Dealing with price dickering

One of the huge annoyances service providers encounter when they start talking pricing with clients is when the client asks you to provide the service for less.

You say you can do a job for $1500 and the next question out of the client’s mouth is:

How about doing it for $1000.

Yeah great way to ruin your day and to start the whole project off on the wrong foot. I think there is a reason that clients do this though and it’s partially your fault.

Intangible

When you hire me to build a website for you much of the work is intangible. I’m a knowledge worker which is defined by Wikipedia as:

Knowledge workers are workers whose main capital is knowledge. Typical examples may include software engineers, architects, engineers, scientists and lawyers, because they “think for a living”.

Your thought isn’t something that your client can touch. They can’t touch the website I built and while they can touch the brochure you designed it is a small piece of paper that cost a lot to print.

Since it’s intangible stuff it’s easy to think that it didn’t take me 6 years of coding WordPress sites to learn how do build huge eCommerce sites. It’s easy to think that you haven’t spent 10 years designing for lots of different fields and have learned what works in some and what just falls flat.

That time spent becoming an expert isn’t something that can be touched by a client.

Since they can’t touch it they easily devalue it’s worth.

That’s where positioning and showing the value of your work come in to play.

Bringing Value Back

Once I’ve decided that a client is someone I want to work with we go over our business goals for the site and make sure we have a plan to measure them.

Measuring data is something that makes sense to clients and it shows them the value that you are bringing to their business.

For eCommerce sites we measure improvements in conversions (if they had a store before) or increase in total sales (if this is their first online store).

For many other sites we look at pageviews (since we are surfacing more relevant content to the user) or sign ups to email lists.

Numbers have a tangible feel to them.

We’ll talk more about value based pricing tomorrow when we dive into price anchoring.

But my client doesn’t have business goals

If your client doesn’t have business goals then why on earth are you working with them? Are they actually invested in the work or is it just something that they feel they should do ‘because’.

I ask for business goals right up front and if there aren’t any my first suggestion is to hire me to help them develop some proper goals for the site. If they aren’t in to that then I’m not in to working with them.

I only want to work with people that I can provide real value for. Value that we can measure.

Reduced prices mean reduced scope

I do understand that some clients may have a smaller budget than their initial vision allows so I’m not against reducing prices on projects. I just don’t do it by reducing what I make.

I reduce pricing by reducing the scope to fit the price.

Say a client comes to me wanting an eCommerce site and they want to use their own custom
payment gateway that interfaces with their bank. But their budget is only $5k.

Their budget doesn’t match their desired features. The site development alone (for me to build the site from a well organized PSD) will start at $5k. The payment gateway will be $1 − 2k.

I don’t say yes to doing the project and reduce my rates to match their budget we look at an existing payment gateway and use that for our site. If that doesn’t work then the client will need find more money to get the work done or hire a different contractor that can do the work while matching their budget.

Take Away

Get and set measurable business goals on projects to show your business value to customers.
Only work with people that want to set and measure business goals since they are the ones properly invested in their work.

If they start drilling you down on price take a real hard look to see if they are someone you want to work with.

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How should I price my services?

Our first post in the Pricing Series talked about all the different methods you could use to price your services. Yesterday I talked about how your speed at something shouldn’t affect your pricing (which is why hourly is a big bag of suck).

Today I’m going to talk about the 2 pricing methods I use for 90% of my projects and tell you why I like them.

Weekly

My top pricing method is weekly. I charge $3000/week (as of December 2013) for my services. I think that weekly pricing suits how I want to work with my clients (focused on one project at a time) and aligns well with my clients needs.

It lets me change scope without worrying as long as the new scope also fits inside the allotted time. I love serving my clients and being able to be dynamic. Weekly pricing lets me do that.

When I bill weekly I also know that I only need to work 3 out of 4 weeks in a month to make ends meet. That fourth week can be used to take a break or work on personal projects or if I’m ready to jump into a new project I just schedule it into that week. I’ve never had a client dislike getting to start a week earlier than anticipated.

The other main reason I love weekly pricing is that it fits how I work very well. I hate having many projects on the go. Changing between projects takes me forever and I easily drift into social media.

My productive billable time drops by about 30% when I’m switching between competing projects.

When I’m working on the same project all week I simply get up and get started on the project. Then I have lunch and get back to the project for the week.

I don’t have to decide which of my 5 clients currently has the biggest fire, I just have to work for the client I have booked for the week.

My wife has even noticed my stress level decrease and commented on it.

Flat rate based on value

My second method of pricing structure has been flat rate for fixed features. Yes you take more of a risk here but as you gain experience you also improve at pricing these projects.

I only do weekly now since context switching is something I suck at.

Last year I knew my client was paying $50k a year for a tool. I worked for 4 weeks to replace that tool and charged them $20k for it. That means I made $5000/week but I saved them $30k this year and next year the upkeep on our custom solution (which has features the old tool didn’t) will be less than $20k so they save even more.

Even when I’m billing based on value I treat it internally as a weekly project. So that $20k project was actually set for 6 weeks on my calendar just in case it needed extra time. I still have the advantage of scheduling myself for the proper amount of time and I get to make more than I do with weekly billing.

A word on effective hourly rate

Yes I think that hourly is a dumb way to price your services but I do still have an ‘hourly’ rate. Well actually I have an effective hourly rate.

An effective hourly rate means I take the hours I worked on a project and divide the total project cost by the hours. That tells me how much I really earned on the project. Lets do some math together to show you.

10 hours for $1000 dollars means I have an effective hourly rate of $100/hour.

15 hours for $1000 dollars means I have an effective hourly rate of $66/hour.

See not hard math at all.

I want to know the effective hourly rate of every project I work on and I want to see it over $150/hour. Yes my effective hourly rate is $150/hour (or at least that’s what I want it to be).

Do some projects come in under that mark? Of course some projects do. As I write this I’ve got a project that went over time and was entirely my fault. My effective hourly rate for this project is around $60 at this point.

No it’s not a weekly project and yes there is a personal relationship I am preserving. Be super careful about what type of work you do for friends.

Not a project I love working on as I see that number get smaller and smaller the longer I work on it but that is the reality of working for yourself sometimes.

Setting an effective hourly rate for yourself allows you to evaluate which projects you actually make the most money on. If you’re not making the effective hourly rate you set then you know you need to take a look at your business and change how you do things.

But

What do you do if most of your projects are smaller like if you typically have 1 or 2 week projects? Getting full payment before a one week project would mean that the client is going out on a limb with you having 100% payment and them having nothing.

I can certainly see how some clients would not love that idea at all.

The best way I’ve seen of dealing with this comes from Bill Erickson. He often does WordPress theme builds on Genesis and many of his projects take a single week.

He links his payment to his deliverables and invoices up front. So on a one week project he will send the invoice on day one with a due date slightly after the project is completed. This gives the client time to check the work out and approve it.

He also doesn’t wait for clients to enter content he ties the project completion to him delivering the theme work. Once that’s done the project is done. If it takes 10 months for a client to add all their content then it takes that long and Bill launches the site after.

I’d recommend listening to Bill explain this himself though. I haven’t talked to him, just listened to him speak so the above is my observations about how he runs his business.

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Speed and Pricing

When you start any type of work you’re slow. When I started building WordPress themes it took me 2 weeks to get something that I’d barely say is halfway passable (looking back at it now).

Now that I’ve been building themes for 5 years I can build a basic theme that would pass all of the pertinent items on the WordPress Theme Review standards in less than a week and I charge more.

When I started I also priced hourly at $50/hour and a theme build took me around 20 hours to do. That meant I made about $1000 on a theme. If I stuck with pricing my services hourly then as I got faster I’d be making less for the same amount of work. At the same time I’m providing more value in the form of better code.

Doesn’t seem right to me.

Price on hours to be poor

The speed at which you accomplish a task should have no bearing on how much you get paid to do it. You should be pricing based on value (and we’ll talk about how to approach this in a later post).

Does that design work increase the conversions to your clients coaching business? How many extra people convert and what are they worth?

Does the custom plugin you’re building mean that the client can stop using an external service they pay monthly for? How much do they pay?

Those are the questions you should be asking yourself and your client as you talk about starting a project with them.

Charging time and materials (another way of saying hourly plus any costs like subscriptions to services) caps your income by how many hours you can put in. It does not reward the value you bring to a project, just your “butt in chair time”.

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Don’t Quit Clients

The dream of many freelancers is to quit clients and focus on products. It may be themes, or books, or custom yoga pants that you want to make and sell.

The specific product doesn’t matter. It’s the thought that no more clients around would be awesome.

Quitter is a book about moving from your ‘day job’ to your ‘dream job’. One of the things that has stuck out to me as I’ve been reading it is the thought that you should probably stay in your ‘day job’ a lot longer than you really want to.

This concept applies to quitting clients in favour of product based income.

Why quit clients

At it’s simplest level many freelancers want to quit clients because they are tired of unreasonable requests and silly deadlines.

I got tired of that as well and by positioning my relationship with clients in a totally different manner I was able to kill most of those silly requests. I have better clients at higher rates with some strategy.

I think that the reason to build products is to help diversify your income streams. What if you get hurt or sick and can’t work for a bit.

If you’re only doing client work (even if you price based on value) your income will dry up at some point. You won’t be doing work and that means that you won’t be earning anything.

Having a fleet of products around can smooth out the bumps in health and work hours till they don’t really matter.

Having a decent amount of product income can mean that the low income months are still more than enough to pay all the bills and live comfortably on. Instead of having the low months eat in to the profit of the good months.

I’m all for having diverse income streams with a bunch of products that don’t not rely on you doing much work once they are set up.

But clients allow you to…

The thing is that quitting clients too soon may mean you kill that product dream.

Right now clients bring in 95% of my income. If I was to quit client work right now I’d also have to figure out how to live on a few thousand dollars a year.

Not possible and my wife would be pretty upset.

Hey honey I just quit all my clients so you’ll have to start growing cotton and making all our clothes. Okay? It’s my dream so just go with it.

Yup I’d sound like a privileged ass and I’d deserve the cast iron frying pan upside the head.

Instead I devote time each week to working on longer term projects (books, writing here, plugins…) and to client work.

It’s likely that at the end of this year my client work will be more than 50% of my income still. Who knows maybe client work will be more than 75% of my total income.

Working for clients allows me a flexible schedule and no one looking over my shoulder to make sure I put in my 40 hours. Working for myself gives me freedom in how I allocate my time, and clients make it all possible.

I’ll never quit clients

While I’d love to have less income reliant on clients I don’t think I’ll ever quit client work entirely.

The fact is that clients ask for things that are hard because they don’t know it’s hard. They want that last pixel adjusted and get you to do it. Sure it can be frustrating since we think it’s close enough but it pushes us. I know when I’m working on something for myself I can be biased to sticking with the easy way I already know to do things.

Even if the easy way I know how to do things is not actually in the best interest of the project.

My ideal would be to take 1 client a quarter for minimum 4 week engagements. Then spend the rest of the quarter finding that right client for the next quarter and working on my own products.

What I want is the ability to not find that right client for a quarter and not worry about how that will affect my life at all. That is my goal with product income, not to quit clients entirely.

So if you want to build products, take a good hard look and where you income is coming from. Make sure you don’t quit that income stream too soon.

Unless you like killing your product dream before it’s really had time to mature.

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Do you finish as well as you start

I’m generally a pretty safe driver by all accounts. I drive just barely over the speed limit and rarely rush anywhere (no lane changing and weaving for me) since I simply don’t see the point in saving 30 seconds driving across town.

That doesn’t mean I’m free from driving mistakes.

Almost there

Yes the night was dark (uh it was night so of course) sure it was raining but my windshield wipers work well.

Not to mention that I Rainx the windshield.

Yes my brother-in-law was in the car and we were having a good talk. I was involved and enjoying time with him.

None of these external reasons had anything to do with me almost hitting a pedestrian.

The sole reason I was rolling through the stop light and not paying attention to anyone in the cross-walk was that our destination was directly across the intersection and the best route to parking is to make a right hand turn at the lights.

I was focused on the fact that I was almost there. My incorrect application of attention could have easily cost a couple their lives, or at the very least hurt them severely.

There would have been no one to blame but myself.

Almost done

I’ve had projects follow the same course.

I work diligently for months on something big. Then in the last 2 weeks I start to think about almost being to the launch phase. Launching means project transition and freedom, or at least a new project.

With that transition in sight I start to focus on the new project and getting it spun up only to miss something large and obvious in the launch of the project I should be focused on.

Things almost head off the rails and are only saved by last minute action and overtime.

Whew! it’s fixed and I launched the project properly but was anything learned?

Process

When I was in drivers education we were told to stop behind the big white line at a red light. Once we had come to a complete stop and surveyed the intersection and determined that it was safe we could roll forward and make a right hand turn on a red light.

There was a very specific procedure for navigating the process.

It was simple and repeatable.

It would set you up to catch most of what could go wrong during a right hand turn on a red light.

I totally threw that out the window when I saw my destination approaching.

Launching a site also has a fairly generic template of tasks.

  1. Get final sign off from the client
  2. Check DNS stuff
  3. Make sure no email will be affected with the DNS changes
  4. Backup the database
  5. Backup the files
  6. Double check your backups
  7. Move all the stuff
  8. Change DNS

You may argue with me on order, but you should catch my drift.

We should have a simple repeatable process to follow when we are launching a site. This simple process helps save us from ourselves since it allows us to see the forest for the trees.

It helps us focus on the fact that we still have a project to safely land before we can dash off to the next thing.

Do you have a checklist? Do you land projects as well as you start them?

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My Final Words

OK, so here goes my last and final post of this series…

I think it’s important to summarize what we’ve talked about all week. When I think about the things that I could share, there are hundreds of them. What I’ve touched on this week is what I feel has been vitally important to OUR success, and I believe it is essential to yours as well.

SO

Support your Entrepreneurial spouse

Whether you are involved in the business or not, it cannot succeed without your support. Your spouse needs to know that they are a rock star in your eyes. They need you to encourage them when they feel like they aren’t making progress.

They need you to be there to listen to their concerns, they need to know that you back them 100% in their endeavour.

They also need you to have the guts to say no sometimes – supporting your spouse by putting the breaks on from time to time when you are being stretched out of your comfort zone may be what guarantees the success of the business! So, be that person. If you can’t then the two of you need to step back and work on figuring out WHY before you go forward.

Set Boundaries

This is important in any phase of business development. It protects the entrepreneurial spouse from burn out, it protects the supporting spouse from feeling left out in the dark, and it gives you both a framework within which you can build your lives.

Visit this one often.

Sometimes boundaries need to be changed to accomplish a goal, finish a project, or grow the business. Keep in mind that when the two of you decide that your self employed spouse is going to put in a “few extra hours” you need to set a boundary for that as well so that the supporting spouse isn’t left eternally picking up the slack.

Protect your time together, and your time as a family (if you have one), if you don’t you may look up in 10 years and realize you no longer have a spouse or family to protect.

Be your entrepreneurial spouses’s sounding board

Ask them about their day, listen to their triumphs and concerns, learn to read the signs of increased stress in their lives.

Talk to them about their clients, projects, tasks, and daily operations (to the degree that this is possible within their business). When you have a “gut feeling” that something is not right, or that they are about to miss out on a great opportunity TELL THEM. You may not understand exactly what they do (heck I couldn’t program my way out of a paper bag) but you do know what makes them tick and your intuition is valuable for them and their business.

Support your non-entrepreneurial spouse

Lastly to all you out there that are burning the candle at both ends to get this business rolling remember that though your spouse may not be working at growing your business they are doing their best to support you.

Make sure that they get the time they need to be the best they can be. This will help prevent feelings of resentment, it will help your spouse to continue to be their own person, and ensure that the supporting spouse doesn’t get overshadowed by your growing enterprise.

As I’ve said numerous times over, we’re not experts in marriage or business. A lot of what we’ve learned has come through trail and error. When I tell you to set boundaries, it’s because we’ve suffered through times when the boundaries aren’t clear and it hasn’t worked well.

When I tell you to be your spouses’ sounding board, it’s because we’ve learned that when we communicate life is better for all of us and Curtis makes better business decisions. I can guarantee that none of these ideas are new, but maybe I’ve expressed them in a new way that allows you to understand them.

I’m sure I’ve borrowed/adpoted some of them the business guru’s that we look up to (I know for a fact that some come from Dave Ramsey, Michael Hayatt, and Dan Miller) but we’ve put them into practice, and also heard them in a million other places. Please, don’t do everything I suggest just because I have suggested it. Do what works for you as a couple and family.

Remember if your entrepreneurial spouse succeeds, you have both succeeded. If they fail, you have ultimately both failed, then it’s time to pick your selves up, learn from it, and move on to the next venture. I hope dearly that you can learn from our experiences and prosper!

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Support Your Non-Entrepreneurial Spouse

I’ve talked a lot about how I support Curtis in his business ventures, but I think it’s important to talk about how he supports me and the things that I want to pursue.

Please know that I’m not expert in marriage, but we’ve got 10 years of experience, one beautiful daughter and a second child on the way. I will tell you that we’ve had our own share of struggles and there have been times when we haven’t been completely enamored with each other, but they’ve been short. For the most part our married life has been a happy one and I am happier and more in love today than I was 10 years ago when we said “I do”.

It’s easy when one spouse is a real go-getter and the other plays more of a supporting role (especially if that role is as a stay-at-home parent) for the more entrepreneurial spouse and their interests to take center stage ALL THE TIME. Not because they are selfish or thoughtless, but because they spend their days going out and killing it and are used to being in the spotlight. Outside of work they naturally stay there, and the interests and needs of the supporting spouse are set aside for “later” or sometimes simply forgotten.

At our house we both happen to be go-getter’s and we’ve made that work well for us. I don’t sit well in the background, and I force my way into his business in many ways because I want to be involved. I have specific goals that I want to accomplish that don’t involve him or his business but do require his support. That said it’s still easy for me to drop my interests for him to accomplish his goals and sometimes that costs me significantly.

Part of the truth of being married is putting the needs of your spouse ahead of your own. This kind of give and take is essential in any marriage. Curtis is awesome at this. As we have worked at growing his business he has been equally concerned that I also get to pursue the things in life that I enjoy. He’s been very supportive of my interests. He can read when I am stressed, and he encourages me to get out on my own whenever possible.

His recognition of my goals is essential to our relationship. It helps us to maintain balance, just like setting boundaries around when his work day starts, breaks, and ends. He has encouraged me to pursue my interests to the degree at which we are able to support them financially. He’s made it possible for me to run in the early mornings, be home to raise our kids, and pursue other interests as they arise.

This journey we’re on requires sacrifice and selflessness. So while I have sacrificed things that I want to help him accomplish his goals, he has also had to make sacrifices to keep his wife happy :). The example that comes to mind most recently is WordCamp Edmonton. He really wanted to go, but I was less eager to have him away for the weekend and so when it really came down to it after much earnest conversation he chose to stay home.

The issue with his trip to Edmonton was literally support for me. We have no family around locally, and while we have tons of awesome friends that are like family, him going away for a few days leaves me home alone with a pre-schooler. Sometimes I can fill time with visits with friends, trips to the park and other engaging activities, sometimes I can’t and I spend the entire time one on one with our daughter. I LOVE her and am not complaining but adult company is nice from time to time.

Truthfully the timing of his request also had something to do with my squelching the idea. He asked the evening of his return from a 3 day trip away. It had been a long three days for me as I have found myself to be less than patient throughout the duration of this pregnancy, and though we haven’t had any major complications it has brought new challenges with every trimester. The thought of having him away for any extended period of time in November caused major apprehension/stress for me. We looked at having me go along with E, but it really wasn’t feasible and so I asked him to pass on the opportunity. Was he bummed? Yes, but was he supporting his wife? YES, and I have been more than happy to have him here close by instead of far far away.

I think it’s vital when one spouse is running their own business that they not forget that the un-involved spouse still has interests that they need the time to pursue. That means encouraging them to pursue them and setting up your workday boundaries to allow for those activities to be part of their life. My early morning run is essential for me. It’s how I deal with stress. I process life, pray, listen to podcasts, and prepare for my day while I run. I am a much better, partner, friend, wife, and mother for the time I spend running in the mornings (and I have desperately missed that time during this pregnancy) Curtis is able to recognize that and sometimes encourages me to go to bed early enough to get up for my run, or pushes me out of bed in the morning to make sure I get it in.

Ultimately his business, and our marriage are better because he recognizes that I have interests outside of his business and he encourages and enables me to pursue them so that I am not lost in his shadow. Recognizing the importance of the role of your supporting spouse is essential for your business to succeed whether they are involved in the daily running of your business or not. It’s very likely that without them you wouldn’t have gotten your business off the ground so throw them a bone and help them also pursue their own interests whatever they may be. You will both prosper because of it!

Be Your Spouse’s Sounding Board

Even before I became a part of the daily to do’s of Curtis’ business I was his sounding board. This falls under support, but I think it’s important enough to merit it’s own post.

Whether you are business savvy or not you are your spouse’s sounding board. What exactly do I mean by that?

Well, I am the person that he runs ideas by, I’m the person he talks to when he’s making a big decision, I’m the person he talks to when it comes to clients and contracts. I am his partner in this business whether I am working in it or not, so it is most important that he seek my opinion when it’s merited.

A great example of this in our lives and his business came up about 2 years ago (I think). He was debating taking a long-term contract working for a development company. The perks were all there, the pay was good, they would vet the clients so he would just have to do the work, it would save him admin time, and guarantee him an income. He would ultimately end up making more then he was freelancing…or so it appeared.

He was very excited about the opportunity and on the surface it looked great, but I had reservations. Nothing I could really pin point, I just wasn’t sure that it would be a good fit for him and I told him so. After much discussion we decided that he would go ahead with the contract anyway and try it out.

The company was great and the job was good but in the end it really was a poor fit on all sides. He was working way more hours than normal, and while he was making a little more then he would have on his own when we sat down and evaluated what he’d have made if he’d kept those kinds of hours as a freelancer the number was more than triple. He lost the flexibility to take time off when I was off work, or to cover the homefront when our daughter was sick and couldn’t go to daycare because he had an employer that had expectations of him. It wasn’t that the company was bad, or unrealistic the position just didn’t fit the lifestyle that we ultimately wanted.

At the end of the year when we were doing our taxes it turned out that he actually made LESS money than he had the year previous. Everything that I had been apprehensive about had turned out to be true and so while I wasn’t really able to place a finger on what it was that caused me to have reservations upfront we both could have saved ourselves and the development company a little bit of hassle by heeding the “gut feeling”.

Now we pay a bit more attention to that feeling. He often comes to me when he’s considering a new contract but feels unsure of it. While a lot of what he does doesn’t really make sense to me there are some specific questions that I often ask in this situation:

Does this allow you to accomplish your goals (or does it fit into the big picture of how you want your business to run)?

Does this project make you feel excited?
Do you feel comfortable with the client? I don’t usually have to ask this question I get a good sense of his feelings from just talking with him about the interactions with the client
What other opportunities are you going to have to say no to if you say yes to this one?
Are you OK with that?

Some of this may seem silly but it has really helped us keep the business on track, and it helps him maintain focus. As he continues to refine the direction that he wants his business to take it becomes more important that he choose contracts that will take it there.

Some projects are great opportunities but don’t work towards his end goal, sometimes he sees that immediately, and sometimes he needs a little help.

Some projects pay well but really don’t make him feel excited – when that’s the case they tend to drag on and he ends up dissatisfied with the level of service he’s provided and ultimately I believe that the client doesn’t get the customer experience they deserve.

Some projects are okay but I can tell from talking to him about the initial interactions with the client that the client is going to be very high maintenance and get under his skin. This is when I encourage him to say no. Sometimes I can tell from the discussion that the client is going to be AWESOME! Those are the clients that you want, and that you want to strive towards keeping for as long as possible. They become longterm clients that are really enjoyable to work with and often send a lot of referral business your way as well. This is when I encourage him to say YES.

Sometimes it looks like the stars and moon have aligned, the client is great, the project is interesting, but in saying yes he’s going to have to say no to another opportunity that makes him more excited. This is another good time for me to encourage him to say no. However on the flipside of that, when I can see that he’s super stoked about an opportunity and everything looks good then I strongly encourage him to say YES and run with it. Those are the projects he enjoys the most.

I know that not all of you are in a position yet to be able to say no to work, but if you’re persistent in growing your business you will be someday. Knowing what makes you tick is important. Having a spouse that can help you intuit that is essential. As the spouse of an entrepreneur it’s imperative that I keep my eyes open and help him along the way as much as possible. Listening is one of the most important skills that I have had to develop. Learning to ask questions that draw out a decent answer has been very important. Intuiting his body language and intonation as he responds has become equally as important as listening to the words that he’s saying. Do I help him make EVERY decision in his business no, definitely not. I have my own things to do as well, but when he’s having a hard time with something I am often the first (and only) person that he comes to so it’s really important that I know how to read him and hear the words that are actually spoken.

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Supporting your Entrepreneurial Spouse

This week for our blog series you guys get to listen to a new voice. I’ve been the “behind the scenes” person in Curtis’ business from the beginning and when we were talking about starting to run a series of posts on his blog every now and then he asked me if I would be willing to write some of the articles. So here I am writing about how to support your entrepreneurial spouse.

Who am I? I am Cynthia. Curtis’ wife of 10 years, and his partner for the last 13. We’ve seen many successes and failures in our marriage. We’ve struggled through times of not enjoying it very much, and celebrated much longer periods of loving knowing that we found our true match in this world.

What qualifies me to write a series of posts on his business blog? Well the above first and foremost. Beyond that, I am educated, intelligent, and until 9 months ago I also held a full time job outside our home as a sales manager and buyer for a major outdoor store. I have seen this business grow from the tiny seed of an idea into a profitable venture over the last number of years, and I have often been the sole support person. That person in the background that says – You can do this I believe in you. (I do 100%)

I think for any entrepreneur or small business person having the support of their spouse, life partner, girlfriend, boyfriend, whatever you choose to call them (for simplicity I’ll use spouse) is essential.

From the very early days in our marriage Curtis has talked about running his own business. The ideas have been far and wide and about as varied as a room full of a thousand people can be. His ideas have ranged from various construction businesses back in the early days, to his current business. My response has always been the same – if that is what you REALLY want then let’s figure out how to make it happen. Until this business, it never turned out to be what he REALLY wanted when we sat down and evaluated what makes him tick and what would be a good fit.

So what is my “job” in this business. It goes beyond the physical things that I do for him on a day to day basis (book-keeping, spell checking, business planning, goal setting, budgeting etc.) First and foremost my role is to support him. Whole heartedly, 100% in every way possible. If you are in a committed relationship and are thinking of starting your own business but your spouse isn’t completely onboard you need to slow down, take a step back and re-evaluate (you may also want to have a conversation with them as to WHY?). Your business cannot succeed without the support of your spouse. That’s not just my opinion that’s an opinion I hear daily on the podcasts I listen to by various business experts, and have read in many of the business books that I’ve flipped through over the last couple years.

What exactly does supporting your entrepreneurial spouse look like?

Let me tell you what it looks like for us. I’ll share a few things from the early days, as well as how my role has changed and morphed to what it is now.

Supporting your spouse does mean that you are their cheerleader. You are their #1 fan, their encourager. You bolster them up when they are down. You figure out when they are struggling and you do what you can to ease the burden. You learn to identify the signs of stress in their lives and how to get them to talk about that and draw it out. You are their sounding board for new ideas – crazy and sane. Sometimes you are the breaks on the train. You highlight the practical side of an idea, and let them know when something needs a little bit more evaluation before it can be pursued whole heartedly.

In the early days of Curtis starting his business he was also working an office job. In the same field, but in your typical corporate environment. Anyone who knows him well will know that dress codes, business meetings, and a lot of the other corporate policies that come along with an office job make his skin crawl. I could see him suffering daily. Not because the organization he was working for was bad, but because it just didn’t fit his personality.

When he started expressing a desire to take on side jobs to work on in the evenings at home I encouraged him to do so as much as he could, and I genuinely WANTED him to succeed. I wasn’t able to offer him much more than that. We weren’t in a financial position to go out and buy him the newest coolest tools and toys “required” to run his business. Any money spent on purchasing business tools (computers, software etc.) had to be earned by the business before it could be spent. It was hard going.

Did I want to enable him to get his business off the ground? YES because I have ALWAYS wanted him to pursue whatever it is in life that makes him happy. That said, if what makes him happy is making mudpies in the back yard, he still has to figure out how to monetize that because we have a mortgage to be paid and the kid(s) need to eat.

He probably struggled through 2 years of running his “side business” and working his day job before it was in a financial position to actually REPLACE the income that he was making at his day job. It was my job to support and encourage him. It was also my job to pull back on the reins a little bit when he wanted to jump too soon.

Had I not supported him by saying no from time to time, especially in those early days, I wouldn’t be writing this post for you today. We would be bankrupt or in serious financial trouble, with a failed business under our belts and he’d be out working at some construction job that he hates.

I make it sound like I’m giving myself a lot of credit here and that isn’t my intent but as the spouse of a small business person you’ve probably noticed that these entrepreneurs are ready to abandon ship and run with an idea AS SOON AS THEY HAVE IT. Often before they have a plan to really make it feasible. Curtis was ready to be self employed and run his own business the moment the idea came into his head. If he’d had his way he would have made the move instantly rather than waiting, taking time to build a client base, and a savings account to cover any kind of lag time between inception and launch. It was my job to encourage him to pursue his passion, to do what makes him happy, and to keep his confidence up. It was (and still is) also my job to say no from time to time. Saying no, or redirecting and idea way back then and even now has allowed him to prosper.

What Support looks like NOW

Ok great, that’s how I supported him in getting this business off the ground, but what does that really look like now?

Over the last four years of him being out completely on his own I have seen my role in the business change in a lot of ways, but the essence of it is still the same. I am still his #1 support person. If he’s having a bad day, it’s me he’s going to talk to – or I need to recognize it and cut him some slack so that he can work through it.

For a lot of the last four years my role has been to encourage him. To be a sounding board for new ideas, to keep him on-track when too many ideas have taken over and he can no longer see the forest through the trees. My role also still involves helping him recognize the good ideas that are worth pursuing, as well as putting the breaks on the ones that aren’t – they maybe need more time to develop, the return isn’t there, or they don’t really fall into the wider scope of what he wants to accomplish. I even help him vet out clients from time to time. He’ll often seek my opinion when he’s looking at a new contract as to whether or not he should take it. Sometimes I encourage him to do so, and sometimes I see things he doesn’t and suggest that this may be a good one for him to pass up.

Since leaving my full-time job last March (I actually wrote a post about that decision on my own blog) my role in his business has changed again. Now I am involved to a limited degree in the day to day running of his business. I love it. I love being a deeper part of his business. Helping him set and meet his goals. Providing a little bit more accountability. Coming up with a plan to grow the business into something bigger. These are all ways in which I continue to support my Man.

Let me tell you, if you haven’t caught on already, I think he’s pretty awesome. I support him 100%, and I am proud of what he’s accomplished for himself and for our family over the last number of years. And yes it is absolutely my job to let him know that as often as necessary.

Shoe horn client communication

I love systems, they make things so much easier for me. I can track everything and keep email out of my inbox. A well used PM system is awesome.

Most clients don’t like them at all but we (and I used to) force them into using it. We tell them we won’t respond to emails or calls and everything needs to be in the PM system.

There are practical reasons for this. For example on larger teams you can get up to speed on an older project by looking through the PM entries on the project. You have a record of what happened and can reference old commitments. Having lots of project data in your system means you can slice and dice it and learn more about how projects operate in your business.

All great reasons.

How does your client communicate

2 weeks ago I was on Skype with my client in IM and voice a few times a day. This week I’m in IRC all day chatting back and forth with my client about milestones and revisions to UI.

Next week I may be dealing mainly with email from clients.

Each client communicates best in different fashions and I do my best to let them use that method to communicate with me.

Our job is to make things easy on our clients so they can communicate effectively and we can produce work that meets their business objectives. Pushing every client into your PM system is unlikely to do that.

Do I take those calls, emails, chats and push them in to a PM system that the client can see? Yes.

Can the client revise the notes I take with what they thought we talked about? Yes.

That makes my PM system the ‘main base’ for reference but allows clients to communicate in the most effective way for them.

An effective process is something we should be striving for and working to apply to the next project, but we shouldn’t be just shoe horning each client into something that we love.

We should be providing our clients with the most effective communication solution for their project.

photo credit: Jinho.Jung via photopin cc