new/fresh revenue.

Perhaps you even saw this coming, but the client had previously been resistant to exploring your ideas, trying something new, or doing things a little differently than they were used to that might have helped them improve financially. They might now be a bit more receptive to hearing you out.

I would, however, certainly expect to be paid for any additional work/consulting I provided. It’s up to them to decide where their priorities are.

No reasonable client would expect you to work for free.

And despite any client’s best (or unrealistic) intentions, they don’t have a crystal ball no matter what grand promises they make.

So the best policy is to go about things in a way that serves your business interests.

Keep in mind that you have an obligation to safeguard your financial well-being and business profitability not only for yourself, but for your other clients as well.

It doesn’t serve them for you to be giving away time, energy, and work for free to someone who isn’t paying fully for it.

And don’t even think about letting this client pay on credit (a la “I will gladly pay you tomorrow for a hamburger today”).

You won’t be doing them, yourself, or your other clients any favors by letting them go into debt to you.

If they are already in financial straights, owing you or anybody else more money is only going to bury them further.

Remember, you teach people how to treat, value, and respect you.

Lower your fee for this client if you want to help and keep them on your roster; just make sure you also take away an equal amount of work from what you provide them with.

And have another conversation with this client to reset the expectations around what they will and won’t get for the reduced monthly fee.

I also suggest giving the client a definite time limit on this special arrangement.

Give it a month or two and inform the client that you will need to review and discuss things again at that time to determine whether or not it’s still feasible/profitable/in your business interests to continue the arrangement.

If there’s no improvement in sight, you may even decide that, while you wish this client well, keeping them on your roster is no longer profitable for you.

If any of this is helpful, one way you could return the favor is by letting me know in the comments. I would truly value that.

And if you or anyone else has more questions on this, please feel free to ask in the comments, and I’ll be happy to continue the conversation and share my further insights and advice.

Are You Building a Burnout-Proof Business?

Are You Building a Burnout-Proof Business?

Good article from Zapier today: 10 Signs that You’re Headed for Burnout

This is why it’s so important to build a business around YOUR needs first, not clients.

Figure that out, formalize it, write it down, and say it out loud. Then, choose only clients, work, and business practices that align with those standards, intentions and values.

When all you do is chase after any clients without discernment, working just for the money, instead of instituting policies, procedures and protocols around the standards and values you want for yourself and your business, and you continue to work with less than ideal clients, that is a fast path to stress, overwhelm, then burnout and exhaustion.

And don’t misunderstand me. I’m not talking about making clients second-fiddle. Far from it.

It’s actually about the fact that by putting yourself first and building a business that serves YOU and your needs first, you are actually FAR better equipped to a) get better clients, and b) take exceptionally good care of those clients.

A business that doesn’t make you happy ultimately does no one any good, not you and not the clients.

Do Your Family and Friends Respect Your Business?

Do you ever have trouble getting family and friends to respect your business?

I know I still do sometimes, even after doing this for over 20 years.

I don’t know that it will ever change when it comes to certain people we have to deal with in our lives.

Here’s an example of what I mean…

So one of the reasons I went into business for myself is to have more control over my own life. To have more say about how I spend my time (and on whom), to get more joy and fulfillment out of the work I do and the gratification it brings seeing how it helps my clients in very immediate and impactful ways.

Most of all, I wanted to be able to be present in my own life, to be able to be there for those I love.

My dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s about 10 years ago. In 2014, his health took a severe nosedive and he ended up in the ER and then assisted living for a year.

My sister lives in the same city as my dad, but doesn’t drive and works a 9-5 job.

I live about an hour away, but since I am the only one who drives, I’m the one who had to pick everyone up and shuttle them around back and forth.

Since that time, because I’m the only one who drives and because I have a business working for myself and have the flexibility, I’m the one who has scheduled all my dad’s various appointments and run him around to all of them: primary care, neurologist, weekly B12 shots, eye appointments, hearing appointments, cognitive testing, blood draws, etc.

I take him to get his hair cut, his toe nails taken care of (he needs a special appointment for this), runs to the grocery store, the pharmacy, and a multitude of other errands.

I also make sure his house stays clean (especially his bathroom) and check the fridge to make sure anything old and expired is thrown out since my sister, who actually lives mere blocks from him, fails to do any of this no matter how many times I ask.

I’m happy to do it; there also isn’t anyone else to do it so it falls on my shoulders. Someone has to take care of him, right?

While I’m grateful to be able to do it, at the same time, it’s no easy task. It eats up a shit ton of time and energy.

Plus, it’s not all happy, happy, joy, joy. My relationship with my dad has been difficult and strained my whole life.

And doing all of this, making the time to do it, has had negative effects on my business, cost me a lot in very real financial ways, and caused me to lose a whole lot of momentum.

Having to take my dad to what may only be a half-hour appointment ends up eating a whole day of my time and energy and actual work hours.

It disrupts my entire life and business. I’m completely spent and it sometimes takes me a day or two to recuperate and get back into the swing of things.

Yes, I am very fortunate I have the freedom and flexibility to be able to do this for my dad. My dad and my sister are very lucky that I’m in the position I am to be able to do it because if I didn’t, there’s no one else to fall back on.

Still, it really sucks that they take it for granted and don’t consider just how much of a toll it takes on my life and my livelihood.

If my sister had to do this while trying to hold down a job, she’d end up in the loony bin, not to mention fired.

But she’s so cavalier about my time and doesn’t seem to grasp the fact that, um, hey, I work for a living, too!

It’s so easy for people to look at your life and think all you’re doing is sitting around at home playing on the computer.

They don’t see that you are doing real work, important work, for real people who are depending on you in very real and important ways.

Your clients have invested their time and money and faith in you, and you have the privilege and duty to not let them down and manage your obligations to them.

So what’s the solution?

Maybe we need to set more boundaries and make sure the people in our lives honor those boundaries.

Maybe we need to be more respectful of own boundaries and not step over them and make concessions all the time.

Because it’s a slippery slope when we do that, and next thing you know, you have no boundaries at all.

Maybe we need to say “no” more often.

It’s honorable to want to help and to be able to make sacrifices when it’s important and necessary to do so. But we can’t neglect our own self-care.

When you say “yes” too often, people tend to take it for granted.

Don’t let them off the hook so easy. Make them shoulder more of the load.

It may not be easy to say “no,” but I think we are all worthy of looking out for our own health and best interests as much as we look out and care for others in our lives.

Maybe we need to dress our businesses up in more formal, tangible, traditional ways.

Have that professional website up. Have those professionally printed business cards. Establish professional hours. Lay down the law with your family and friends so that they know when you’re working in your business, you are AT WORK.

If this is one of the problems you have, don’t let them just drop in and gab any ol’ time they please. Make appointments. If someone drops in unannounced, politely but assertively turn them away. Let them know what your office hours are and that they need to call or email first to make sure if or when you are free (that’s just basic good manners anyway; their lack of consideration is one thing; you accepting it is another).

Dedicate a room in your home for your office. If you don’t have a room, then a space. And make sure everyone knows that that space is sacred and off limits.

If you live with others, perhaps putting on “work” clothes and getting out of the bathrobe once in awhile (lol) will help them see that you take your business as serious as they take their job.

While we sometimes need to have a straight talk with a client now and then about boundaries (and a lot of times, it’s we ourselves who teach them bad habits in the first place), I think a lot of times it’s our family and friends who are the worst at respecting our businesses and boundaries.

Have you experienced this in some way yourself? What are some of the ways you have dealt with it?

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?

Are You Feeling the Squeeze?

Are You Feeling the Squeeze?

A question people commonly ask in our business is “What hours do I need to be available for clients?”

They ask this question because they’re still thinking in assistant-mindset.

Here’s the thing:

You’re in business to provide a service. You have (or will have) several clients to take care of.

You simply cannot be instantly available to each and every client at the drop of a hat.

In fact, trying to do so will negatively affect your quality of work and client satisfaction.

You therefore need to understand that in business, when and how you and your clients work together is necessarily going to be very different from when you were an employee filling a position working for one employer.

This is the reason that “full-time” and “part-time” and what time zones you and your clients are in are completely irrelevant.

Instead of hours, what you need is a plan — a system — for managing your workload and requests.

This frees you from being chained to your desk 9-5 and having to be an “instant assistant.”

A system gives you the structure you need to handle everything in a timely manner without being rushed and squeezed and stressed.

It also gives clients a framework they can depend on without forcing you to be at their constant beck-and-call — which, by the way, is a business-killer because as your business grows into a viable income you can live on, that is not a promise you can sustain.

You NEED space to do great work for clients.

In the early years of my practice, I went through all these same growing pains.

I ended up with clients who thought I was their assistant (because, stupidly, that’s what I called myself back then).

Eventually, I had over 10 monthly retainer-paying clients — and I thought I was going to lose my mind.

That’s because those clients expected me to be at their immediate beck-and-call, just like an assistant.

I tried, heroically, to live up to those expectations, right up until the day that I realized how utterly miserable I was and what a mess my business had become.

Instead of doing good work, work that made a difference in my clients’ businesses, I was spending all my time in communications and jumping from fire to fire.

I didn’t have a business I loved, I didn’t have a business that supported my life. I had a business and clients who ran me.

That was not what I had envisioned for myself whatsoever.

That’s when it dawned on me that where I had failed was in not being in charge of my own business; by letting clients decide how things would work in my business (instead of the other way around).

I had let them make the rules by abdicating that authority in my own business.

I had not set any policies, practices or protocols in my business with any intention or forethought whatsoever.

I was under the misinformed delusion that that was what customer service was all about: jumping to attention the instant the client commanded.

I thought all I needed to do was give great service, which at that time to me meant: rush to respond quickly to everyone and get work done as fast as possible.

Oh, what a silly, naive girl I was!

Thank goodness I realized what utter nonsense that thinking was and came to my senses relatively quickly after “only” a few years of suffering.

Good service is so much more than that and involves a much bigger picture.

Many, MANY hard lessons were learned during that unhappy period.

Thankfully, my business survived (most are not so lucky), but not without shaking things up and completely overhauling how things work in it.

I had to get conscious and intentional about what I wanted from my business, how I wanted to work, who I wanted to work with, and what my values were around my work and serving clients (also known as standards).

This helped me then begin to set simple, but clear policies, procedures and protocols for operating my business and working with clients that supported those standards.

It was only then that I was able to begin creating the happier, more joyful, fulfilling business I had always wanted all along and that I enjoy today.

Now, I no longer have to work with so many clients (10 retainer clients was WAY too many, and I was WAY undercharging at that time as well).

I don’t have clients sweating me any longer because now I have a system for how work requests are managed and carried out that gives me the stress-free space I need to do the work well without being crowded.

The best thing is that I have far happier, more satisfied clients now than I ever did when I was trying to be that “instant assistant.”

And because they know exactly how things work upfront (all part of my system), working together is so much easier and more peaceful.

I also have the added benefit that I have a lot more ability to move things around to suit my life.

If something comes up and I decide I need an afternoon off or to take a day off in the middle of the week for something special, my system allows me to do that without my clients experiencing any hiccups.

I share this system I’ve developed in my own practice and have used happily and successfully for over 15 years now with all my clients in my guide: Power Productivity & Practice Management for Administrative Consultants.

If you are early on in your administrative support business, this is the perfect time to put a system like mine in place because it’s easier to on-board new clients in the ways you want than it is to retrain them after they’ve been spoiled by unsustainable practices.

However, even if you’re already established, but are feeling the squeeze and realize that something needs to change in your business, my guide shows you how to transition existing clients into new policies and procedures.

It’s never too late to improve your life and business. 😉

Too Much Accessibility Is Not a Good Thing

Too Much Accessibility Is Not a Good Thing

Contrary to popular belief, too much accessibility is not a good thing.

This advice column is a good reminder of that.

It uses the example of a co-worker overstepping boundaries, but the same principle applies when it comes to clients: You don’t need to be so instantly available.

In fact, it can actually lead to the opposite effect of what you intend: poor customer service and unrealistic client expectations.

When you respond instantly to every beck and call, you are training your clients to think you have nothing better to do than sit there and jump as soon as they command.

That is NOT a good precedent to set in your administrative support business as it leads to all kinds of boundary overstepping, disrespect (of you and your time as a business owner with other clients to care for), and resentment (and resentment is a relationship-killer).

Keeping some buffer area around you is actually healthy for your business and the relationship.

This is why I’m always advising people in our industry to formalize their communication standards and turn-around times, and then inform clients about those policies and protocols so they know ahead of time how things work in your business and what to expect (as well as what they may not expect).

So whose fault is it when this becomes a problem?

Hint: It’s not the client’s.

That’s like getting mad at someone for calling you in the middle of dinner. You’re the one who answered the phone. They didn’t have a gun to your head. 😉

It’s you who has to adjust the behavior and set the standards.

I don’t let clients call or text me for several reasons:

  1. I don’t want to be chased around and sweated like that.
  2. I’d never get anything done.
  3. I’m not trying to be that technologically connected. Remember: healthy boundaries. Technology should be a tool, not an obsession. There’s a time and purpose for it, but outside of that, I don’t want it taking over and interrupting my life. For me, it’s a conscious decision to keep it to a minimum.
  4. I don’t want to have to chase after a million loose ends scattered all over a bunch of different channels. That just creates more work and chaos that is neither efficient nor a productive use of time and energy. Plus, it allows more room for error. Order is the name of the game.

I inform and instruct clients at the beginning of our relationship that all our communication is to be by email (with separate emails for each separate topic, by the way). Client calls are reserved for our regularly scheduled weekly meetings or by appointment otherwise.

This way, I can use my inbox as the central communication hub, have a “paper” trail (so to speak) for everything, and be able to keep everything organized, sorted and tidy in one place.

So, I tell clients: You can email me any time of day or night, but here is how and when your communications and requests are handled…

(I also explain why these standards are of value and benefit to them: because ultimately, they allow me to provide them with better service and support.)

And then I honor those standards I’ve set and don’t overstep my own boundaries.

Have you formalized your communication and turn-around standards and protocols? Have you incorporated that information into your client guide? Are you going over that information with clients in your new client orientations?

If not, make it a priority to do so now. You’ll thank yourself later, and clients will both respect and be impressed by it.

It demonstrates to them that you have good management skills which gives them greater trust and confidence that you will competently manage and deliver the work you do for them.

And, you’ll be modeling smart business practices that they can implement in their own businesses (with your help).

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?

It’s Not Enough to Love What You Do to Do Great Work

It's Not Enough to Love What You Do to Do Great Work

This is unquestionably sage advice.

If you don’t love what you do, you aren’t going to do great work.

And you’re going to hate doing it.

You can’t do right by your clients or live your best life that way.

But there are two important important ideas missing here:

  1. You can’t take great care of others unless you first take great care of yourself.
  2. You can’t do great work if you don’t set the standards and create the environment that allow you to do that.

Without setting the foundations for these things, it’s inevitable that you will come to dread your work.

In taking care of yourself first, that means pricing profitably, making sure you are charging enough so that you are earning comfortably and your business is sustainable.

You can’t take great care of your clients if you are stressed out about money or constantly preoccupied with needing to make more (because you haven’t priced properly in the first place).

Pricing profitably allows you to do your best work for clients and give them your best attention.

You also need to set the stage to do great work.

That means setting standards and having boundaries, and establishing policies, procedures and protocols that create the conditions to support these things.

What level of quality is important to you as well as your clients?

Breakneck speed is not a sustainable pace. You’ll need to set expectations around turn-around times that give you plenty of breathing room.

What do you need from clients to feel valued and appreciated?

Are those the kind of clients you are choosing to work with?

Are you loving what you do right now? Are you loving the way you are doing it?

What do you want to leave behind in 2016? What do you want more of this year? What do you want do differently moving forward?

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.

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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