In view of recent inquiries from colleagues, today I’d like to point you to one of my classic posts that relates to setting and managing client expectations through the policies and procedures you institute in your practice, and working with clients in a way that honors your standards and boundaries around self-care, effective business management, and quality of work and client-care.
Archive for the ‘Time Management’ Category
This part of the year can be a slow time for a lot of people in business.
The holidays are coming, people have other things on their mind, and it can be a time of reflection and planning for the new year.
It’s the natural ebb and flow of life and business, and it’s nice to have a break to catch your breath.
With that in mind, I’d like to point you to one of my classic posts on what you can do to be proactive and turn these periodic slow-downs into opportunities.
I’m sitting here waiting for a local client to show up in my office to pick up their “rush” job that they wanted me to drop everything for yesterday. I worked on this project for them until well past midnight. They said they would be here to collect my work at a certain time. I’ve been waiting now for over three hours with no sign of them, much less a phone call. I’m fuming! And this isn’t the first time this has happened. How should I handle this? –NT
What I don’t understand is why people in our industry seem to think “local” has to mean “in-person.”
Why treat local clients differently than you would clients in any other part of the world?
It shouldn’t matter where the clients operate or how you initially met them.
None of your business and transactions require you to have an office or do anything in-person. All of your business, local and otherwise, can be conducted “online” (i.e., via email, shared file drive, Skype, delivery, etc.).
I would even tell you it should all be done that way if you want to manage the business efficiently and have more time available for billable work and clients.
Think, really think, about just how much of your business resources are used up doing anything in-person for one client: the scheduling time, the travel to and from, time preparing, time spent getting professionally presentable, the time it takes away from your other clients and paying work, the loss of concentration and interruption of workflow…
In-person work and meetings cost vastly more in any business, even more so ours, because they take up much more time and energy. You can work with 10 x the number of clients — and make more money — in one hour of online time vs. one-hour of in-person time with one client.
If you’re going to do anything in-person with clients, you can charge a MUCH higher premium because it is a special service and consideration outside your normal operating procedures.
Doesn’t matter if a client is local. I don’t allow them to come to my home/office to drop off or pick up documents.
That’s what couriers, delivery services, the mail, and online shared document drives are for.
And I set those expectations upfront before I ever work with them.
I accomplish this by having a client intake/onboarding process.
This involves giving them a New Client Welcome Kit that explains things work in my business and what the policies and procedures are for working together, and then going over these things with them in a new client orientation meeting (which is done over the phone or Skype).
I certainly wouldn’t allow a client to continue to disrespect and abuse my time. Remember, we train people how to treat us. Trust me, you and your business will benefit greatly by nipping this practice in the bud.
So here’s what I would do:
- Be direct and let this client know that you have an expectation that your time is respected in the same way you respect theirs.
- Discontinue this ill-conceived idea of doing in-person work and transactions.
- Draft a letter to your local clients and let them know that you’re implementing new policies and procedures in your business that ultimately allow you to serve them better. Point out that you are discontinuing the policy of office pickups and drop-offs, and that anything that can’t be sent back and forth electronically or via online shared directory in some way, may be couriered (or mailed, or whatever) to and from your office.
- Adopt a special rush fee policy and get that into your contracts (this is already included in our contract templates from the ACA Success Store).
- Send an official communication out to all your clients that rush projects may incur extra fees at your discretion.
- Alternatively, you can also make it a standard in your business not to accept any rush work and require clients to plan ahead within your specified guidelines. (That doesn’t mean you can’t still help out a great client in a pinch if you so choose, but you want it to the exception, not the rule.)
- Reevaluate your clients and consider firing the bad ones who can’t get with the program and consistently demonstrate a lack of appreciation and respect for you. Just because you have a policy to penalize bad clients doesn’t mean you should keep working with them. They are demoralizing and de-energizing to your business and exact a heavy toll that none of us in solo practice can afford. 😉
- Start an Ideal Client list and an Un-Ideal Client list. Write down all the traits and characteristics of an ideal client for you (e.g., has no problem working together virtually, respects my time, follows my policies and procedures). Then write down all the traits and characteristics of all the bad clients you’ve had (e.g., disrespects my time, doesn’t show up or follow through when they say they will, is constantly disorganized and in a rush, always wants me to do rush work, but then doesn’t appreciate it when I do, wants everything yesterday…). You get the idea. Keep updating and honing these lists throughout the life of your business. Pull them out anytime you need to remember why you are in business for yourself and what you want for your life and happiness, and any time you are tempted to step over your standards and take on a client who exhibits any of those red flags.
The new year is two days away and if you haven’t yet, now is a good time to prep your calendar to take 2016 in ease and stride.
One of the ways to facilitate your freedom and success is to be prepared for it. That means taking charge of your time by being conscious about all that you have on your plate and creating space for important actions, events and goals. Your calendar is the starting point for this.
This should take you no more than 30 minutes; if you’re using calendar software, even less time than that.
- Block out all holidays for the year. Be sure to block out any extra days as well (e.g., two days for Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year’s holidays).
- Block out all personal days for the year that you plan to be closed (e.g., birthdays, anniversaries).
- Block out all known/intended vacation dates (or any other weeks/days that you intend to take off for whatever reason).
- Block out any known business events, training, conferences, etc., you plan to attend. Steps 1-4 before anything else is important because taking care of you and your business is always first priority. You can’t take great care of anyone else unless you first take great care of yourself. I’m also an advocate for taking plenty of time off from your business. The more time you take to recharge your energy and creativity, the better your business and clients are for it.
- Next, block out your Admin Days for the year. Using the repeat/recurring function, schedule them through January 2017.* An Admin Day is the one day of the week you devote strictly to your business administration and personal development. For example, Mondays are my “business days” where I am officially closed. I don’t do any client work; instead, I focus on taking care of my own business and use that time for administration and planning, research and development, learning, etc. I shade out that time because it makes me conscious about not making any appointments on that day. If you don’t need a full day, block at least half a day (e.g., Mondays from 8a – 12p).
- Then, block out your regularly scheduled weekly client meetings for the year. For example, Tuesday is the day of the week I use for my weekly retainer client meetings. Each client gets a one or half-hour time slot, same time each week, with a half hour or 15 minutes of buffer time between meetings. I established this practice when I realized how much more difficult it was for me to dive into work and maintain momentum when I had meetings scattered all over the course of the week. I’m much more productive when I keep them to one day and know I won’t have to interrupt my work and concentration the rest of the week.
- Carry over other regular meetings. Review this year’s calendar. If you have regular weekly or monthly meetings, be sure to carry-over and repeat those as well, Perhaps you have a weekly call with your business coach on Tuesdays at 3p and a monthly board meeting at 1p on the third Wednesday of every month. Get all of these regularly scheduled appointments on your calendar for the entire year.
- Block out lunches and breaks if you are someone who has trouble remembering to take time away from your desk and computer. This might seem silly and unnecessary, especially since we business owners can eat or take a break any time we like. But if you are someone who has difficulty maintaining boundaries, these can serve as daily reminders to be conscious about taking care of yourself. Taking breaks is super important, not only for your personal health, but the health of your business—you can’t take excellent care of others unless you first take excellent care of yourself. Remember, you want a humanly/sustainably paced business, not a business that leaves you no breathing room and leads to burn-out and overwhelm.
- Carry over regular weekly and monthly task reminders and other important to-do’s. For example, downloading and reconciling bank statements.
- Mark important dates. Are there client birthdays, anniversaries or other important dates you want to remember on a regular basis? Are there important goal dates and benchmarks you want to be reminded of? Add them to your calendar!
- If you have share an online calendar with any of your clients, repeat steps 1-6 there as well so they are aware of when you will be closed/unavailable. Likewise, by adding your weekly client meeting to their calendar for the year (step #6), no one has to spend any further time on scheduling.
- Rinse and repeat for your clients (if helping organize their calendars is something you happen to do).
- Schedule a To-Do in November to “Prep next year’s calendar.” If you’re using an online calendar, set it with a couple advance reminders.
- And while you’re at it, schedule a reminder in December to archive the current year’s documents and emails (more on that in another post).
* This is so that when January rolls around, if you’ve forgotten or been delayed or sidetracked in prepping your calendar in December, you can simply click on each recurring/repeating event and update the end date.
Cheers to a fantastic new year for us all!
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.
Have you gotten your calendar ready for 2014?
It’s not too late. In fact, if today is an admin day for you like it is for me, this is a perfect time to get ‘er done and only takes a few minutes.
Here’s what to do:
- Block out all holidays for the year. Be sure to block out any extra days as well (e.g., two days for Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve).
- Block out all personal days for the year that you plan to be closed (e.g., birthdays, anniversaries).
- Block out known vacation dates (or weeks that you intend to take off).
- Block out any known business events, trainings, conferences, etc., you plan to attend. Steps 1-4 before anything else is important because taking care of you and your business is always first priority. You can’t take great care of anyone else unless you first take great care of yourself. I’m also an advocate for taking plenty of time off from your business. The more time you take to recharge your energy and creativity, the better your business and clients are for it.
- Next, block out your Admin Days for the year. An Admin Day is the one day of the week you devote strictly to your business and personal development.
- Then, block out your Client Meeting days/times for the year. For example, Tuesday is the day of the week I use for my weekly retainer client meetings. Each client gets a one-hour time slot, same time each week. I established this practice when I realized how much more difficult it was for me to dive into work as well as maintain work momentum when I had meetings scattered over the course of the week. I’m much more productive when I know I don’t have any other appointments looming over my head and won’t be interrupted.
- Rinse and repeat for your clients (if you happen to help organize their calendars).
Standards are determined by you, not anyone else.
It’s pretty presumptuous and egocentric of someone else looking in to question why you’re working when they think you shouldn’t be.
As long as you are working on YOUR terms, by YOUR choice, it’s none of anyone else’s business when, where, how or why you are working.
Take the single mom. I can’t even imagine anymore (since my own daughter is grown now) the difficulties those with little ones still to raise have in growing and operating their business. Mad respect to her because she has responsibilities and timing that can’t be moved around at whim or done according to when someone else says she should or shouldn’t be working.
So, someone in that position might find, in the course of making it all work in her family, that she just does better working predominately at night or on the weekends. Hey, it’s not forever and no one ever said building a business would be easy or that you wouldn’t have to make some sacrifices along the way.
And that’s okay if that’s what she is doing by choice and what works for her.
Now, on the other hand, if you do find yourself feeling compelled to work beyond what you would choose to (long hours, nights, weekends, all your free time) due to extrinsic forces, and your business is running you instead of you running your business, that’s when an examination of your standards, boundaries, policies and operations will help you reclaim control of your life and become more at choice.
For example, you may be taking on the wrong clients and kinds of work.
You might be trying to be too much like an in-house assistant and working with clients like an employee instead of providing strategic—not daily—support as an independent consultant.
Perhaps your policies and procedures are not well-developed and you are letting clients determine those things instead of you.
Perhaps improving the communication about your standards, protocols, boundaries, the way things work and what procedures they should be following, etc., (such as with a client guide and/or new client orientation) and being more deliberate in communicating those things would help your client relationships and work go more smoothly.
Perhaps you are not charging enough which is forcing you to take on too much work in order to make ends meet, which in turn is taking away time for your life.
Perhaps you need to simplify and uncomplicate your administration and operations so that those things don’t overburden your time and attention.
Maybe you like working nights and weekends because it’s when you choose to on occasion, but sending communications at all hours is giving clients the wrong impression that they can impose on you beyond regular business hours. If that’s the case, making adjustments such as when you reply, scheduling your replies for certain hours, or even delaying replies a certain amount of time so as to manage their understandings and expectations will help keep clients from crowding you and overstepping boundaries.
It doesn’t matter when you work. Productivity and inspiration can’t be imposed or “managed.” They can only be facilitated.
Three easy things you can do in a day to get your 2013 off to an organized start:
1. Get your calendar (and/or that of your clients) in order. Add holidays, vacations and other planned or desired days off. Mark off your Admin Day, Meeting Day and/or any other regularly scheduled meetings for the whole year. Add any known events (e.g., conferences, trade shows, seminars, trainings, etc.) that you’d like or are planning to attend. Mark off anything else that you know off that you need to reserve or create time and space for and that you don’t want anything else conflicting or interfering with.
2. Clean out your emails and folders. Archive old messages and folders. Create new folders for 2013. (Tip: When in doubt about whether to delete something, think of it like this: If you haven’t dealt with it for nearly a year, you’re never going to look at it again so just purge. You’ll never miss it and you will feel LOADS lighter.)
3. Clean out and organize your paper file drawers and computer files. Create new folders for 2013. Get rid of as much paper as you can, only keeping what really needs to be printed and/or what is most convenient to be read in printed form.
Bonus Tip #4: Add this to-do to your calendar in November or December so you’ll be sure to have this done again before 2014 comes around.
One of the ways to facilitate your freedom and success is to be prepared for it. That means taking charge of your time by being conscious about all that you have on your plate and creating space for important actions, events and goals. Your calendar is the starting point for this and now is the perfect time to get yours ready for 2013!
1. Block out all your “off” days. For example, Mondays are my “business days” where I am officially closed. I don’t do any client work; instead, I focus on taking care of my own business and use that time for administration and planning. I shade out that time because it makes me conscious about not making any appointments on that day.
2. Block out holidays. Go through the year and block out any holidays you plan to be closed.
3. Block out vacations. If you know in advance of any vacations you plan to take off, block those out as well to ensure you don’t schedule anything on those days.
4. Block out your breaks and lunches. This might seem silly and unnecessary, especially since we business owners can eat or take a break any time we like. But if you are someone who has difficulty maintaining boundaries, these can serve as daily reminders to be conscious about taking care of yourself. It’s important—you can’t take excellent care of others unless you first take excellent care of yourself.
5. Carry over regular meetings. Review this year’s calendar. If you have regular weekly or monthly meetings, be sure and carry-over and repeat them through 2013. Perhaps you have a weekly call with your business coach on Tuesdays at 3pm and a monthly board meeting at 1pm on the third Wednesday of every month. Get all of these regularly scheduled appointments on your calendar for the entire year.
6. Add known events. Are there trade shows, conferences, training or other events you plan to attend? Be sure and add them to your calendar and it will help support your intention.
7. Mark important dates. Are there client birthdays, anniversaries or other important dates you want to remember on a regular basis? Add them to your calendar!
This article was originally published in our weekly ezine on December 21, 2009.
All the money in the world is no good to you if you’re working all the time to earn it and have no time left with which to savor and experience life and LIVE.
Guess what? You don’t have to work from sun-up to sundown just to earn a living.
Let me show you how you can have a financially successful business with breathing room AND time for a rich life working a 3-day week. I’ve just released the self-paced, “home” version of my latest class Power Productivity and Biz Management for Administrative Consultants.
But don’t let the name fool you. This is NOT another “how to stuff more hours and more work into your already over-stuffed, over-crowded, overwhelming day” productivity courses.
In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Instead, I show you how to do LESS so that you can not only provide BETTER support to your clients and earn better doing it, but also how to have more time for your own life.
One of the reasons I gave the class originally and subsequently now provide it as a self-study system is because over the last year I was hearing from countless people in my Laser Mentoring Sessions about how they were working round the clock, often with tons of clients, yet still barely earning a living.
And life? What’s that? lol. They had absolutely nothing left for themselves much less time to live or experience any of the reasons they went into business in the first place.
The strategies, concepts and step-by-step systems in my new guide are the same ones I use in my own practice and teach others about in my laser mentoring sessions.
Just the other day, I heard from one woman I started working in my Laser Mentoring Sessions several months ago:
“I wanted to connect with you and let you know that because of you, I am a much happier person. You remember how ragged, tired and worn out I was when we had that interview a few months ago? Well, I am now working about 1/3 the time, if that, and making more money (not at 6 figures yet, but have that goal in the forecast). I am more confident (still have a ways to go, of course), but I am seeing some successes and feeling great about the direction that my business is taking! I have goals and plans to do more, but I’m baby-stepping for now. Don’t want to take on too much, too fast, and wind up right back where I was. I hope you can feel how appreciative I am!”
You, too, can get the simple systems which you can implement QUICKLY and EASILY to transform your business into a lean, mean, client-supporting mo-chine that takes better care of clients and creates more value while allowing you to work only 3 days a week, making more money and having more time for life.