Archive for the ‘Contracts’ Category

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: Do I Need to Provide a Confidentiality Agreement to Clients?

Dear Danielle: Do I Need to Provide a Confidentiality Agreement to Clients?

Hi Danielle,

Thanks for doing all the hard work for us! Well worth the purchase (this colleague recently purchased products from the ACA Success Store). Here’s my question: While I see a confidentiality form that protects my company’s information, am I missing the form that assures my client that any information I am given about their business that’s necessary for my services will remain confidential? I have a proposal due tomorrow to a client and can’t find that form. —AG

Great to hear!

I don’t offer a form like that and here’s why: it’s not your role to provide a client’s confidentiality agreement for them.

That’s THEIR job in THEIR business to have their OWN attorney draft up a confidentiality agreement and provide that if/when/in what situation they deem necessary.

You are over-providing something that isn’t your role or responsibility to provide.

In doing so, you could be unwittingly creating an additional/higher burden of liabilities for your business beyond what is your role to assume as a provider.

This is why you don’t follow what the uninformed masses tell you to do.

Here are some blog posts that shed more light on the topic that will help you better understand:

Confidentiality Agreements Are Not Your Responsibility

Dear Danielle: Should I Sign a Client’s Confidentiality Agreement?

Dear Danielle: Why Would I Need a Confidentiality Agreement?

Dear Danielle: Client Wants Me to Provide a Non-Compete Agreement

Let me know if you have any questions. 🙂

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.

Dear Danielle: How Do I Price This?

Dear Danielle: How Do I Price This?

Dear Danielle:

I’m just starting my administrative support business and have really appreciated all of your blog advice and toolkit information. I have run into a slight issue with my first prospective client that I’m not sure how best to handle. She has requested assistance for an annual event she’s planning in late November. We’ve done the initial consultation and I believe we could work well together and there’s a lot of room for growth with her. I had explained that I don’t do hourly billing, but she asked about how many hours per month I would dedicate to her project so I said I estimated around 30 hours per month. I made clear that since I don’t keep strict track of minutes/hours worked that if I end up going over 30 hours a bit that she wouldn’t be billed any extra. I sent her my contract to sign (which didn’t list specific hours, but instead listed the support plan we had determined) and she sent me her contract that states “scope of work will require a minimum of 30 hours up to 48 hours per month.” I absolutely can’t go up to 48 hours a month as then my pricing would be way too low. Do you have any advice on how I should handle this? —Shannon D.

First let me say, none of what I’m going to explain is intended to make you feel bad or that you’re doing things “wrong.”

We were all new business owners once and all started from the same place where we didn’t really know what we were doing. There’s just going to be a learning curve no matter what and it doesn’t make you a dummy or anything like that. And you’re going to have a lot of trials and errors throughout the life of your business.

That said, when people ask ME for my advice, my expertise and my opinions, that’s exactly what they get. They don’t get a bunch of wishy washy “you are free to do whatever you want in your own business…” crap. Um, duh. I don’t think anyone here needs me to state the obvious.

And these discussions are helpful because even though you will still have a learning curve, they raise your consciousness and help you better understand and increase your business knowledge and education moving forward.

Okay, let’s dive in here…

The initial thing that strikes me is that you aren’t yet really clear about what business you’re in.

You say you’re starting your administrative support business, but this really isn’t administrative support. This is more like event management and support which is really a whole other business and industry.

And the reason it’s important for you to get clear about your business is because, well, it affects just about everything moving forward. You have to get clear about what you truly intend to do and be in business if you’re ever going to get any traction.

If I’m a plumber and someone comes to me to fix their car, am I going to take on that work? Why would I do that? Just for the money? How does it serve my business to dillute my energies on work I’m not in business to do and may not have the expertise for? How does that serve the client if I’m really not in business to do that work? Is it ethical for me to take money for something I’m not really qualified to do?

So if you’re going to be a plumber, be a plumber. And direct clients who come to you for things you’re not in business to do to the right professionals. Otherwise, you’ll be spinning your wheels forever.

The other thing I get the feeling you’re not quite clear about is that this is project work, not administrative support.

Granted, it’s over the course of several months, but it’s a project nonetheless because there is a specific ending (the culmination of the event).

Administrative support on the other hand is the collection of tasks, functions and roles that require ongoing attention, management and maintenance throughout the life of the business. Administration isn’t an event, it’s an ongoing relationship. That relationship IS the “product” (so to speak) that you are offering when you are seeking retainer clients.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with taking on project work on the side if you so choose. But it’s very important that you do so consciously, not blindly.

That’s important because here is what tends to happen otherwise:

People in our industry want to have a retainer-based practice with clients who pay a monthly fee in advance every month. However, they end up focusing on and distracting themselves with project-based work instead which is a never-ending hamster wheel that keeps them from ever building the business they really intend.

On top of that, by allowing clients to never commit, they never get the real kind of business they want and dream of.

As the adage goes, you will never get what you don’t ask for and expect.

So if you want a retainer-based practice, that’s really what you need to focus on. You’ll never get there picking pennies up on the ground from non-commital clients and their nickel and dime projects.

If you want retained clients providing administrative support, that’s what you have to expect and make it a standard around who qualifies for working with you. That should also added be on your Ideal Client Profile as an ideal characteristic:

“A client who is ready to commit to working together every month in an ongoing relationship of administrative support.”

Now, we come to the whole hours thing. And as our readers here won’t automatically know, your question initially related to my Value-Based Pricing & Packaging methodology.

So the thing you’re not seeing is that you’re still trying to sell hours.

However, with value-based pricing, there shouldn’t be any talk about hours.

Value-based pricing is about offering a solution and providing results. It’s also about certain values (or morals, for lack of a better synonym) around providing those things.

Let me try to explain:

You say you can only provide X hours per month, but the client wants you to commit to more than that.

Forgetting the fact that hours shouldn’t be what you’re selling, what kind of whole, complete solution can you provide if you are only willing to commit to doing the half the work that’s needed?

Because it’s not any kind of solution if you’re only going to provide something that’s half-baked.

I’m not sure why you would have priced at anything less than what you need to accomplish it. Why would you do that? (That’s probably a whole other great topic for conversation, lol).

I’m not saying you should overextend yourself. But value-based pricing and packaging is contingent upon (among other things) providing a REAL, WHOLE solution and result for clients. It doesn’t help them to sell them something that will only get them half there.

And you won’t create raving fans and testimonials that way either.

So, what needs to happen is that you need to have a REALLY thorough consultation so that you have a very clear idea of what work will be involved, what the client’s needs, expectations and goals are, what results and outcomes they’re looking for, and then price THAT at whatever it needs to be for you to accomplish those things, not the hours.

(And of course that sounds so simple. There is more to it than that, obviously, and my guide shows you exactly how to set parameters and determine what work falls into admin support and which things can be categorized  as project work that you can charge for separately, as well as how to talk about pricing and present that information on your website and in other conversations with prospects and clients. My guide also shows you what to talk about with clients INSTEAD of hours; when you do it the way I show you, they understand how much more beneficial and how much more they get from working together this way.)

But you have to be prepared to provide that solution. If you’re not, then it’s really not ethical to take that client on. A half solution is no solution at all.

As far as the whole contract thing, this is where your marketing and message, as well as what you call yourself, are so important because those are the things that are shaping client perceptions and expectations.

This client needs to be properly educated that it’s not her place to be changing your contract. Your contract is your contact. Clients either sign it or they go elsewhere. Obviously you would be more diplomatic, but that’s what it boils down to basically.

But the other thing is that if clients are consistently doing these kinds of things, it means you are not properly presenting yourself a business owner. Fixing that typically entails improving your content and marketing message on your website and framing yourself more like a business and independent professional.

That starts by not calling yourself an assistant, ever. 😉

Let me know if that helps and if you have more questions, feel free to post them in the comments.

25 Ways to Get More Ideal, Well-Paying Clients

baddog

One of the biggest complaints people voice in our industry (the administrative support business) are clients who are a pain in the ass, otherwise known as PIAs, or more gently, un-ideal clients.

Bad clients are also one of the biggest business killers.

One bad client (particularly in a new business) can suck up all your resources and destroy profit—and your morale—to the point of no return.

Despite your best efforts, it’s possible to end up with a rotten apple once in awhile.

Far more often, however, it is we who create the conditions that bring un-ideal clients into our lives in the first place.

You have far more control in this area than you may realize. So, here’s a list that will help you have more ideal, joy-to-work-with clients who help your business grow and thrive:

  1. Own your role. Bad clients don’t happen to you. You’re the one who took them on and continues to work with them. Acknowledge that so you can fix it and start doing things differently from this point forward.
  2. Trust your gut. If you have a bad feeling or see red flags, pay attention. Your instincts will never fail you.
  3. Treat and respect your business like a business. When you do, your prospects and clients will as well.
  4. Have self-respect. Don’t beg, bribe and prostrate yourself to get clients. The only clients who are attracted to desperate people are bad clients.
  5. Don’t be so instantly available. Have a process that prospects go through to become clients. It’s an indicator that you are a professional, successful business, and that is going to attract professional, successful prospects. Anyone who is in a rush and wants to sidestep your processes is never an ideal client, and a process helps screen those folks out. Better clients know and expect that there will a process and that it’s essential to getting the best help and making sure there’s a mutual fit.
  6. Never take on work or clients just for the money. This is where 90% of the problems start in the first place.
  7. Have standards. For example, choosing to work only with honest, ethical people is a standard. What others can you think of? Write them down and hang this list where you’ll see it every day.
  8. Set proper expectations. Remember, you’re not running a mass consumer, assembly-line business like McDonald’s. You’re running a professional service firm where there is a personal, ongoing relationship with each client. Sometimes clients can seem un-ideal because you haven’t properly managed their expectations. When you don’t thoroughly inform them about how things work in your business, they somehow think it’s their place to make up their own rules (wrong!). Similar to raising children, if we are too permissive, over-promise, or establish policies that we can’t humanly sustain on a consistent basis (such as 24-hour, on-demand, instant assistance), we can turn clients into spoiled brats who throw tantrums the second you don’t instantly jump at their request. Picture your business with a full roster of retained clients. What kind of turn-around and communication policies does that business need to take great care of all your clients, consistently and reliably, now and in the future, without burning you out in the process because you have no room to breathe or have a life? Set your policies accordingly.
  9. Set policies, procedures and protocols. These are relationship-preservers that bring order to your business, ensure it runs smoothly and gives you the space you need to take fantastic care of all your clients, evenly, consistently and reliably. Without this structure, clients can quickly turn into monsters we dread dealing with.
  10. Establish boundaries. Besides helping ensure your business runs smoothly so you can do great work for all your clients, your policies and protocols also establish boundaries. For example, having formal office hours between 9 am and 5 pm is a policy that also sets a boundary that tells clients you are running a professional business that opens and closes at certain hours, and they may not expect you to be working past those times. See? Boundary.
  11. Honor your standards, boundaries and protocols. Here again is where we’re often our own worst enemy. We go to the trouble of identifying our standards and boundaries, and then step over them or allow clients to. Stop that! These things are in place to ensure you have a happy business and happy clients. Ignore them at your peril.
  12. Know who your ideal client is. Start an Ideal Client Profile. This is a list of all the traits, characteristics and demographics of the kind of person you really enjoy working with, who you work best with, and who benefits most from working with you. Keep adding to and refining this list throughout the life of your business. This formalizing exercise helps you get more clear, conscious and intentional about who you want to attract and focus on in your business.
  13. Start an UN-ideal Client Profile. Likewise, as you grow in your business, you are going to get more and more clear about who is not the right fit for you, with whom you don’t enjoy working. List these traits and red flags so that you can better recognize those folks when they appear on your doorstep—and quickly and politely send them away. Anytime you are tempted to step over your standards, pull this list out to remind yourself why that’s never a good idea.
  14. Work with business people rather those who are employees themselves. Business people get it. Non business people are more often going to be difficult to work with because they aren’t coming from a business context and don’t understand the proper business etiquette and rules of engagement.
  15. Have a target market. A target market is simply an industry/field/profession that you cater your administrative support to. Having one will make everything in your business easier. It will also help you get better, more ideal clients.
  16. Have a proper business website. Your website isn’t merely an online brochure. When you have a proper website that informs, educates and markets you like a business, it’s a powerful influence in the clients you attract and how those clients approach you in a proper business context. It helps set expectations and prequalify clients so you get more ideal business people contacting you. The image it presents, the message it conveys, and the process it takes them through set a precedent that is going to attract either ideal or un-ideal clients to you. If you want better clients, have a better website.
  17. Stop marketing yourself like a substitute employee. Face it, if people are approaching you like a potential employer instead of a client, it’s because you aren’t educating them properly. If you don’t want clients who want to pay peanuts and treat you like their substitute, beck-and-call, under-the-table employee they don’t pay taxes on, then you have to stop marketing yourself like one. Model your marketing message more like that of other independent professionals (attorneys, accountants and consultants are good examples). Just like you, these are people who have a specific expertise and solve specific problems. In our case, you want to position yourself as an administrative expert who can get results and help them accomplish their goals, not some order-taking worker bee. Why? Because people don’t see worker bees as experts. They see them as pawns. And experts aren’t pawns, they’re partners. The marketplace doesn’t expect to pay much for a pawn, but they DO expect to pay well for an expert who has valuable skill, expertise, insight and support to share with them. So reframe your marketing message to position yourself as their administrative expert (not their gopher), and you’ll get better, more well-paying clients.
  18. Have a consultation process. And I don’t mean some penny-ante 15-minute chat. That is NOT going to help you or the client whatsoever. I’m talking about a full and proper consultation process that begins before a prospect ever contacts you. Not only does this process help you prequalify prospective clients for mutual fit, it also helps them take your business more seriously.
  19. Always use a (proper) contract. A contract is a relationship-preserver as well in that it helps everyone remember and honor their agreements to each other. A contract helps clients respect you as a business, and a respectful client is an ideal client.
  20. Have a Client Guide. Formalize your policies, procedures and prototols into a written Client Guide that you give to all new and current clients. Part of setting and managing expectations is making sure you are informing clients about how things work in your business. None of us are mindreaders and neither are your clients. If you want your relationship with clients to go smoothly and ideally, you have to inform them of what that means, how things work in your business and what is expected of them (remember, it’s a two-way street; it’s not all about their needs).
  21. Conduct a New Client Orientation with new retained clients before you begin working together to go over and clarify the information in your Client Guide and answer any questions they may have. Do this with existing clients as well whenever your business undergoes significant changes. This further supports your efforts in educating clients about the nature of the relationship, setting and managing expectations, how things work in your business and what the standards, policies, protocols and procedures are for working together.
  22. Issue formal announcements to all your clients whenever there is a change in your business. Whenever you make changes or improvements to your business and how you do things, don’t mention these things in passing. Make it formal. Send out a formal business communication to your clients on company letterhead as well as any ezine and blog you publish. Here again, you’re reinforcing the business aspect of your relationship and treating the business like a business which then influences how clients treat you and respect the relationship.
  23. Raise your rates. When you’re cheap and there is no barrier to entry for working with you, you get cheap, un-ideal clients. It’s an immutable law of business that when you raise your rates, you get better, more ideal clients. It’s a way to sort the wheat from the chaff in prequalifying clients.
  24. Face difficult conversations. It will only be worse for both of you the longer you wait. However, the quicker you are to face difficult conversations, the more often those relationships can be turned around for the better. You can learn many new positive things and possibly keep a client .
  25. Let go of un-ideal clients quickly. They’ll keep you buried in the muck and you’ll never grow or move forward if you continue to work with them. Un-ideal clients are highly unprofitable to work with and suck up three times the space in your practice compared to ideal clients. They cost your business far more than you realize; you can’t afford the psychological toll they take. You have to let go of the bad and un-ideal to make room for the better and more ideal.
  26. Bonus Tip: Stop calling yourself an assistant. Who you attract is all about your marketing. And what is the essence of marketing? Words: the words you choose and the way you use them. Marketing is about educating, setting expectations and getting the right clients to see and understand you and the relationship the way you need them to. The words you choose to call yourself have a direct influence in that. The fact is, people only understand the word assistant one way: employee. So when you call yourself an assistant, you’re telling them you are some sort of employee. When they think you’re an employee, they want to treat you like one. And when you call yourself an assistant, causing their perception to be that you are some sort of substitute employee, you predispose them to balk at your fees because they expect to pay you no more than an employee. If you want more ideal clients, it’s not enough to change how you work with clients  and insist that you’re a business owner. You have to stop calling yourself a term that contradicts that message. When you do, you’ll get better, more well-paying clients.

Contracts Have Nothing to Do with Being a Hardass

Danielle KeisterContracts are not merely for legally enforcing “rules and regulations” on clients.

Their first function is to memorialize (in writing) your promises and understandings to each other.

Memories fail. Things are conveniently “forgotten.” Your contract serves as a written memory of what you both agreed on to each other.

The other role your contract plays is in outlining your standards and helping set proper understandings and expectations for the relationship.

With your contract, you are saying, Here is how I expect to be treated with courtesy and respect. And for my part, here is how I will treat you with courtesy and respect as a client…

So it’s just dumb for anyone to tell you to take anything out of your contract that you may or may not enforce legally.

You might as well not even bother with a contract at all then because if that’s the logic, more than half the standard terms and conditions that need to legally be in a contract to be enforceable would get taken out.

And why stop there. There’s no point then in putting anything in writing if you think the only reason for it is whether you’re really going to sue someone or not if they don’t comply.

Shoot, just let clients do whatever they want and dictate everything to you. Because again, by that logic, anything else would be being a “hardass.”

There’s nothing hardass about informing clients that when you are working on retainer, you expect them to give you 30 days notice if they intend to terminate the relationship. (I actually recommend 20 days, which is what I do in my practice.)

The reasoning is that you have reserved space for that client and dedicated priority to them. If they decide to terminate at a moment’s notice, that leaves you in a lurch without being given a courteous, reasonable amount of time with which to try to refill that slot.

It’s like the policy of requiring 24 or 48 hours notice if someone needs to cancel an appointment. By stating it in your policies, you are telling people how you expect to be treated and respected, that your time is valuable.

And that clause (at least in the ACA contracts) works both ways. You are saying to them, I’m not going to leave you in a lurch either. If I determine that our relationship needs to end, I’m going to give you X number of days notice as well.

It has nothing to do with being a hardass or whether or not you would even take them to court if they didn’t honor the agreements they made to you.

It’s about good business, having and honoring your standards, and informing clients upfront what is expected.

How to Opt Out of PayPal’s New Arbitration Clause

Just a quickie for you today… I came across a great resource on The Consumerist blog which shared a letter template for opting out of PayPal’s new arbitration clause.

In case you hadn’t heard, PayPal recently added a clause to its user agreement that forces everyone into mandatory, binding  arbitration in the event of legal complaints and takes away the right to join together in a class action unless you opt out in writing.

Apparently, many folks’ opt-out letters were rejected due to improper formatting so the Consumerist came to the rescue with a properly formatted template.

If you want to opt-out, just be sure you get your letter in by the deadline of December 1, 2012.

I got mine in AND I brought this to the attention of my clients and drafted up letters on their biz letterhead on their behalf. All they had to do was sign!

TIP:  Alert your clients and do letters for them as well; it’s a great opportunity to show how you’re always looking out for them and provide more value!

Dear Danielle: How Do I Handle Interruption of Retained Services?

Dear Danielle:

It came up that a client with whom I’m working on a retainer basis has just alerted me that in a month he will be taking 4 to 5 weeks vacation so he will interrupt the service for that period of time.  We started our relationship in March, so we have been working together for three months now. How do you handle this kind of situation? Is it acceptable that he interrupts the service agreement at no cost for him? One of the clauses in our Service Agreement states that if for any reason one of the parties decides to discontinue the agreement he/I should give notice to the other party at least 30 days in advance. He is almost complying with that. But this clause was meant for the finalization of the agreement, not a temporary interruption. Should I accept this? Or should I let him know that if he interrupts the service, I might not be available when he is back at work, hence I should charge at least a minimum amount to reserve his space in my roster? Thanks in advance!Mirna Bajraj, MB Asistencia Virtual

Hi, Mirna! Great question; I’ll do my best to help. 🙂

This is another one of those situations where there is no right way or wrong way. It all depends on how you want to run your practice and what is acceptable (or not) for you.

Obviously, we never want to hold a client hostage if they can’t or don’t want to continue working together, whatever the reason. At the same time, and as you recognize, they need to be fair to us as well. This is the reason our contracts contain a termination clause that gives both parties simple, fair and equal recourse for ending the relationship: 30 days written notice.

But this situation differs because the client isn’t saying he wants to permanently end the relationship, he simply wants to interrupt the service. And here begins our thought process.

So, the client goes on vacation and now you have an open slot on your retained client roster. Obviously, you are not going to sit around and wait for him to return. That’s income you now need and want to replace.

This is where a conversation with the client would be in order.

By all means, be gracious about his wishes. However, it would be a service to him to clarify your policies. You may want to remind him of the termination clause of your agreement with each other (i.e., proper fair notice). You might want to let him know that you don’t offer “service interruptions” per se. If a client opts to terminate the contract (per the termination clause), then the contract is ended. You are then, obviously, going to fill that slot on your roster with another client because that’s income you need to replace.

Therefore, the client needs to understand that when they return, you may not have a spot any longer for them. And, if you did have a spot, the whole contract process, etc., would naturally need to start from scratch as if they were a new client. It may also mean that your rates and other particulars may be different when they return as well.

At this point, you may want to let the client know that to keep his spot on your roster, there would need to be a continuance of service and that means continuing to pay their monthly fee.

I like to use the analogy of insurance as an example, and this would be especially apt if you are using my Value-Based Pricing methodology.

When you pay for insurance, you aren’t paying for actual use. You are paying for the event of use. In other words, we may not need to use healthcare services every month, but that doesn’t mean we get to stop paying our insurance premiums for those months we don’t use any services. We don’t pay, our insurance is cancelled, we lose our spot (and possibly our grandfathered plan) and have to start all over again new.

Another thing comes to mind… and it’s hard to tell since this client is so new, but is a vacation really the reason they are wanting to interrupt service? Might there be some other issues going on, that with some conversation, could be solved to mutual benefit?

This is another reason it’s so worthwhile, especially in the beginning stages of our retained client relationships, that we have weekly telephone meetings. It really helps us keep our finger on the pulse of things with the client, their needs and concerns, and allows us to get to know and understand them better.

Hope this helps, Mirna 🙂  If you have additional thoughts or questions or need further clarification, please feel free to post in the comments. This will help shed more light and help others at the same time as well.

Dear Danielle: Web Design Client Balking at My Contract

Dear Danielle:

I purchased the web design forms set about a year and a half ago (maybe longer). I have a potential client who read through them and called me (very defensively) and said there was nothing in the contract to protect him, that it was one-sided and there was nothing in there if I didn’t deliver on the project. I have only had one other person reluctant to sign a contract and she turned out to be a very high-maintenance client. Do you have any advice about how to deal with this sort of situation? He wanted to go through the contract and send me his suggested revisions. I am subcontracting for him. He had the client and I am the web designer. I have already spent about six hours doing comps. Can you help with some advice? Are there contracts out there that would protect the client or is the fact if I didn’t deliver, I wouldn’t get paid enough protection for him? Pamela C.

Hi, Pamela, and thanks for the question. Let me see if I can help you think this through. 🙂

My first bit of advice would be to never begin working without a contract and being paid, at least partially, upfront. Stop with the comps and do not continue further until the contract issues are ironed out and you decide whether or not to even proceed further with this client. If you do proceed, my advice is always to get a deposit toward the full payment before any, any work begins. It’s just good business (particularly with a client who is already demonstrating certain tendencies, shall we say, lol).

It’s never in your best interest as a business owner to work without a signed contract in place. Business is business only when there is a fair and equitable exchange of benefits and interests. Essentially, the client pays for work to be conducted or executed on his or her behalf in exchange for a fee that you determine will fairly compensate you for the value of your time, skill, knowledge and expertise. If everyone were mindreaders and always remembered exactly what they promised to do, we could simply do business on a handshake and a promise and we wouldn’t need contracts.

But that’s not reality. And it can be argued that it’s you as the service provider who has the greater burden of risk and liability in this exchange. This is why we use contracts in business: to formalize in writing all the expectations and terms of the relationship so that everyone knows (and remembers) what their obligations and considerations to each other are, as well as their rights and recourse. It just helps keep everyone honest and on the same page. In case anyone’s memory fails them, a written agreement is there to remind and legally uphold those promises and understandings made to each other. In a worst case scenario, a written agreement is easier to legally enforce than an oral agreement.

The scenario you describe, however, generally boils down to one of ideal and unideal clients. There is nothing unusual or slanted any more in your favor with our contracts than any other typical contract of this nature. What is happening is that this client is expecting you to draw up a contract for him and his business and it’s simply not your job to do that.

What you have to decide is whether this is someone you want to deal with or not. Is this client one who may end up being another PIA, high-maintenance client? You both have the same legal recourses as everyone does who breaches a contract, which is the right to seek legal remedy through the courts. What more does he want? The blood of your first-born?

I’m being silly, but there are actually clients out there who are that unreasonable in their expectations. They would want you to guarantee that the sun won’t set for the next 60 days if they could get you to agree to that. And you are entitled to be paid for work you were engaged to do whether they end up liking the site or not. But that’s a whole other blog post.

So the first step is to have a conversation with the client in order to better understand the concerns and find out what he would like changed or added to the contract. It doesn’t hurt to listen and find out more. From there, you can decide whether what he is proposing is reasonable or unreasonable for you in your business.

Maybe you find that there is room for some additional considerations or compromises. Heck, just having the conversation might allay his concerns.

(A word of caution, though… since you aren’t an attorney, you might be changing things that negate a whole host of other important legal protections in your contract so never accept changes willy-nilly. Always consult with an attorney to make sure you don’t invalidate your contract in any way).

On the other hand, you might simply decide it’s not worth the angst, that the client has trust issues beyond what you can help with, and “my contract is my contract.” Obviously, you would put it more tactfully to the client, but you get my drift. You do not have to work with anyone you don’t want to, particularly if they can’t agree to your terms. YOU get to decide what is reasonable and right for your business and not accept any clients who ask for things beyond those boundaries and standards.

Now, being a subcontractor just complicates the whole mess. Back when I still had a web design division in my business, I did the same kind of thing for one of my clients. He had a web design business and I was the one designing the sites as a subcontractor. We both had to sign each other’s agreements.

It sounds as though your client hasn’t bothered to come up with his own contract. But that’s not your job to do for him. He need to consult his own attorney. But yes, it is definitely more of a problem scenario because you both need to have terms that are working seamlessly and aren’t in conflict with each other. Because, in a worst case scenario, if his client who gets the site decides to sue him, he’s the one stuck holding the bag. It’s just a whole big can of worms.

It goes without saying that the goal is to do good work and have happy clients. We all want clients to love what we’ve done for them. It’s just our natural inclination. A client has to be pretty egregiously unhappy before they go to the trouble of suing, so I’m just pointing out possibilities.  It’s really not an ideal situation, but if you want to be in it, you might want to find a polite way of letting him know that the onus is on him to talk with an attorney and come up with his own contract for you to sign.

Dear Danielle: Should I Get Payment Up Front?

Dear Danielle:

I have a billing question. Should I ask for payment up front or after the work is completed? –KH

You don’t mention whether this is for project work or retained services. Either way, I have some advice for ya. 😉

If you’re doing project work, it’s definitely a good idea to get some kind of up-front payment. Here’s how I do it in my business… if it’s under $500, I tend to require full payment upfront. If it’s anything over that, I require 50% upfront.

Remember, you aren’t a client’s bank and they need to have some skin in the game. They’ll take you and the work you are doing for them more seriously. Plus, getting at least some payment upfront will not only help mitigate your losses should you end up with a dead-beat client, but it will help avoid working with flakes in the first place.

When it comes to providing ongoing support work, clients are usually charged an upfront fee called a retainer. By it’s very nature, it is upfront because they are retaining your services in an ongoing relationship and guaranteeing your time and their place on your roster. There is no deposit or 50% when it comes to retainers. It’s in full, upfront.

Here are some older posts related to this topic that I think you’ll find useful as well:

Help! Client Not Paying!

How to Avoid Getting Stiffed on Payment

You want to also check out these categories on my blog here:

Billing
Getting Paid

Hope that helps!