One of the best parts about working at COCO is that we’re constantly forming unintentional, informal cohorts of likeminded folks with some common needs. As solopreneurs, we’re the bosses and the employees, the HR directors and the IT staff, the thinkers and the doers. Some of those hats are more comfortable than others—and it’s great to have support via our compatriots when we’re forced to wrangle the messier ones.
Lately, a few friends have asked for help positioning and phrasing some difficult communications with clients and partners. Most of the time, the central theme is money:
- “This person keeps asking me for free advice, but I get paid to help people with these types of questions,” or,
- “I’ve raised my rates and am not sure how to tackle the conversation with my long-time client,” or,
- “A client has a seriously past due invoice but keeps asking me for more work.”
And while it’s easy enough to take 5-10 minutes and help them with the individual email—I thought it might be helpful to outline some of the “things to remember” when you’re working through a similar sitch:
1. Separate the business from yourself.
Remember that you are not your business, and vice versa. While it can feel deeply personal when a client wants to negotiate your hourly rate or project fee, the reality is that it’s one business to another, working towards a compromise that works for both parties. In my experience, 9 out of 10 clients are going to accept your fee (or fee increase) outright—but when they question it, try to remember that it’s not necessarily a reflection of their perceived value of your work, and it’s absolutely not a reflection of how much they value you as a human being.
That being said, use common sense, and check your gut. If someone repeatedly questions your invoices or does not behave in a manner that reflects his or her respect of your work or of you, act accordingly. Those relationships rarely end well, in my experience.
2. Remember what you’re worth.
Most people I’ve talked to have an okay time asking for what they’re worth—at least initially. But when situations arise when they’re being questioned, or their trajectory and the market indicate it’s time to raise rates, things get a little messier.
- Do your research. Understand what similar service providers are charging, and be clear about your competitive advantages.
- Communicate proactively. If you’re raising rates, provide a rationale and an early warning.
- Don’t apologize. You are not slighting anyone by raising rates (provided the rationale is in place). You deserve to be compensated for your time and effort.
3. Give your client the benefit of the doubt.
It’s easy to create what-if scenarios before you ever start a conversation. “What if they don’t want to pay my new rate, and the increase means the end of the relationship?” or, “What if the check is already in the mail, and I just haven’t received it yet?” In any case—remember that just as you are a rational human being/business owner asking for what you need, the person on the other end is another rational human being who very likely won’t feel slighted in the least by your thoughtful request for an increase/payment/etc. In fact, they’ll likely surprise you with a short and sweet reply that says something like, “No problem—makes sense to me,” or “So sorry! I forgot to submit the invoice to accounting. We’ll get you paid next week.”
4. Provide enough information to be useful.
When we feel uncomfortable making money-related requests, it can feel tempting to construct a detailed narrative full of all of the rationale you’ve considered at any point in the relationship. Your client does not need or want that level of detail. He or she simply needs to understand the request, the impetus, and the effective date. Add a few niceties and stay positive and professional, and you’ll be on your way.
5. Consider the medium.
Most of these tips are focused on email—but not all conversations are appropriate for digital communications. For example, if there’s a broader relationship conversation to be had (i.e., they’re taking advantage of your time, the junior staff person they’ve assigned to work with you is taking twice as much hand-holding time as you’d estimated, etc.)—consider phone or in-person. This may be an obvious one, but so much gets lost and misconstrued in text form (no matter how many emojis you use).
Go forth and get paid.