Losing Money with Honesty (it’s a trick)

On a recent client project we had booked in a bunch of work to add ‘reordering’ to WooCommerce.

Some of you are thinking:

Hey there is already a function for that, so why would I charge a client for that work?

Well I had looked at this before and either hadn’t found the code or it didn’t exist. Either way I saved a bunch of project time and thus project expense.

In that scenario you have 2 options:

  1. Make the extra money and don’t sweat it
  2. Tell the client and remove a week from the project

Make extra $$$

Usually being more efficient would mean that you make more money right? Your client already felt that it was worth your quote to do the work and that really doesn’t change if it’s suddenly easier.

That work still has the same amount of value so is still ‘worth it’.

Tell them – the honesty card

Your second option is to tell them that the function already exists and don’t charge them to build it.

You lose out on the money and can deliver the project faster than originally anticipated.

Choose your adventure

So which do you choose?

Do you take the extra money because the client has already agreed that there is value?

Do you tell them and deliver faster and lose out on the dollars?

I tell them and lose out on the dollars because I feel not doing so compromises my integrity.

Your business trades on your integrity and reputation. Assuming the rest of the project continues to go awesome, do you really think that client is going to talk to anyone else about further work?

If they found out you charged them for ‘built in’ features do you think they’d ever talk to you again?

Given a choice, I’m going to choose truth and playing the long game. Losing a bit of money today doesn’t matter when you look at the lifetime relationship of a client.

photo credit: chiky cc

Clients treat you poorly because of your boundaries

Boundaries are a fairly simple thing really. They mark out where our property begins and someone else’s property ends.

We have personal space boundaries that are allowably encroached by loved ones and strongly enforced with those we don’t know.

We should also be setting strong boundaries with clients. Not only in when they can communicate with us (no evening weekend calls for things that aren’t emergencies) but how they can communicate with us.

The fact that your clients treat you like crap is your fault. It may be that you didn’t vet them properly (which is a topic for a different post) or maybe your simply not setting your boundaries properly.

OH profanity

We all know that clients can over react to things that happen to their site. They get some email from their host that really isn’t a big deal, but they don’t understand half the words in it and get scared.

Then they email you concerened and you calm them down.

This is all an expected part of the job.

I had one client who did all of that, but the email was just a bit different.

It included copious amounts of swearing and had some things directed at me.

Now if we’re working together and you hit your thumb with a hammer profanity is something that I’d sort of expect to hear. I’m likely to even use some if it happens to me.

I don’t expect or tolerate it from clients though.

At all.

So my reply went something like:

Hey $client, I got your email but I don’t tolerate swearing like that in any communications to me. I’m not dealing with anything in the email (actually I only read the first 2 sentences) until you can resend it without all the swearing.
In the future I’m going to delete and not reply to any email that contains swearing like that. I simply don’t tolerate swearing in my business communications and won’t work with anyone that sends them.

No longer did I get profanity laced emails (really I had only got one) and we continued to communicate properly for another year as we worked on projects together.

Double Hangup

I once had a client that had a bit of a temper problem. When things didn’t go quite their way they started yelling.

I found this out when they wanted to use a cheap shared host for their online store. This cheap host simply wasn’t PCI (security stuff) compliant and we couldn’t use it.

That meant we had to jump up to $20/month in hosting which really isn’t very expensive at all.

Well the client started yelling at me about nickle and diming him and that I should just make his server work. He wasn’t going to sign my form saying that he understood he wasn’t security compliant and it’s not my fault.

So I hung up.

The client called me back saying we must have been cut off and then started yelling.

So I hung up again.

When he called back I finally got a word in which went something like:

Hey, I don’t care if you yell at your employees, but if you yell at me again you can find someone else to work with. I don’t stand for that type of treatment and you’re an adult who should know better. The only one that gets to yell at me and I continue to interact with is my kid.

I set my boundary firmly. My client decided that they did know how to have a reasonable discussion and funny enough they even wanted to work with me again, though I seem to always be busy.

You’re treated like crap because…

If your clients treat you like crap it’s your fault in not setting boundaries. Sure maybe you had a tough home life and when you said NO to anything your parents acted like children.

Maybe they withdrew their love from you with snide remarks.

So get some help to deal with it (Cory miller is so awesome and honest about his counselling endeavours). My wife and I go see a counselor when we struggle with things together.

Maybe getting to talking to a professional is a step that is way too big, so start with reading a great book I just finished called Boundaries which is all about setting boundaries in your relationships.

Start setting your boundaries with people that you love and love you, and know that you’re working on boundaries.

Then put a stop to your clients behavior. Take responsibility for continuing to let it happen.

Yes, you’re going to loose some clients. You’re going to choose not to work with some clients that won’t respect proper boundaries.

Guess what, you’ll like your job again and love the clients you have.

Because they respect your boundaries.

photo credit: pmiaki cc

Are you asking yourself these 3 questions before you write an estimate?

To get work you need to send out estimates. Good ones should take a fair bit of time to get right.

How do you structure your estimates though?

How do you make them something that ‘sells’ the clients on your services?

How do you make sure that you’ve covered the real needs of the clients, beyond the technical requirements.

Three questions to a winning estimate

In To Sell is Human, Daniel Pink gives us 3 questions to ask ourselves as we construct out ‘pitch’.

  1. What do you want them to know?
  2. What do you want them to feel?
  3. What do you want them to do?

Generic answers are:

  1. That I can do the job.
  2. Confident in my abilities.
  3. Use my services.

Stop there if you want, but I wouldn’t recommend it. For a recent client I came up with these 3 answers before I wrote my estimate.

  1. I want $client_name to know that I can help them build an effective platform for their membership site so they can gain more members and sell their products/services effectively.
  2. I want $client_name to feel that I’m a partner in their business and that I’m not just ‘selling’ them. They should feel that I have added value to their business by simply providing an estimate for my services.
  3. I want them to enter in to partnership with and make more money with less work.

How about taking it a step further and removing yourself from the question. Putting the needs of your client first will help you write more effective estimates as you take on their perspective and empathize with it.

  1. $client_name should know that whomever they choose has the best interests at heart and will help further their business.
  2. $client_name should feel that their service provider is a partner in their business.
  3. $client_name should purchase the services of the freelancer/agency that serves them best.

Before each estimate

Before each estimate make sure you ask yourself these 3 questions. Having answers specific to each client will help you take their point of view.

Taking their point of view is going to help you write more effective estimates since you’ll think about their objections and write your estimate in a way that addresses them out of the gate.

photo credit: riddlexxii cc

No I haven’t built ‘exactly’ your solution before, sort of

If you haven’t heard it yet you’re going to hear it:

We like you and are impressed with your portfolio, but we don’t see something exactly like what we want to do so we want to talk more about it.

You know that you’re right. I haven’t built exactly your system before.

And it doesn’t matter, here’s why.

No one is your business

The first reason that you’ve never built the ‘exact’ thing before is that no one has the exact business as your client.

No one has their internal team with the same sales process.

No other business has their exact clients expressing the same problems with the site/tools that exist.

So of course you haven’t built the exact thing that you need, no one is your exact business with the exact needs you have.

Good web developers and designers don’t just dust off ‘generic solution A’ and change the names of the clients to match.

They sit down and figure out what the real business problems are. They build out solutions tailored to those problems.

I build ‘hard’ things

When it comes to my specific work, I build hard things. Things that 3 other developers have turned down already.

My clients have often talked to 3 other developers that could do part of the work, then that final requirement is something they simply can’t cover at all.

So clients get sent to me.

That means it’s likely few other developers have built the exact same thing before.

That means I probably haven’t built the exact same thing either.

But that’s what I do, build custom tools/solutions that don’t exist.

Sure you have it, your client just can’t see it

Finally, you often have built something that is technically similar, your client just can’t see it.

For a recent client project we used Fundify to build out the site. From a technical point of view it had 90% of what we needed.

As my client read the documentation they weren’t convinced that it was the same thing they actually needed.

We went back and forth a few times, then my client decided to just trust me because it was our second project and they knew I did good work.

Guess what, shortly after we started the client ‘got’ how it would work and be almost exactly what we needed.

The problem with some projects is that to understand how a past project you’ve done is similar your client needs to know how WordPress is used for web applications and how it’s internal design patterns work.

Then your client needs to know how a previous solution was built.

Finally they have to make a technical leap in their mind to see how that previous solution fits their scenario.

Your clients wouldn’t be hiring you if they could do all of the above since they could just built it themselves.

My basic letter

Yes, I get this question enough that I have a basic letter that I start my response to a client with. Here it is for you to use.

Hey $client_name, thanks for getting back to me with your concerns.

I’d like to address your concern that I haven’t built ‘exactly’ the same solution you need before. You’re sort of right.

First, no one is your business with your team and your clients and your problems. I didn’t just dust off a solution from another client and put your name on it. We talked about your problems and came up with a solution that suits you.

So your solution isn’t likely to match the solutions I came up with for other clients.

Second, I build hard stuff. My typical project has a decent portion that hasn’t been built before. Most of the work you see in my portfolio I was the 3rd maybe even 4th referral on. 3 or 4 other developers or agencies saw the full spec and realized that they couldn’t do it so the clients came to me after hearing my name 3 or 4 times.

That means it’s unlikely that a portion of the project has been built exactly before which is why it’s mine to build.

Third, notice I said ‘sort of’ at the top. I’ve actually built things that are technically similar a few times. The problem is that for you to see it you’re going to need to understand how WordPress works, how I built my previous projects and then you’re going to need to make a technical leap to see how your problem is technically similar to the other project.

If you know how WordPress was built and could build other similar projects and make a technical leap you wouldn’t need me.

I had a recent project where my client didn’t believe my solution matched with their needs until we were almost 60% finished. Then they didn’t need to make the technical leap anymore since I pushed enough work to show exactly how it matched. They were impressed with how it worked with their needs.

So yeah, I haven’t built ‘exactly’ your solution before, but I can build the exact solution you need.

Why I don’t throw things in, and you shouldn’t either

I know you’re expecting to read about how clients asking you to throw features in devalues your work.

It shows you that they don’t value you and it’s a red flag about working with them, because there is always going to be one more thing that should get ‘thrown in’.

You expect me to tell you that you should stand firm and offer to remove features to add these ones in.

While I don’t disagree with any of those things, you need to step back and think about what it means when a client asks you to throw something in.

It’s about client education

Some clients out there work in industries where they do throw in little things regularly.

They also account for that in their pricing all around. So that little thing that was thrown in actually raises the cost of all the rest of the items on the bill.

Usually they don’t have experience in the web industry and they expect it to work the same.

It doesn’t and we don’t throw things in, especially for first time clients.

You don’t know if they’re ‘awesome’ clients yet.

A music venue

I have worked on the site for a music venue in the US for years. I think they were my first ‘big’ client and they continue to bring in around 10% of my income each year.

They are easy to work with and understand technical issues as they arise.

A while ago they had to let a staff member go and needed to change all the passwords on everything that the staff member had access to.


On Saturday, when I usually would be charging weekend/rush rates.

Because I’ve worked with them for years I stopped everything I was doing and helped them and I didn’t charge rush rates.

I did charge my normal rates, but not rush and they were happy for my help.

They have never expected things ‘thrown’ in, so I really don’t mind going the extra mile for them which is essentially what throwing things in is.

It’s about client value

When a client asks you to throw something in, it reveals how much they value the feature.

It tells you they don’t value the feature at all.

They don’t know how it’s going to make them more money or save them time.

It’s not something that external or internal people have been asking for and is a major pain point.

It’s just a way for them to feel like they got some ‘extra’ out of you.

If it was really something that they valued they wouldn’t ask for it to be thrown in because it’s small. They’d ask if it was included in scope and if not, what would it cost to get it done.

It would be important enough to make sure it was in, even if it cost money.

That feature they want, doesn’t even matter to them outside of a moral victory. It’s entirely useless and a waste of everyone’s time all around.

I don’t

I don’t throw things in for all the reasons you expected at the top.

More importantly, because my client doesn’t even value it and I do things of value.

photo credit: stavos52093 cc

You shouldn’t build ‘neat’ sites

I’ve heard it and you’ve heard it.

Actually, we’ve probably both said it.

Ooooooohhhhh we should do that…it would be a ‘neat’ feature on the site.

Really, I know I’ve said it and so have you.

But it’s totally wrong. You shouldn’t add that ’neat’ feature because your client or you want it.

NEAT is a red flag on a feature

Yup, when I hear a client say a feature would be ‘neat’ to have, it’s a big red flag telling me we should probably never build that feature in to a site.

‘Neat’ is what the CEO who joins the project for one meeting says about something they want to add.

‘Neat’ is something a manager in marketing says for a pet feature.

‘Neat’ is what you say when you want to add something new and cool in the web industry.

‘Neat’ is poison to a good site.

The problem with ‘neat’

Neat is very bad, because there is almost never a reason to add the feature outside of it being neat.

You have no plan to measure it.

Users were not asking for it.

It wasn’t a pain point for your internal sales team.

So you can’t measure how ‘neat’ made you any more money. You can’t measure how it saved you more time and reduced your bottom line.

You can’t even add ‘neat’ to feature list and have a user care about it.

When I added neat

Shortly after I started building sites I got a great contract to build a job site.

We pushed what WordPress could do. We pushed what people were doing on iOS devices with WordPress.

I see features rolled out on WordPress and highlighted as pushing the limits, and I did it years ago.

You’ve never heard of it.

It was going to be the center piece of my portfolio, but it never got there.

It died a ‘neat’ death at my hands. My clients kept coming to me with more ‘neat’ features that really were technically cool, but didn’t get us closer to launch.

All our ‘neat’ features could have been added later after launch, but I never said NO.

NO is one of the best things you can tell your clients, or maybe NOT YET.

So our project died as it languished under just one more ‘neat’ feature.

I still do neat features though

Now I’m not saying you scratch off that neat feature, I’m saying that you table it till you have a better reason to do it, other than it’s ‘neat’.

You do it because you’ve figured out how to measure if it’s a useful feature.

You do it because you have users asking for it and it fits in your mission.

You do it because your sales staff is going to save lots of time by building this new site with it’s great on boarding and landing pages.

When I hear ‘neat’

Now when I hear ‘neat’ I reply with a question:

Why is this a ‘neat’ feature and how are we going to measure if it’s useful for us and our site users?

I ask that question even if I think it would be a great feature and I have already connected the dots for the question.

I ask the question to make sure that my clients have connected the dots about measuring and usefulness.

‘Neat’ is rarely done now

I also almost never roll in a ‘neat’ feature that we have really dug in to for our current phase of work. We can find a myriad of things to do on a project, many of which are awesome.

As we add more features, the longer the project is going to take.

The longer a project takes, the less likely it is ever going to launch.

So once a feature is past ‘neat’ it goes on to our list of future project items. When we launch we look at our list and pull the most important ones out for the next release.

That keeps us focused and releasing features faster for our site users.

That puts us on the path of success.

Now watch yourself and never use the word ‘neat’ talking to a client.

If a client says ‘neat’ challenge them to work through why it would be a good feature. Why is it a better feature than something else? Why is this ‘neat’ feature the most important thing that could be done at this exact moment?

Keep your projects on track and don’t get sidetracked by ‘neat’.

photo credit: pillowhead_designs cc

How much do you follow up with clients?

Client work is what really pays my bills. Not the business book I wrote or the WordPress book, though they add a bit to the bottom line.

Since it’s client work that pays the bills, I need to keep in touch with possible leads and older, awesome clients.

Following up on possible projects

I know a few consultants that only follow up once after they have sent an estimate and contract. They figure that following up more just shows that you’re desperate and that the client can take advantage of you by asking for discounts.

They are wrong, dead wrong.

I follow up with a client about an estimate, until I hear NO or they’ve been dead (not replied) for a few weeks.

At this point I’ve already talked to them, done a bit of project research and invested my time in the process. It simply doesn’t make sense to stop following up with the client if they’re still replying to you.

Of course there are a few clients that I hear from and I find out that they are a bonehead. Of course, I actually tell them that I’m no longer interested so they need to find someone else.

Follow up with long term clients

What about long term clients though?

You know the ones that are awesome and you really enjoyed working with and paid on time?

You don’t just let them disappear on you, do you?

Yeah, I know that most of you do let them disappear, but I don’t.

First off I put them in my email to-do list every 3 months to touch base with. It’s not a ‘do you have any work’ email. I simply ask them how life/work is going.

That usually results in 3 or 4 emails going between. 3 or 4 times a year that also brings in new work that they had been ‘thinking’ about talking to me on for a couple months already.

Yup, they knew where I was and had work they wanted done, but just hadn’t got around to talking to me yet. Last year 15k of work came from 1 email to touch base about life.

So no I don’t just let older awesome clients take off into the ether.

And you shouldn’t either.

Take Away

First, follow up with potential (good) clients until they say no. That’s the worst they can do, not give you the work.

Second, have a list of your awesome clients and make sure you follow up with them every 3 months. Send them an article that could interest them in business. Maybe they like motorcycles and you saw an interesting one that you can send to them to look at.

Build that relationship long term, don’t just let your clients fade away and forget about how awesome you are.

Show them how awesome you are every 3 months.

photo credit: kwl cc

When business is hard – Lean In

Once I was on a group ride and we were racing down a mountain.

Speeds hit between 60km and 70km an hour as we worked to see who was the fastest.

We had a ‘newer’ rider with us as well and as we started to get close to 70km his bike started to wobble.

Then terror gripped his face I pulled along side him as the speed wobble got worse.

I yelled above the wind noise that he needed to lean hard on his front wheel and put his knee against his bike to stop it.

Sure enough, putting more weight on his front wheel and touching his knee against the bike stopped the wobble right away.

He was a bit shaken (your first speed wobble is really scary) and slowed down a bit.

In a wave – Lean In

One of the first things you teach beginning whitewater kayakers is to lean forward into whatever is coming towards you.

That big wave that stands over your head, lean into it and hit it hard.

Leaning back means that the front of your boat is going to go up the wave and then it’s likely when the wave hits your chest you’re going to be flipped over backwards.

It’s hard to learn to lean forward. Watching people in their first few months paddling they ‘think’ they’re leaning forward but their really just sitting upright.

Then look at the paddler of years and you’ll see their paddle extended and their nose almost touching their boat as they lean in to the wave and attack it.

On the court – Lean In

In my early teens I played volleyball a lot and I really enjoyed it.

I was good enough to not get totally destroyed by the older guys I played with (who played competitively and traveled to play) but not at the same level.

The best advice I got from them when they let me play the first time was to be on my toes, not me heels.

On my toes I was ready for action, ready to dive or run or dig-in and play.

On my heels I was read for nothing. I was just taking up space on the court.

A very intimidating game with guys 3 or 4 years older and 5 or 7 years more experience playing changed to a ‘hard’ game, just by being on my toes.

Being ready to dig-in made a huge difference.

First Instincts

With a speed wobble on a bike your first and natural instinct is to pull away from the handle bars and take weight off the front tire.

This is only going to get you in a bad spot as the wobble gets worse.

When you’re kayaking your first instinct is to lean away from that scary wave as it breaks over your head.

That’s only going to get you flipped upside down where you have little control at all.

When you’re on your heels in an intimidating volleyball game, all you are is a body on the court and a target for the other team to feed balls at as fast as possible.

You’re simply not ready to handle the ball.

Hard times with clients – Lean In

I’ve talked to lots of freelancers (and been that freelancer) that is behind on a project.

They may have a great reason, but it’s hard to email that client and tell them you are behind.

Can you guess what the best thing to do is?

Lean in! Call that client and tell them what’s up. Deal with the consequences.

Most times the consequences aren’t nearly as bad as all the things you imagined. Clients don’t have teams of assassins to send to your house to get you.

There is no dragon they can send after you.

They are people to.

If you get to that hard spot with a client, lean forward and take the issue to task.

It’s the way to show that you run an awesome business.

photo credit: 38463026@N04 cc

When Consulting Sucks, stop your whining

Louis CK has a great bit about technology. Take a second and watch it, then read on.

My takeaway line is:

Like how quickly the guy thinks the world owes him something he knew existed only 10 seconds ago.

I can so easily fall in to the same state of apathy when running my business.

See, I had to work late one day. When I say late I mean I worked till 5:30.

See, I had to work on a weekend once in the last year and that sucks.

It’s easy to forget that I’m currently sitting in a coffee shop writing and took a bike ride to get here. I took the long way, simply because I wanted to take the long way.

No one was expecting me on time here.

No boss looked at their watch as I walked in 10 minutes later than planned.

When I spend 20 minutes reading to my daughter at lunch no one will wonder where I was. In fact, my wife will look at me and smile because I’m showing that my kids are important to me.

I’ll forget that 48 weeks of the year I leave by 4pm on Monday and Wednesday to go for a bike ride.

I’ll forget that I spend most of Friday afternoon on whatever I want (usually on the bike or sitting in the coffee shop planning the next week and reading).

I’ll forget that most employees work twice as much as me for the wage I earn.

I’ll forget that I get to hang out with my 5 month old baby, on Friday by 4pm, as I finish making our evening pizza.

I’ll forget all that and complain inwardly to myself because what was amazing is no longer amazing and that’s wrong.

If you’re working for yourself and can pay your bills you should sit back at the end of the day and say:

Wow I got to work at home and no one can tell me what to wear or when to show up! I have an awesome life.

Make a list

Now make a list of the awesome stuff about your job.

Mine includes all the leaving early and biking and hanging out with the kids.

When things aren’t fun, grab that list and remember all the awesome parts of your job that others don’t have.

Then get back to work and realize how good you have it.

photo credit: pasukaru76 cc

When you say YES to work what does it really mean

I’ve previously written about the importance of NO and how it’s one of the most important productivity and business tools you have.

There is a bit more to it than I talked about before if we look at your YES or at least what your YES should be.

Looking at your YES

First we need to look at what your YES can mean, because it’s more than just a word.

  1. Yes I’ll do the work because I need the money. We all have bills to pay right?
  2. Yes I’ll do the work because I think your project will make me look better.
  3. Yes I’ll do the project because I think it’s really interesting. I can’t think of another project I’d rather be doing right now.

When you’re starting you may need to say YES for reason 1. You simply have bills to pay and you need food to eat.

As you establish yourself you’re probably going to say YES for reason 2. You need projects that look awesome in your portfolio. Then it’s more likely that other awesome projects will come along.

The work you really should be doing should end up falling in to the 3rd reason for YES.

You say YES to the work because you’re so interested in the work that the money and prestige don’t even really enter into the equation.

You say YES to the work because you really can’t think of anything better to do for work.

Clients want YES #3 as well

It may seem counter intuitive to clients to think that they want you to be saying for YES #3. In that situation you don’t need the money. You don’t need the prestige of the project.

So the client really enters in to the relationship hoping you’re willing to work on the project. You are interviewing the clients to see if you want to work with them.

Most clients start out from the position of ‘power’ as they see it. They have the money to spend and they ‘may’ choose you to spend it with.

If you’re in a position to say YES for reason 3, then that ‘power’ evaporates.

But like I said, that is what clients really want.

As a client, do you want someone building your online presence simply because they have bills to pay?

Do you want them to work on your project simply because it will look good in their portfolio?

Is a consultant really invested in your project if they’re doing it for money or prestige?

Not really, and you’re likely not going to get their best work. Sure it may be ‘good’ work but it’s not the work of someone that is truly invested in your vision and wants to work on it because they believe in the project and what you’re doing.

Position yourself for YES

So how do you position yourself to be saying YES for the right reason?

You need to price properly, and I wrote about pricing and my friend Chris Lema wrote a book on pricing. If you want to get more then sign up for my email list and get 5 pricing resources that I think are awesome.

You also need to specialize in something specific. Become a go to person for WP eCommerce like my friend Justin or a Genesis expert like my friend Carrie, or be known as the guy to go to for product and business advice like my friend Chris.

Don’t just be another face in the crowd. Pick something and stand out for it.

Finally, save money people. If you make 20k a month and spend all of it you’re still going to be saying YES for reason one. You simply need money because you spend it. If you’re not familiar with budgeting then read The Total Money Makeover, then read EntreLeadership.

There is also a great series of posts on this site on budgeting.

Don’t just think that everything will always go smoothly. Plan ahead and make sure that when things end up a bit rough, you have the cash around so it doesn’t matter.

When it comes right down to it, if you can’t say NO to work then you really can’t say yes either.

What you’re saying YES to is not the project, but the money. I know I don’t do my best work just for money and studies have proven that most people don’t do awesome work just for money. There has to be more.

Make sure you use NO and make sure that you take the time to position your business so that you can truly say YES to the projects that bring out the best in you.

photo credit: ansik cc