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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.