Whether you have or have not heard this story before, here it is again. Why? Because if you are working as a independent contractor in any capacity you need to know this info and learn this lesson. Period.
Whether you are a blogger, a virtual assistant, a speaker or a coach, your clients are your lifeblood. They keep your business humming, inspire you to get out of bed in the morning and are the reason you went into business for yourself in the first place. As much as we’d all like business world to hum along smoothly, there are times when our Beloved Clients throw a monkey wrench into our plans that leaves us reeling and uttering things like “Holy CrapPile, Batman!”
I know this to be true, because it happened to me.
I am in Year Three of my blogging/freelance/virtual assistant business and though it has been amazing, I have to admit the month of September of 2013 was one I would prefer to never repeat again. That fateful month was chock-full of “teachable moments,” and is now a time period that I refer to as The Month the Crap Hit the Fan.
There I was, tripping the light fantastic, movin’ and groovin’ and working hard to keep my tidy pool of clients satisfied and optimized. To say my plate was full would have been accurate, so full that I’d let my own business presence slide. I had become so busy taking care of OPB (Other People’s Businesses) that my own website and social media had started looking like a ghost town. But that turned out to be the least of my worries.
The red flags started when Client A; someone I had worked with for almost two years (who was also my second largest client) who began to flake out on me. The situation soon went from bad to worse when promises did not match actions and promises of payment stopped coming and were replaced by a complete communication shut-down and deafening silence. For the first time in my freelance career I found myself issuing a letter to a valued client stating that all work would cease until past due invoices were paid.
My mom had always told me that “bad news comes in threes” and sure enough, Kick-in-the-Pants #2 was on the way. Days later, another client popped into my inbox with a, “Sorry, I don’t need you anymore, I’m drastically downsizing my business” email. Despite having a clause in my contract stating clients need to give a 30 day notice, client number two suddenly went bub-bye.
Just as I was struggling to get my head around this latest development, the Trifecta of CrapLuck came in the form of a phone call, not the good kind either. Another client had been in a fatal accident and the staff, understandably shaken, put all work for them on hold. In a blink of an eye, a good chunk of my client base was GONE. To say it was a Code Brown Moment would be an understatement.
For someone like me who is a “one woman show,” this could have been financially devastating. But the good news is that I survived. The Flake-Out customer never paid, the “I’m Downsizing” client still surfaces and needs help on occasion and the office of the client who passed away reactivated a few months later. Not the perfect scenario, but not as bad as it could have been to say the least. Did I learn a valuable lesson from this disastrous month? Heck yes. Chances are you will not be faced a slew of Clients who Screw You Over, Die or Just Plain Go Away in the same month like me, but if you do, you dang well better be prepared after reading the following advice:
- Never Stop Prospecting: The day you get all comfy-cozy with your client base is the day you lose a third of them in the blink of an eye. Be the shark who never stops swimming, i.e. prospecting and connecting.
- Know when to stop work, slam on the brakes and ask for payment. I am the first to admit that I am Minnesota Nice, but just know the squeaky wheel gets the grease-sometimes. If you think simply barking up your late-paying-client’s arse will get you results, think again. Nothing is more debilitating than sensing that Non-Paying Client is sitting in another state, thousands of miles away, thumbing his/her nose at your bill and lining the cat litter box with it. Know when to pull the plug and seek legal help. If you are dealing with an owned amount under $500, cut bait, write it off and consider it an expensive and valuable lesson learned. Which brings me to point #3:
- Get payment up front no matter how lovely your client is. Trust me on this one. I should almost write a thank you letter to Client A thanking her.him.it for making me tougher. Meaner. More likely to stand up for myself. An expensive lesson, but a good one.
The most important piece of advice I have saved for last and that is that your gut rarely lies. I call it my internal Shady Character Detector and if a client’s actions or words seem fishy, they probably are. Never forget that this is your business and you need to run it on your own terms. For those clients who do screw you over, disappear or die just know that, when one door closes, another opens. And that new door is just about always a better door anyway.
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