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The rule of thumb I run my business by

I wrote yesterday about your screw up not being your client’s fault.

I told you about my screw up and what I did to make it better for the client.

But I didn’t tell you my guiding principle to running my business did I?

How do I think you should treat clients at every interaction?

How do I decide to treat my contractors with every interaction?

Everything is awesome

I do my best at every point to interact with others through my business and make them feel awesome.

I want them to be blown away with my generosity in gifts.

I want any contractors I hire to tell me they’ve never been paid that fast.

When my client paid an invoice they were not expecting and hadn’t agreed was needed I wanted them to say “wow he empowered us to have the payment discussion on a level playing field, I didn’t expect that”.

All you’ve got is your reputation so make sure it’s one where people think you are awesome

photo credit: gerrysnaps cc


Your screw up isn’t your client’s fault

It’s Thanksgiving Day in Canada and I screwed up.

Last week sometime I emailed a client about a project that had some extra technical issues. They had a bunch of plugins that were simply broken.

There were errors that prevented me from working.

They had a whole day of downtime with their host last week, which cost me a whole day of work.

So I said we’d need an extra week to take care of the project and that’s going to cost extra.

My client emailed

When my client emailed the response they indicated that they expected an invoice for another $1500 and that was it. Not a full week invoice.

It’s a long weekend.

I usually make a 1/2 week 3 days if it needs to be.

So I didn’t really question the client on the $1500.

Then I sent an invoice last week.

Oh that invoice

Now it’s Monday and I’m spending a few hours catching things up before I make a Cinderella cake for my girl that turns 4 tomorrow.

It turns out I didn’t really check my records properly and that $1500 my client said they expected wasn’t part of the original contract.

We didn’t really talk about the extra it would take either.

That means I basically sent them an extra $1500 invoice for something that I shouldn’t have, yet because I didn’t have them on board and agreeing with the costs.

They called me on it.

What to do?

When this comes up you have a few ways to go:

You could get righteous and keep the money because it’s taking longer. But then the client is going to probably feel like you stole from them.

You could get humble and explain about why you feel you still should get that money paid. But you never really agreed on it in the first place, so it’s likely the client is still going to feel like you stole from them.

You could say their right, and refund the money and then have a talk about it so you can agree on how to handle the extra time and cost.

High road

If you’ve been reading my site for a while, you know I picked the high road. I instantly refunded the money so that we can have the discussion without them feeling like I have something they own in my possession without the right to that item.

I admit that I didn’t want to, but as soon as I did a weight lifted off my shoulders and that ‘problem’ I read about yesterday isn’t really a problem today.

You can’t refund

I know that some of you out there simply couldn’t refund the money. You’d truly be in a position where you needed every penny and that money would already feel like it’s yours.

Your client doesn’t care if you’re in that position. You not budgeting and saving and overspending isn’t really their problem.

So stop whining and choose the high road.

You’re going to get lots more respect from your client and you’re going to build your character.

photo credit: kwl cc


Don’t say it’s easy, you have no idea yet if it is easy

It’s so easy when your on the phone with a client or in a meeting to tell them that a certain feature is ‘easy’ or as the tweet below says “straight forward”.

Edwin has it right, saying something is easy is often a way of saying I really haven’t thought about it yet.

Limit Comments by Team

Last year I had a project come my way where we needed to limit comments made on a custom post type so that they were visible to only users of the same ‘team’.

When the request came through to me there was some line like:

I don’t know how to do it, but it doesn’t sound too hard to me.

Now of course that’s often a flag on a project, though I’ve worked with this designer a bunch adding features to their work so I let the flag go. I know they are awesome.

Really this designer doesn’t even have a proper framework to evaluate the complexity of the project. Which means I asked all these questions:

  • but do Editors (or other roles) have access regardless of teams?
  • do Admins see all comments regardless of the teams?
  • do all users see admin comments, even if they have replied to someone from another team?
  • are we going to show comment counts for the team, or for the whole post?
  • how are we dealing with comment visibility in the WordPress admin area?

Depending on those answers, it may not be very straight forward.

You want to sound awesome

When you’re on that call or in that meeting with the client and you want to tell them that something is easy stop don’t say it.

You’ve had 5 seconds to think about it, not 15 minutes to probe the problem.

I only came up with my questions after checking out the WordPress source for a few minutes to see how comments were written so I could start to work the code out in my head.

You simply don’t have that time when you’re in a meeting.

Then you’ve said it’s ‘easy’ and the client expects a price for ‘easy’. If it’s not actually easy you’re then stuck with your price anchored at ‘easy’.

That may mean the project won’t happen because the cost is suddenly to much for an ‘easy’ bit of work.

Back to the teams

With my project above all the answers came back in the easiest way possible so the project was really straight forward. Add about 30 lines of code and push it out for testing.

One day of work and it’s all tidy.

But I wouldn’t have known that without taking the time to actually start working out the solution in my head.

Next time you want to say “it’s easy”, stop and tell the client you need to look more at the problem and get back to them about it.

Then take that 15 minutes and start to work out the solution in your head and ask your client the questions that will come up as you look at the problems.

It’s often not as “easy” as you thought and then you don’t look as awesome as you’d hoped.

photo credit: azrasta cc

Art of Value is 1000% worth your time

You ever find a great new resource that blows your mind with every piece of content you get?

You know one that makes you really think about how you’re running your business.

How your pricing your projects.

The weight you put towards project management as the thing that really makes a project awesome.

It’s all about value

I’ve talked about Kirk before and what I still think is one of the best episodes of the Freelancer’s Show where he gave us a mind blowing lesson on value based pricing.

Did you know that he now has a podcast called Art of Value and you guessed it, it’s all about how to do value with your projects.

The only problem I have so far with the podcast is that I listen to them while riding my bike which means I can’t take notes.

So I have to listen to them twice.

Art of Value has a new permanent place in my list of podcasts you should be listening to.

I’ll do a full podcast update list in January with all the changes I’ve made recently.

I also am on the episode that goes live today (I swear it wasn’t planned that way on my part). I talk a bunch about how by serving your client you can go further.

Hope is not a Strategy

Kirk has also been kind enough to say yes to joining me for my course that went on sale yesterday called: Hope is not a Strategy: Plan your next business year. He’s going to talk all about value for us via a webinar.

Throw Hope out the window – Start 2015 with a plan

Today I’m excited to offer you the opportunity to work with me personally to ensure you start your 2015 off right. Last week I talked about the three areas you’ve got to get right when you’re starting your business. These are also the three areas MOST freelancers or small teams get it wrong.

  1. You’re stuck trading dollars for hours and can’t figure out how to scale to charging what you’re worth.
  2. Your clients are left wondering about the details of your process, and because of that, get in the way during your proejct.
  3. You don’t know who your ideal client is in the first place, so you’re left trying to just get the next paying gig instead of strategically pursuing partnerships with your dream client.

In my new course, Hope is not a strategy, I will help you stop making mistakes in each of these areas and finally move your business forward. You’ll get my new e-book, and also access to six video interviews with experts in each of the areas above.

I’ll talk with:

  1. Kirk Bowman of Art of Value about how to find and show value to your clients, allowing you to double or triple your current rates
  2. Angie Meeker about how you market to your target audience properly
  3. Travis Northcutt and I will do a live workshop on his client on boarding process for Bright Agency so we can improve yours

The other three webinars will be with me personally, working on YOUR questions on value, client vetting, and marketing.

Registration is limited so I can give individual attention to each person who registers – I want you to be wildly successful in 2015. Get your space now for: Hope is not a Strategy.


Vetting clients with your first email

We all get a lot of email don’t we, it’s hard to keep up with.

It’s hard to keep up with the new client requests if you’re doing your marketing right unless you take some steps to automate it.

I have most of the emails I send to clients automated in templates because it lets me send more emails to potential clients. I happen to love TextExpander but you can use Gmail canned responses or just copy/paste from a text file.

The key to the first interaction is getting some control over the situation with the potential client. Most clients send that first email to you figuring that they have the money so they have the ‘power’ in the relationship.

They figure you should be begging them to get the work.

Even when you’re starting and that may actually be the case, you’re only in for a big old world of hurt dealing with a client on those terms.

Don’t opt in for that bag of hurt

Your first email should follow this basic formula:

Section 1: Thanks but…

Thank them by name for reaching out to you on a project and tell them it sounds interesting. Before you get on the phone or take any other steps you need to figure out if you’re good fit (because you may not be) or if you know someone that may be a better fit.

Section 2: I’ve got some questions

This is where we can get in to a bit of technical detail if needed.

Maybe you need to know what payment gateways they need or if they have information on their demographics.

For one client who wanted a business listing site I asked why they felt it was a profitable business idea when we have so many listing sites around that could be used. You don’t want to work with a client that starts with a bad business idea since that won’t bring you a long term relationship.

Ask who (internal users or external users) have asked for the feature or site redesign. Knowing that the CEO tasked someone with the job means that the CEO is invested and that you may need to talk to them to land the job. If you can convince the CEO of your value then the budget can easily increase as they decide that other things aren’t as important.

Ask what other things are on the table that need to get done. You may find that really some other thing provides more value to your customer but they just don’t realize it.

The 2 key question that I always end with are:

  • What your expected timeline for completion
  • What is the budget you have allotted to the project?

Budgets can be a hard question, but I’m happy to work with ranges. If they say that they have between 10 – 15k then I have an approximate budget already for the project.

If they say they have no idea then I tell them that my project minimum is $10k and does that sound like it fits within their budget. Of course if my initial read on the project looks like it’s at least $20k then I tell them that I think we need to start with the assumption that $20k will get us the basics and nothing more.

Are you going to weed out clients right away with an email? Of course you are and you want to do that.

If they don’t have the budget you feel they need, then why on earth are you going to waste time on the phone with them?

Section 3: Here’s why I asked the questions

Our third section pushes the thought that you may not be a good fit for the client further. In fact out of the 5 reasons you give for asking the questions above only one of them is a ‘yes’ reason. Yes being that you might work with in fact work with the client.

All 4 of the others are basically ‘no’ reasons. No we’re not a good fit and you will not be taking their project on.

The no may be because of time, or budgets, or maybe the project just isn’t inside your particular area of specialization. Doesn’t matter what it is, you’re preparing the potential client to hear ‘no’ from you.

But no??

Yeah I hear you, so far the email you’re sending is heavily weighted to telling the client you aren’t going to work with them.

Guess what, most of them will feel like they’re loosing something right away and then you are on a more even playing field. The client is then courting you and your seeing if they’re a good fit with you.

In economics and decision theory, loss aversion refers to people’s tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. Some studies suggest that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains. [1]

It becomes less about them giving you money and more about being partners together on a job.

When do you send this email?

You should send this email (or a very close copy of it) to every contact unless they are clearly well out of the budget you want to work with or they hit one of your other red flags.

I’ve often been surprised by a client whose site looks like it could never afford fees near mine only to have them come back and say that they have around $40k for web development this year and a list of the other things that they want to get done in later phases.

If you liked this content then you really should check out the course I’m launching tomorrow. You can still get on the email list today to get first access and a discount before the course opens to the general public tomorrow.

photo credit: karwik cc


When I DO take that client call

Last week I wrote a post about how I don’t take cold calls from clients. In the comments, Carla said that she just doesn’t interact with clients on the phone much at all.

I hear that since getting on the phone requires a schedule which doesn’t always interact well with real life.

I often means a bunch of emails back and forth to organize the time that works for both of you.

Then you have to prep for the call.

But you can miss so much

I recently got a very detailed technical brief from a client. Good enough that I could have developed an estimate on it with only a few items to clarify via email.

But part of my client on boarding process is that I don’t start on a project without at least one phone call.

So I booked the call with the client.

We covered some of the technical stuff during our call, but almost immediately the client started talking about their frustration with the WordPress admin area.

They had a big list of things that they found frustrating, all of which were easily solvable, none of which were mentioned on the brief I was given.

I added fixing all those frustrations to an estimate for the client, and charged well in accordance with their frustration.

They took my pricing option that keyed in on fixing their frustrations. That’s the one that had about 30% extra profit in it for me.

I would have missed that 30% if I hadn’t got on the phone with the client.

Streamlining setup

I was tired of all those emails back and forth as well, so I set up a Calendly and set out the times I want to take meetings with clients.

Now I just send them a link to the proper meeting times and they book out the times that work for them.

I even include a form with a required field that asks for their Skype name or phone number. They can’t book a meeting without giving me that information.

Once they book, I get an email and it shows up on my calendar with no interaction from me at all after sending the initial link.

Take away

So start by streaming all your meeting times (seriously you probably spend 15 minutes to book a meeting via email and a month of Calendly is less than 15 minutes of your time).

Then make sure you get on the phone and have a proper value conversation with your client.

Don’t know how to have a value conversation with a client? Not sure what questions to ask? I’m launching a course on October 15th 2014 that’s going to cover value based pricing and value based conversations with clients. If you’re on the email list you’ll get first access to the limited packages (which include consulting with me) on October 14th.

If you want early access, subscribe to the email list.

photo credit: simondee cc

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Curtis McHale

Freelance Business and Productivity