Whether you provide web-design or top-notch consulting services to other business owners, running a small business can often feel like you are battling a mini-Armageddon.
The combination of overwhelm, overwork, and constant administration of your business takes its toll
It will leave you ragged, threadbare, and ready to pack it all in.
You want to be the super-hero that you think you are. We all want to be superheroes in our field of expertise and in our quest to help other entrepreneurs.
So what actually happens when we realise that we are behind on follow-up calls, suddenly find ourselves chasing unpaid invoices and missing deadlines? We have dropped the ball, are losing the game, and missing out on valuable down time.
Downtime that should be spent re-energizing you and providing much-needed “working-on-the-business” dedication. Instead, it is being swamped with constant fire-fighting and playing catch-up!
So where did it all go pear-shaped?
- Not having systems and processes in place for a start
- Not having the help you need
- Not outsourcing to progress your business
- Letting your clients, suppliers, and peers dictate how you spend your professional time in your business.
How do your clients disrespect you?
They do this by:
- Not providing adequate SOPs, needs analysis, or schemes of work
- Not communicating with you in a timely and respectful manner
- Not acknowledging your professionalism
- Demanding your time on their timetable, forcing you to be either on-call or available out of hours
- Not respecting pre-arranged meetings and calls
- Changing the goal posts, forcing you to change direction like a scared rabbit
- Constantly adding to the original brief, and expecting it to be included in the original
- Not respecting agreed milestones and deadlines
- Not being available to allow you to complete your work to spec
- Not providing their agreed work to allow the project move forward
- And on, and on, and on
So it’s them, right? It’s not you!
Well no! It’s you, not them. It’s up to you as a professional, and a business owner to set expectations, demand respect, and hold contracts to their wording. After all, that’s what contracts are for, right? They protect you and your staff/associates, and your client. They also ensure that projects are delivered on time and within budget.
How can you ensure you are treated with the professionalism and respect you deserve?
#1 Don’t use the word freelance
Freelancers are generally people who are self-employed and are not necessarily committed to a particular employer long-term. Freelancers are basically viewed as contractors. There can be a perception of employment, so immediately your potential client thinks of you as a cheap employee (because they won’t have the added costs of hiring an employee.)
They use language like “Curriculum Vitae”, “member of staff”, and “sending out application forms” and “contracts” for you to review.
As a business owner, you should provide a Profile or Bio, or direct your client to your website to view services, testimonials, previous projects or works. You provide your OWN contract to be reviewed by your client (not your boss!!)
#2 Charge your worth
Do your research. Find out what other service providers in your industry are charging, how they are charging, and when they are being paid. Take into account your experience, investment into education and certification, not to mention all the hidden costs.
Costs that transfer to you as a business owner (here are 25 you may or may not have thought of.)
#3 Choose the right clients
The right client may not know exactly their needs for a particular piece of work, or project. It’s your job to help them learn how their pain will be relieved. If you cannot provide this, then they are not a “good fit” client.
Be kind and refer them to another business owner who can provide the pain relief.
The right client will NOT try and get you to drop your rates/fees because you have already shown them the value of hiring your services.
The right client will not ask for discounts but will be open to discussion on added value if they are providing large contracts.
#4 Bill / Invoice in advance
What? Pay before the work is done? Well yes, and no! Many service providers will have to complete certain work before they can present something to their client.
Design, for example. A logo, piece of copy, or website design will have had many creative hours dedicated to it before you present your first draft to your client.
Scheduling social media posts as a VA, for example. The posts are researched, created, uploaded, and scheduled ever before they go live. That’s all the work done up front. It fits to have that work paid upfront, and not two months later when the last post goes live.
That work/time is included in the overall price, but if not paid up front, becomes essentially “overdue.”
This will have a detrimental effect on your cash-flow. Not a good position for your small business, is it?
Other products are made before they are sold (an eCourse for example.) If one client doesn’t pay for it, it can be sold to another client. However, much creative work cannot just be sold to someone else, so if you don’t get paid by the client who contracts the work, you need to spend valuable time chasing that payment.
Which brings me to the next point:
#5 Don’t chase pavements, I mean payments
Be very clear with your terms of work and terms of payment. Have in place how to deal with late payers, and try to avoid it in the first place by screening your clients as best you can.
Clearly state in your contract, and on each invoice, credit terms, terms for late payment (penalties) and what will happen (work will cease until all arrears are cleared etc.)
Get paid on time, because you deserve it! More importantly, because you need a healthy cash-flow.
#6 Research your ideal client
As you work IN your business, you’ll notice patterns of client-types. When you are working ON your business, build a strategy to attract the type of ideal client for your business.
Make the intention to work with the type of business owners or managers that resonate with you, and share similar professional values (and even personal values.)
#7 Communicate with your clients
Knowing when to pick up the phone instead of sending your client yet another email will provide the opportunity to diffuse a heated or awkward situation. Being “available” in an open and honest manner will provide security for your client, and encourage them to communicate effectively
#8 Know when to fire a client
I know it sounds like it should be the other way round, but sometimes it’s up to you, the provider, to realise when a relationship has turned sour or gone bad.
We talk a lot about firing clients as VAs, simply because we can foresee when a client is having issues with the relationship. In our case, it can be observing a client sliding into micro-management or becoming overly demanding, and refusing to “back-track.”
They probably were micro-managers to begin with but liked the idea of having a completely virtual and independent partner onboard. Rather than waiting to be fired (or worse, not get paid), take the initiative to communicate in a professional and constructive manner, that the relationship needs to end.
#9 Business is Business
It’s too tempting and too easy for many service providers (especially VAs) to develop a friendly and supportive relationship with our clients. Personally, I think it’s due to our need to please and serve our clients well.
I have seen VAs afraid to chase down invoices, afraid to have a difficult conversation with their client, and slow to deal with certain issues before they get out of hand.
This is for many reasons, but often it is because they don’t want to upset their client, or risk being “fired”.
Well, the good news is, a contract is a professional piece of copy. A client expects a professional service, and to be treated professionally. If you cannot have those difficult conversations with your client, you are seeing them in the professional light they also deserve?
YOU are doing them an injustice, and being unprofessional!
They may be the husband of an old friend from work or school, but they are also professionals, and will except to be treated as such. If they treat you like their bestie, then you will run into problems as mentioned in #2 and #3 above.
Business is business baby! I have done great work for one of my very good friends, and we managed the professional relationship differently to our personal relationship. It IS doable. You just need to set boundaries.
#10 Set clear boundaries for you and your business
This is for your own protection and will demand respect from your clients and lots of appreciation from your friends and family. Be very clear in your mind when interruptions are not acceptable. Communicate this to your clients (in your contract or welcome pack.)
Also, be clear on your working hours and availability to your clients. If you need flexibility in your work/life integration, this may allow you to work in the evenings or over the weekend, and for that to be OK. But it must be OK on your terms.
Answering an URGENT call at 10 pm on a Friday night may be OK for you. Be aware this could progress to regular “URGENT” calls from that client.
As they push the boundaries, you need to gently push back and keep them in place.
Protect your small business
If you want to manage your small business in a professional manner, ditch the word freelance and decide on your boundaries. Have processes in place to deal with the issues discussed in this post. Know your worth and communicate with your clients.No one is a mind reader (unless you are a mind reader.) Assumptions and presumptions will get you into trouble.
No one is a mind reader (unless you are a mind reader.) Assumptions and presumptions will get you into trouble. Leaving direction to your client will get you into hot water. Cool it down and take charge of your side. Enjoy the process and remember being a small business owner should be fun, not frantic.
If you do have services and tasks you would like to outsource, but not sure exactly which ones, have a look at my Services page and see if there is something I can help you with today.