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 ‘Working with Clients’ Category
Ever hear a client utter these words?
It’s probably the most grating sentence in our industry today.
But what if you knew exactly how to respond?
What if you offered your services in a way that didn’t focus whatsoever on hourly rates?
Wouldn’t that be a total game changer?
It’s not so annoying when you actually begin to love responding to that question (or when you no longer get it in the first place).
…If you frequently encounter price resistance with clients and want to know what to do about it;
…If you have trouble getting clients to commit;
…If you struggle with articulating your value to clients, talking about your fees, and feeling confident about them;
…If you find the whole topic of pricing difficult, I have the solution!
It’s my value-priced packaging and pricing guide, How to Price and Package Your Support Based on Hours & Expertise — NOT Selling Hours
This guide will show you how to:
Attract more clients, more easily;
Make more money;
Create an easier business to run;
And toss out those time sheets forever!
…all without discounting, bargaining, or justifying your fees whatsoever!
I came across something utterly heartbreaking a few weeks ago.
I’ve been sitting on it for awhile, going back and forth about whether or not to have a conversation around it.
I never want to discourage anyone from this business or have anyone take things the wrong way. Because if you set things up right, it is an AMAZING business and lifestyle.
However, it’s a cold, hard truth that no one ever talks about in our industry.
And the problem with not talking about things that are uncomfortable, that aren’t all “rah, rah, kumbaya” all the time, is that you can’t fix what you don’t acknowledge.
What was this thing I came across? An ad for a “Virtual Assistant Business For Sale.”
And what is this cold, hard truth I speak of? It’s that most people in our industry are not profitable and not making the kind of money they can actually live on.
You see, the sad thing about this ad is that it isn’t an exception. It’s actually a very accurate example reflective of what most of the businesses in our industry look like.
Now, before I dissect this for you, I first want to make it absolutely clear: It is not that people can’t make more money in our kind of business; they absolutely can! YOU absolutely can!
It’s simply that they are being taught by the industry at large in all the worst possible ways to price, operate and market themselves (like calling yourself a “virtual assistant”). And it’s keeping them poor, overworked and overwhelmed.
The fortunate thing is that YOU always have the possibility to learn better so that your business can do better for you.
And that always benefits your clients because you can’t take good care of others if your needs aren’t taken care of first.
Here is the ad:
Let’s examine the problematic issues here:
- We see that the business has been around for 11 years. Great! After that amount of time, you’d expect them to be earning really well.
- Yet in the first bullet we see they are only making £1900/mo (British Pound) which is $2363.98/mo USD. After that many (11) years, why are they still making that little money? Those are poverty-level wages. Did they mean perhaps that this is the average value per client?
- Unfortunately, no, we see in the next bullets that after 11 years they have only 1 retainer client at only £350 GBP/$435.39 USD per month. The rest of their revenues come from 15 regular (but uncommitted/non-retainer) clients and 20 ad hoc clients, which I’m interpreting to mean an average of 20 project clients each month. The problem is that at this number of clients they should be making several thousands of dollars per month! I can’t even imagine (well, actually, I can) how overwhelmed and overworked they are… and for such a paltry sum on money! To give some context/frame of reference, I make more with just one of my retainer clients than they make in an entire month from 36 clients.
- They also mention having relationships with two typists. This business owner is barely making ends meet at these figures, where on earth is there any margin to pay anyone else? (Answer: there isn’t.) It means that they are doing all this work at a loss! Especially at gross figures that don’t even account for expenses, operating costs, taxes, etc.
- This is not a profitable business in any way, shape or form. What has most likely happened is that burnout caught up to them (no wonder!) and they are now trying to unload the sinking ship. But there are no assets of any value to sell here. The clients it has are being charged such an ungodly little amount, there is almost no way in hell to ever reset those kind of expectations. They’ve branded and positioned this business as “cheap” and there is just nowhere you can go with that. It would be faster, easier and less costly for you to create a business from scratch and establish the brand based on properly set foundations and expectations and charging higher, more profitable professional fees.
Don’t misunderstand me. This examination is in no way a denigration of the business’s owner.
Rather, it’s utterly heartbreaking to me that they have made so little money working with too many clients with basically no commitment and constant churn. I wish I’d had the opportunity to help them early on.
When we talk about these things, there are always a certain number of people who don’t understand why it’s so important to have these conversations.
But bringing this consciousness to the fore is integral to being able to improve things so you can better earn in your own business.
It’s why I’m always talking about money, how you are marketing and positioning your business and brand, how not charging profitably sets you up for failure, about how the expectations and perceptions you create in clients directly affect your ability to charge properly and earn well.
These are the topics that will make or break your business.
It’s this fundamental business education — and not the latest, greatest software or tools — that is key to creating a profitable, sustainable business where you can get, work with and keep great clients (clients worth having who value you, not cheapos looking for a free handout), make great money and that works around and enriches your life and what’s important to you (instead of the business running you).
What could this person have done differently?
- Business planning. Going through the exercise of business planning forces you to think through and get clear and conscious about all the important details of your business such as your needs, goals and intentions around money, what kind of clients you want to work with and are worth working with, and what business standards, policies and procedures to establish accordingly.
- Getting off the project work merry-go-round. A business based on project work needs a shit-ton of clients and work in order to stay alive. It’s a constant, never-ending hamster wheel of marketing, even while you already have clients and work to take care of in front of you, and you never know where your next meal is coming from. Nothing wrong with project work, but think of it as secondary income, the gravy to the meat and potatoes where you make your “real” money.
- Expecting a commitment. Retainer clients (clients who pay a monthly fee upfront for a plan of support) are where the real money is at. A commitment of working together each month allows you to do your best work and gives you something to actually work with to achieve a tangible, demonstrable value and results for clients. But of course, if you don’t ever expect a commitment, you’ll never get one. That’s why it’s so important to set standards in your business around what’s important to you. An expectation that clients must make a minimum commitment to be given a place on your client roster is a standard that will serve you (and your clients) well, even if some of them might not understand that at first. (You’ll have a far easier time getting commitments if you learn how to set up and navigate the whole consultation process and pricing conversation.)
- Get clear and conscious about the money. Charging fees based on what you see others charging (who are more often than not just as lost as everyone else) is the worst way to set your fees. It’s not about what everyone else is charging (stop looking at them!). It’s about knowing what your target market values, how you can improve their circumstances with your support and what they gain from working with you, and learning how to articulate that value to them in the context of their business and goals.
- Choosing a target market. This business is all over the map when it comes to who their clients are and the work they’re doing. And that is a huge part of the problem. Very simply, a target market is an industry/field/profession that you focus your administrative support on. This specialization is key to making the big bucks. That’s because when you know who it is you are focusing on, you can determine very quickly and clearly what they do in their business and what their common needs, goals, challenges, values and interests are and then develop your support solutions around those things. Your offerings will be much more interesting and compelling that way, and you’ll be able to charge more (because there will be more relevant, specific, higher perceived value) and get clients more quickly and easily.
- CHARGING MORE! At the poor fees this business would have to charging to account for so little monthly/annual revenue, it’s a clue that the business owner is not understanding the economics of business. You simply can’t charge rates that amount to employee wages and expect to earn well. Business is a completely different ballgame. It’s why I’m constantly reminding people, you are NOT an employee, you’re a business. There’s also this crazy, but nonetheless immutable law of business: The more you charge, the better clients you get. And what do we mean by better clients? Client who value you and what you offer. Clients who are invested and make the commitment to working together. Clients who aren’t looking for the free buffet. Clients who are loyal to you and the good work and results you provide them with, not how little they can pay. When you have better clients who make a monthly financial commitment to working together toward established goals, you can make more money working with fewer clients and have more time for your own life in the process.
- Stop calling yourself an “assistant.” One of the reasons people have a hard time charging more or seeing their value in a different light (and gaining some business self-esteem and confidence) is because so many of them insist on calling themselves “virtual assistants.” This keeps them thinking of themselves as employees and seeing things through that lens instead of from an entrepreneurial/business mindset. Here’s what you need to understand: Assistant is a term of employment, not business. Terminology (just like pricing) is a part of marketing. How you price and the words and terms you use to describe yourself have a direct influence on how clients perceive you and the expectations, perceptions and understandings they come to the table with. When you call yourself an “assistant,” they don’t look at you as a business owner and advisor. You are teaching them to view you as a type of subservient employee, and what they expect to pay is based on that wrong, harmful perception. When you call yourself an “assistant,” you are predisposing them to value you less, not more. If you want to be able to charge higher, more appropriately profitable fees, you have to create the proper context. The verbiage and terminology you use directly impacts that context.
I have a couple of complimentary (as in free) business-building tools that shed a ton more light on all of this and will help you course-correct in your own business. If you don’t have them yet, be sure to go get them now.
How about you? Why did you go into this business? I’m assuming a large part of it is that you love putting your administrative talents to use and helping clients and truly making a difference in their businesses and lives.
I can’t imagine that it gives anyone joy to be broke and working too hard for too little money. So over and above that, how do you want your own life enriched and improved by owning and running your own business? What are your money aspirations? What does “profitable” and “financially successful” mean to you?
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.
What you call yourself is the VERY first place you are training clients how to treat you.
What you call yourself absolutely matters in shaping in client perceptions and expectations in the way YOU want them to be set.
If you continually have clients who treat you like like an employee and do not approach the relationship with the professionally respectful demeanor of a business equal, the first place you can begin changing that story is by not calling yourself an assistant.
Because when you are in business, you are NOT an assistant, no matter what the clueless out there try to tell you otherwise.
You are going to make mistakes.
I can tell you this right now with absolute, 100% certainty.
It’s just a fact of life as a human being.
They may not be convenient. They are often messy and untidy, but mistakes and imperfections are the patina of life.
At the very least, you have to accept this. You might even embrace it and have it work in your favor.
Talking about mistakes with clients before they happen and how those situations are handled can be really useful in any truly authentic consultation discussion.
In fact, as crazy as it sounds, talking frankly about mistakes actually puts clients at ease.
They trust you more because you aren’t making far-fetched promises they know in their heart simply aren’t feasible.
Someone who says they never make mistakes is full of it (or delusional).
No matter how attractive fantasies and wishful thinking are, we all recognize this at a very basic level.
And so you become someone much more trustworthy and believable in their eyes when you admit the truth of the matter.
That’s not to say you should be telling clients, “Yeah, I’m gonna make mistakes left and right, all day long.”
You wouldn’t be a competent professional worth paying if that was the case.
The point is that while you should absolutely be at the top of your game and always giving your best to clients, there are going to be occasions when a mistake happens.
You might misunderstand something or lack information. It’s also not always clear when you need clarification and you proceed with what you think is the complete picture.
Whatever the case, there are simply going to be occasions (and they should occasions, not the norm) when either external or internal factors foul you up.
When it comes to conducting consultations with prospective clients, you want to get a feel for how they will handle those situations as well as be upfront and clear about how you expect to be treated in any circumstance.
Talking about these situations before they come up lets new clients know how to behave if/when they occur. At the same time, it helps you weed out potentially wrong-fitting clients and bring everyone’s attitudes and expectations to a more conscious level of awareness and mutual understanding.
This is what is formally called in business as “managing client expectations.”
What I like to tell prospective clients is basically this:
“I am exceptionally good at what I do. I can absolutely, confidently declare this. I’m also human and once in awhile, I am going to make a mistake. I very much need and want to know if/when that happens so I can fix it and work to ensure it doesn’t happen again where that’s possible. I welcome your input and feedback. To make sure our relationship remains happy, mutually respectful and most importantly, helpful to you, I look to work with clients who aren’t so quick to be upset, but rather will trust and have confidence in the fact that I will make things right once it is brought to my attention. And I will always strive to earn and maintain that trust and confidence. At any time that I fail to maintain your trust and confidence in my service and abilities, I would fully expect that you’d want to end our relationship. In any situation, I always, always expect to be treated and spoken to respectfully, with the same courtesy, respect and professionalism that it is my standard to extend to you and all my clients.”
This, of course, is always delivered conversationally, but those are the main points I like to cover.
We then have a discussion about their thoughts on the subject. Based on their tone and responses in this discussion, I can usually tell (or at least simply decide) if someone seems like he or she would be a good client to work with, one who will be likely to maintain calm composure, respect and professionalism towards me in the event a mistake is made.
[Important Side Note: You naturally want clients with whom you can have great relationships. Plain and simple, it’s just not profitable or energizing to work with poor-fitting, abusive clients. And so you choose clients well as best you can. That’s all any of us can do, and it’s one of the important reasons to conduct thorough consultations. But if it turns out a client isn’t so great to work with, you always have the option of ending the relationship. You are never stuck. Always remember that.]
Unrealistic expectations are often rooted in impossible ideas of perfection. In talking about mistakes when I conduct consultations with clients, and how they should be viewed, I like to use proofreading as an analogy.
I explain that the value of a proofreader is not that he or she is going to be absolutely perfect 100% of the time. That’s unreasonable and humanly impossible. We should never proofread our own work because we can’t see our mistakes much of the time. Even if you give that work to five other people, each of those five people is going to miss something, guaranteed. So while all of us (including clients) might work and strive for perfection, we always need to keep in mind that it’s not “perfectly” attainable. Likewise, the value in great proofreading is not that the proofreader will never, ever miss something. Even if they are pretty darn close to being perfect, their true value is that they have a firm command of the language and rules of grammar, punctuation and usage to know what to look for in the first place. Skill is important, but without that knowledge and sensibility at the core, there would be no skill.
So this is the part of the conversation I have with clients during our consultation to help shape their expectations and feel them out with regard to how they deal with mistakes (or any other situation for that matter) and what ideas they may have about perfection.
The more you conduct consultations, have these discussions and work with clients, the more you’ll develop your own green and red flag intuitions for deciding who is likely to be a great client, and who is more likely to be a demoralizing soul sucker with unreasonable standards of perfection.
(Hint: Prospects who have realistic expectations about mistakes and give all indications of being able to maintain an even keel and professional demeanor towards you tend to make for better, more ideal clients. 😉 )
If you are looking to grow a practice of ideal clients who pay you a monthly retainer fee for your administrative support, check out my guide on successfully conducting client consultations: Breaking the Ice: Your Complete, Step-by-Step System for Confidently Leading the Consultation Conversation and Converting Prospects into Well-Paying Monthly Clients Who Can’t Wait to Work with You (GDE-03). In this guide, I share with you my entire, fool-proof system—based on 20 years successful experience in this business— for getting every client I want, every time.
Rant warning here. This has been brewing for a couple months now, and I just have to get it out of my system, lol.
There is this crybaby series of articles that Freelancers Union puts out that have been driving me a bit nuts.
Every ezine issue, they feature some sob story from a freelancer about how a mean, evil client stiffed them hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Omg, I’ve never seen a bigger bunch of professional victims.
And now they’ve got this ridiculous “Freelancing Isn’t Free” campaign to get some new laws on the books to protect freelancers from deadbeat clients, as if they themselves play no role in why they aren’t getting paid.
The one thing, the ONE SINGLE PROBLEM at the root of all of this is that these people can’t seem to grasp or get it through their thick skulls that as freelancers they are in business for themselves.
And business owners decide how things work in their relationships with clients. Business owners choose who they work with and who they don’t. Business owners determine what they are paid, when they are paid and how they are paid.
Business owners can either run their business like a business, or they can be morons. The choice is theirs.
What contributes to this mindset of idiocy and victimhood is the word “freelancer.” That word needs to be abolished.
In society at large, people don’t understand that freelancer is merely another word for business owner.
It doesn’t matter if you have a day job and do a little work on the side. When you are doing that side work, you are being in business for yourself and wearing the hat of business owner. There is no in-between classification. It’s either/or. One or the other. That’s it.
So when you’re working your day job, you’re wearing your employee hat and all the rules, laws and taxes that apply to employment are in play.
And when you work for yourself and hire yourself out to people, you are wearing the hat of business owner. Doesn’t matter if it’s part-time, full-time or just a little here and there; doesn’t matter if you use the term freelancer, independent contractor, self-employed or whatever—these are all terms for the same thing: BUSINESS OPERATOR.
The sooner you get that through your head, the better off you will be because THEN you can start running your business like a business the way you should be.
Let Me Demonstrate
There are some common themes running through all of these stories. Here’s an example from the most recent victim article. This “freelancer” says:
“In 2015, I agreed to do some editorial work for a client. The agreement was verbal and, because I trusted her to some extent, we did not have a contract. Shortly after I completed the agreed-upon work, she slightly altered the work I produced, claimed everything as her own intellectual property, and failed to pay the $500 she owes me.”
Her first mistake was not formalizing the agreement in writing with a proper business contract. Whose mistake is that? It’s not the client’s job to do that, it’s hers. And she made the choice not to use one.
While a verbal agreement is still a legally binding agreement, it does make it more difficult should you have to take things to court. So, when you are a freelancer, you are in business, and that means conducting business properly and using proper legal business contracts — upfront, every time, with every client, no ifs ands or buts.
The other problem here is that this freelancer’s client seems to assume that their business arrangement was a work-for-hire one.
This is another reason you always, always use a proper business contract. It’s why I always rail against work-for-hire agreements as well, which is different from a business contract.
When you blindly and ignorantly enter into a work-for-hire agreement you can be giving away all your intellectual property, which you may or may not have bargained for.
The work you do and the ownership of a creative work are two separate legal values. This is why they are stipulated and charged for separately. And ownership of a work cannot be given away without express legal written permission.
If you don’t know what you are doing, are using the wrong kind of contract, or haven’t had an attorney draft or approve your business contacts, you could be signing away all rights to the creative works and proprietary intellectual property that you created!
Because of these critical distinctions in the law, it’s imperative as a business owner for you to get yourself some basic intellectual property education.
For example, let’s say as a business, I have a client with a particular need. I end up developing a tool for that need that ends up being useful for any number of my current and future clients. I realize that I could license use of this tool to others and add a lucrative additional revenue stream for myself, and decide to put it out to market.
However, if I entered into a work-for-hire agreement with a client, that tool could actually be owned by them automatically. Meaning, they could be free to sell it or do anything they want with it, including telling you that you may not sell it or use it with anyone else, and that it belongs to them because you were in a work-for-hire agreement and anything you create in the course of working with them belongs to them.
How would that sit with you?
As a business, I am damn sure not going to hand over ownership of my creative works, inventions and intellectual property or proprietary processes lock, stock and barrel. That would mean I couldn’t continue to profit from them, use them with others, or in any other way adapt them for other uses.
Even if I was a mind to do that, I wouldn’t be giving away that ownership for free. Oh, hell no!
But there would be nothing you could do because you were the fool who entered into a work-for-hire agreement instead of a proper business contract and didn’t set the terms properly.
This is why it’s so important to NEVER blindly enter into any blanket work-for-hire agreement, or ANY kind of work-for-hire agreement in my opinion, and to use proper business-to-business legal contracts that contain the proper languaging and terms when it comes defining the relationship and who owns intellectual property.
Here’s another excerpt:
“Although $500 may not sound like much, I’ve put together many small deals for less than a thousand dollars. If all my clients were to behave this way, my life would be a constant nightmare of living in fear of being shortchanged. Though it may seem disadvantageous to go through the stress of chasing down a couple hundred dollars, that couple hundred dollars could cover my electricity bill, or even groceries for a couple weeks.”
Wahwahwah. Then don’t do things that way. You act like you were prevented from doing things any other way.
Wrong. You made a choice.
On top of running your business like a business and using proper business contracts, upfront, every time, as a business you also have the CHOICE about who you work with.
Vet your clients properly. Put them through a consultation process so you have at least some idea of who you are doing business with and what they may or may not be like. You get to screen and prequalify clients as a business owner.
A proper consultation can help alert you to red flags that indicate someone may not be worth working with.
Stop rushing or bypassing these vital and important business protocols which also, by the way, help clients understand the CORRECT nature of the relationship and give it proper professional respect. These steps play a big role in setting the stage to make sure you get paid, in full and on time, every time. HUGE!
Likewise, who says you have to wait until work is done to be paid? You can charge the full fee upfront if that’s what you want to do. It’s a perfectly usual, legal, established standard business practice and option.
You can also split a project into phases with the payment for each phase due upfront before beginning work on any next phase. Or, you can charge a deposit or a percentage upfront.
Mitigate your losses if you are taking a chance on a client you don’t know and have never worked with before by getting some kind of payment upfront. Likewise, they’re going to take the business more seriously when they have skin in the game.
There Don’t Need to Be Any New Laws
There are already laws on the books to protect you in these matters and you’ve always had the choice to avail yourself of those recourses.
The problem is being a business moron and not conducting business according to how business is conducted.
It’s that YOU don’t understand that as a freelancer you are a business, and that YOU define these things in your contract that you should have been requiring clients to sign upfront.
You’re not a temp, you’re not a “contract worker.” (Tip: A contract worker is an employee, not an independent self-employed business owner.)
Stop letting clients tell you how things work in your business.
And stop accepting “positions” with companies that should be paying you like an employee but instead are stealing from you by illegally classifying you as an independent contractor. (Hint: Business owners don’t work in positions; that’s an EMPLOYEE.)
If that’s what they are doing, turn their asses in to the IRS and your state Department of Revenue and Employment Security Department.
Because if you really are an employee (which is determined according to the federal laws that define these two distinctions and which employers don’t get to just decide arbitrarily), then they are stealing from you your rightful wages and employer-paid share of taxes and benefits.
By not understanding these distinctions, by not educating yourself, by willfully disregarding these things, YOU are equally guilty of perpetuating the problem of deadbeat clients.
Stop being a bunch of wishy-washy, crybaby pushovers who whine about being victimized all the time. You have the power and the choice to do things differently!
Sure deadbeat clients are shitty people; there’s a special place in hell for them. But guess what? You allowed them to treat you that way by all the choices you made.
No one can take advantage of you without your permission. Stop acting like a victim and like you had nothing to do with it, and start running your business like a business.
Take responsibility for the choices YOU made to not run your business like a business, rushing processes, not conducting proper consultations and due diligence, choosing crappy clients, not using contracts, and not getting at least some money upfront. It’s really simple.
Until you take responsibility for that, nothing in your business and life will change.
And listen, I don’t mean to be picking on anyone personally.
It’s one thing to be new in business and learning the ropes and making newbie mistakes. There’s a learning curve. We’ve ALL been there.
Beyond that, though, there is just too much information out there any direction you look to remain ignorant long. These aren’t people who are new making these dumb choices; these are people who knew better and what they should have done and chose not to do it.
I’m equally annoyed with organizations like Freelancers Union that don’t do their job as a professional organization which should be to properly educate their members and the marketplace, so the stupidity continues.
Because 99% of these problems wouldn’t exist if these people understood how business works, how it is properly conducted between two businesses, and that as freelancers they are business owners (not “contract workers” or employees).
I’m sick to death of all these whiny articles collectively because they don’t empower anyone, they just keep them acting like victims who blame others for their problems and many of whom are going to keep doing the same bone-headed things over and over.
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Here’s another example:
“Because I knew and trust my contact in NYC, I went ahead and started work without a contract, though I did send my salary requirements and scope of work via email for their records. I was told the contract was in the works.”
Same ol’ song and dance. You don’t do business without a contract and you don’t start work until that contract is signed and everything is agreed upon.
The other problem here is this freelancer uses the phrase “salary requirements.” Um, business owners – which again, is what freelancers are — are not paid a salary. EMPLOYEES are paid a salary. Someone who is in business for themselves charges a fee or rate and tells the client what, how and when they are required to pay, not the other way around.
“I proceeded to organize vendors, source supplies, find caterers, etc. There was some drama around whether to have the launch party in the office or at a venue nearby. They changed their minds about 6 or 7 times. The indecisiveness was alarming, but I rolled with it and did my work. The entire time I kept asking for the contract.”
You should haven’t kept asking. You should have stopped working and told them that the contract was required before any work was to begin or continue. Period.
This also hints that there was either no consultation conducted or it was a sloppy, not very thorough one. Otherwise, you could have established all the specifications about how the work and decisions were going to be made, who the ONE contact person was that you would be dealing with, etc., and avoided all their internal drama. There is no reason you needed to be part of that.
“Finally, the week of September 21, the majority of the folks from Europe came to town. I had a few meetings and eventually received the contract. The rate was correct, but the terms and conditions were way out of line. I wasn’t about to agree to a six-month non-compete and 90-day payment terms. It just didn’t make sense for the scope of my work! So I redlined the contract and sent it back.”
So let me get this straight, you let them write your contract for you? Ridiculous!
You’re the business owner; your contract is YOUR job. You don’t abdicate that responsibility to clients. Your business requires YOU to set the terms. Clients have only to agree and sign or suggest changes. Or you don’t do business together, simple as that.
Instead, you let the client treat you as if they were your employer and it was their role to call the shots here. WRONG. And stupid. NOTHING should have moved forward until the terms were finalized and YOUR contract signed by the client.
“At this point, I was told that I was only hired for the month of September and not October. They hired an office manager and I was to give her a download on everything I had set up, which I did without complaint. I was now a week out of the job and still hadn’t received payment. When I followed up, I was told there was an issue with my invoice and that the company wanted a work log. I had never been asked to submit my hourly tasks and my rate was a day rate. Furthermore, I had clearly stated overtime fee after an 8-hour day.”
This person clearly doesn’t understand that she is not an employee. She uses employment terminology, lets the client operate as if they were her employer and isn’t understanding how she herself is allowing the lines of employment and business to be blurred.
You aren’t “hired” by clients, you are “engaged” by them. And you don’t get “overtime” as a business owner. Overtime is something employees are entitled to, not business owners.
Instead, business owners stipulate IN THE TERMS OF THEIR BUSINESS CONTRACT BETWEEN THEMSELVES AND THE CLIENT when late, rush or after-hours fees and charges will be incurred.
If you don’t want to be in business for yourself, and you are working with a client as if you are an employee, then you ARE an employee, and they legally need to be putting you on payroll and adhering to employment laws.
On the other hand, if you do want to be in business (which you are, automatically, if you work for yourself at any time), then you have to run your business like a business. There just isn’t any way around this.
But here again, this is yet another freelancer who doesn’t understand that they are a business owner and is letting a client operate with the mentality that they are some kind of employer and dictating things to her, which they have absolutely no legal right to do. She abdicated her own business responsibilities and now that she’s having problems with them is her own damn fault.
I know YOU are going to be smarter in your business, right?
PS: If you want to save yourself these problems and learn how to conduct business properly, be sure to also read my article How to Avoid Getting Stiffed on Payment
I have no clue why this article on Target Canada’s last days piqued my interest, but it is an interesting read.
Who knew that a company as big, established and successful as Target could do anything but succeed. And yet, fail it did — big time — for the dumbest and most avoidable of reasons: rushing the process.
One thing that is underscored for me, as any of my clients would tell you, I’m a stickler for detail, for doing things the right way, for dotting i’s and crossing t’s. Because it matters, even if the correlations and implications aren’t readily apparent.
My motto is “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” It’s a discipline that serves well in every situation.
Sloppiness, laziness and inattention cost you, somewhere, somehow, at some point down the line. It’s what leads to cutting corners, shoddy work and service, and taking shortcuts with standards, values, integrity and ethics.
It’s fascinating to me that someone has to pointedly tell this generation that accuracy is important:
Of course it’s important! Why would you enter any old thing; someone is paying you to NOT do a job right?
If it weren’t important, you wouldn’t need to be doing the work in the first place. Someone needs to tell you that?
By the same token, the leaders did not provide the time or environment that would allow those they hired to be accurate.
Rush work is always sloppy work. And part of doing things well, of creating the environment that allows you to do your best work for clients, is building in proper lead time so you have the breathing room to be thorough and accurate, to think critically and creatively, and not be rushed, stressed and sweated.
It’s what facilitates strong foundations and proper infrastructure. You set it as a standard in your practice, institute policies and protocols for work and communication accordingly, and then educate and inform your clients about how things work in your practice (thereby setting and managing expectations for a successful relationship).
It’s a standard I have for my life and the work I do, and a model I hope to help clients achieve in their life and business as well.
I have a very relaxed pace in my business. It can definitely get fast-moving at moments, but not in a stressed or rushed kind of way. Clients don’t sweat me, they don’t rush me, they don’t try to tell me how things work in my business. And that’s because I don’t allow it.
HOW I do that, what standards, policies, protocols and expectations I set up that allow me to do great work is what I share in my Power Productivity & Biz Management guide for those in the administrative support business.
If you are someone who is struggling with being rushed all the time, has clients frequently telling you how things work in your business, who feels the pinch and stress of responding to everyone’s requests, demands and inquiries instantly and finds yourself making regrettable, avoidable mistakes because you’re allowing external forces set the pace in your business, be sure and check it out.
My guide will help you avoid burnout and overwhelm by instilling policies and practices that give you plenty of breathing room so you can do your best work for clients while working at a humane and humanly sustainable pace with lots of time leftover for your life. Instituting these steps and measures will ensure you love your business, clients and work for years to come!
Came across this article about how Sweden shortened their workday to six hours.
Germany is similar, with basically a 7-hour workday.
All of Europe really has a much more humanistic approach when it comes to work.
Many businesses are closed on Sundays. Many will close for several weeks during the holiday season. And they take longer lunches with time to actually eat slowly, enjoy their meal, and recharge.
The U.S. has a lot to learn from them because for all the time off people have over there, they are more productive, healthy and well-adjusted.
In my business, there are naturally some days here and there where I am nose-to-grindstone all day doing client work. And I enjoy those occasional balls-to-wall challenges.
But those are the exception, not the rule.
It wouldn’t be humanly sustainable for very long otherwise, and the service and quality of my work to clients would suffer as a result.
That’s why, in my business, I generally have a four to five hour workday.
It’s like that for several reasons.
First, I don’t operate an “assistant” business model. That means I don’t work with clients like a day-to-day assistant (like in the employment world).
I don’t take on work that inherently requires me to be chained to my computer all day, every day, or that can only be done within certain client-imposed hours.
And I don’t provide instant/same-day turn-around on client work requests. I only take on work that can be scheduled within my work management system.
If it’s work that can’t be done within a three-day window, then it’s not work I take on, and the client has to either do it themselves or plan ahead better and provide more lead time in the future.
That’s because it’s a standard in my life to operate my business around my life, not the other way around.
I firmly believe that your business should support your life, not suck the life from you.
And it’s important to me that my work and business be structured in a way that gives me plenty of breathing room so I can do great work and take fantastic care of clients while also having time and space to take care of me.
(Remember, ultimately, taking care of you is taking care of clients. Someone who is overworked, stressed and unhappy is no good to anyone.)
It’s also why I don’t do what I call “wipe your ass” work such as making appointments, answering phones or managing anyone’s day-to-day calendar or inbox.
Never have and never will and my business and income haven’t suffered one bit (in fact, I make more money and command higher fees because of it).
That kind of work is what “assistants” do, and as an Administrative Consultant, I’m not an assistant. Clients need to manage their own calendars, inboxes and personal appointments.
When you take on that kind of work (answering phones, managing client calendars and inboxes), you put yourself into on-demand/same-day timing because that’s what so much of that work entails. When you do that, you end up creating a business that has you working like an employee and requires you be attached at the hip to your computer and email every single day.
Leaving you very little of the freedom and flexibility you went into business to have.
Don’t buy into the BS that you have to be anyone’s personal assistant to also provide admin support and be of value. They aren’t the same thing and are not inextricably entwined.
Those people who think that have only ever known how to work with clients like an employee and don’t know how to think more entrepreneurially about themselves and how they offer their service.
The more you know your target market and their business/profession, the better you can identify and focus on the more important and actual administrative work that moves their business forward, helps them accomplish their goals, and creates real, tangible results.
Beyond that, I let clients do their own ass-wiping. 😉
If they need someone to work like an employee/assistant to them each and every day, then that’s who they need to hire, not me. Those aren’t the clients I work with.
Because I’m not in the assistant business. I’m in the administrative support business. Two completely different things. 😉
If you’d like to finetune your own administrative support business and work with clients in a way that gives you more freedom and flexibility in your life—which, I might add, also allows you to be more productive and take far better care of them in the process—I share my exact business model and management systems and how to implement them in my guide, Power Productivity & Business Management for Administrative Consultants (GDE-41). Check it out.
It’s true to a certain extent: you may lose some prospects by not getting back to them right away. At the same time, you’d never get any work done if you answered every call the second the phone rang. It can be crazy-making to even try.
As with most things, instituting smart policies and procedures in your business will help you improve your response times and communications. and by informing prospective clients and site visitors upfront so they know what to expect and asking for their understanding, they are going to be more inclined to be patient.
So, here are a few tips for doing just that:
- Establish communication policies. Set a standard for responding to inquiries (e.g., “within 24-48 hours”). Decide which inquiries get priority attention (e.g., clients or prospective clients).
- Post your office hours and response protocols. Tell folks, on your website and in your voicemails, what days and times your office is “open” and how soon they may expect your return email or call.
- Require clients to follow certain procedures. While it might seem like letting clients call you for anything and everything at any time is great service, doing so will actually create conditions in your business that lead to poor performance and reduced quality of service. To be successful, you need to have some boundaries in place that that let you manage work and communications well in your business. Don’t be afraid to tell clients how work requests must be submitted (e.g., you might require that they be submitted by email only) or that phone calls/meeting are done only by appointment.
- Get a receptionist. If you worry that a happy, informative Voicemail message isn’t enough, but still need uninterrupted concentration time to get work done, hire an answering service.
- Map out a process for qualifying inquiries. There are lots of ways your website can do this work for you so you can reduce the time you spend on unnecessary calls and emails. You can design your website so that visitors are guided toward one action (e.g., submitting a form to schedule a consultation). If you prefer one method of contact over another, emphasize that method and make it the most visible and prominent. Another way to pre-qualify clients is to have them complete an online form that will help you determine if someone meets your minimum criteria for an ideal client and what your next steps should be with that person. In your Voicemail message, ask callers to be sure and visit your website (if they haven’t yet) and give them the url.
Remember, in order to give great service you have to set foundations (policies, standards, protocols, workflows) in your business that enable you to do that consistently and sustainably.
(Originally published August 2, 2010.)