5 things to consider when emailing clients about money

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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.


Scarcity, prosperity, and vulnerability

Posted on 6 CommentsPosted in Entrepreneurship, Life+Work

When Nancy Lyons gave her talk at Camp COCO last weekend, she asked us questions that helped us understand the beliefs from which we operated—in this case, out of scarcity or out of prosperity. I’m summarizing, but she said something like:

“Raise your hand if you believe that you are enough, that you have enough, and that there will always be enough for you.”


“Raise your hand if you tend to worry about future security, and that there might not always be enough opportunity/resources for you.”

I raised my hand for both. They’re both true. And I’m realizing that I have a weird relationship with money. I’m simultaneously confident and bold, and terrified and cautious. It’s probably a healthy balance. Some (most) days, I feel fortunate to have respectful clients who pay on time, and for not having had to do much formal business development (yet). Other days, I feel like an absolute imposter. I think, “who am I to be billing at this rate?” and “there must be someone more qualified” and “people dream for decades about being working for themselves—who am I to have this opportunity?” And, I think, “there are people—lots of people—who don’t have nearly the access and opportunity I have, and I need to think about how to use my privilege to support them and their work.”

This morning, I paid off my student loans. My accountant (shameless plug for the awesome team at Financial Navigation Group) told me that taking a large (for me) distribution from my business would be okay with my tax situation this year. So I did it, and I paid it, and it felt wonderful and also bizarre and undeserved.

If you would’ve told me that I’d be able to…

  • Pay off my student loans
  • Pay off my car
  • Easily find and use health insurance
  • Re-side my garage
  • Keep up with mortgage payments
  • Hire a 1/2 time contractor to work with me
  • Go on vacation(s)

…in the first two years of my business, I’d have told you that you were full of it. Because who am I to deserve any of this? The answer is that I’m me, and I’m enough, and I deserve this, and it’s important to vocalize that (sometimes literally).

In no particular order, here six themes—affirmations—that I firmly believe, and that I try to remember when I start spiraling into imposter syndrome-dom. Maybe they’ll help you avoid or pull out of the spiral, too.

  1. I deserve to be properly compensated for my contributions.
  2. I have the right to choose how to structure my days, and my life.
  3. I deserve respect, and the benefit of the doubt.
  4. Taking time off does not mean I am less of a hard worker.
  5. I have enough, and I am enough.
  6. Everything will work out.

Do you have other affirmations you use to keep yourself from descending into self-doubt? Hit me.

Thanks for reading.



A whole year! (And 13 days.)

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Entrepreneurship, Life+Work, Personal

Well, my friends—this feels like a milestone. Of course, consistent with the theme of the past 12 months (and 13 days)—I’m reluctant to call it as much, or to take credit. Call me Minnesotan. Whatever the reason, I think remaining humble is key to being accessible and approachable for others (particularly those also interested in forging their own paths)—as well as for keeping the little pilot light burning in your belly, ready to ignite and conquer at a moment’s notice.

Thanks for allowing me. Now, onto the good stuff. When I spoke at WordUp Mpls a few months ago, I shared a few things I’ve learned this year. Here are a few:

  • You can’t wait for everything to be perfect before you move forward. If I had, I would’ve let the fact that I didn’t have a business plan (still don’t) or a sketched-out customer pipeline (still don’t) or a fancy logo or business marketing plan (still don’t) in place, deter me from starting my own thing—from starting. You just have to start.
  • You should trust your gut, more than ever. Nobody’s perfect, but I’ve had a few less-than-ideal situations in the past 12 months that could have been prevented, had I trusted my gut about the people and the projects. If you have a bad feeling about someone or something, run. Or if you have a good feeling, but can’t necessarily prove it’ll be a success, jump anyway. Give it a shot. What do you have to lose?
  • Do not show your freakin’ clients your freakin’ dirty laundry. I have one million examples of this, and have been guilty of it myself, on occasion. In short: your clients hire you to do your thing. They likely do not want to learn the intricacies and complications, and they definitely don’t have time to waste. When in doubt, keep it to yourself.

Most of all, though—and this is true whether you want to work for yourself or anyone else—nurture your network. 99.99% of my business this year (that’s a real stat! Okay, maybe not.) have come from people I know, or people who know people I know, and that’s what it’s all about. The same has been true in my career, for getting interviews, and landing gigs. If you do nothing else proactively in 2015, do this: Say yes to coffees and lunches and happy hours. Go to the networking event, even on the coldest of nights, for the presenter you’ve seen ten times. Stretch your limits, meet new people, and catch up with the ones you already know.

I have so many people to thank, and will forever and always forget people when making lists like these (please don’t be offended!), but here are a few on my mind and heart (in no particular order):

  • Lisa and Lauren – For being good listeners and cheerleaders. Cafe Maude, anyone?
  • Justin – For being a reliable sounding board and truth-teller, and for the accountability and perspective that can only come from someone at a similar stage in their solodom path.
  • My awesome clients – Maggi with the Minnesota Food Charter, Kate with Nonprofits Assistance Fund, and Mary Beth at Be The Match, to name a few. Thank you for believing in me, trusting me with your ever-important work, and for allowing for some fun in the process.
  • Jen and Chuck – For collaborations, encouragement, and support. (That lunch at Lucky’s was a turning point for me.)
  • Joan – For helping me land my first contract, and for teaching me more in the past five(ish) years than I ever could’ve understood back at Second Harvest.
  • Judy, Charles, and Eric – For the mentorship and friendship over time—I’ve learned so much from each of you, and respect you more than you can know.
  • H and B and LFor not thinking I’m an a**hole, despite my extreme T. For being supportive, for doing incredible work in the world, and for making me proud to have worked with you and to know you. (And for keeping me humble—don’t tell anyone I was not at all qualified to be your “boss”… You’re all far too brilliant.)
  • Don – Not only for your partnership and love in life, but for the context and insight that comes with having done similar work in the past. The original “Going Solo” and “Jump!” events helped me rationalize the possibility, and to make it so.
  • MIMA Boardies – Current and Former – Lauren, for bringing me on board. Jamie, for being a hilarious and genius PIC. Arik, for helping us… ahem…”professionalize.” Kat, for believing in me, and for the good talks over good drinks. And the rest of you silly geese—for the fun, and for being a part of something, and allowing me to be a part of it, too.
  • My parents – Because, duh. Most of the time, you believe in me more than is reasonable. Thank you for being my biggest fans, and for always trusting me to do what I think is best. I’m confident and well-equipped, thanks to your support and the examples you’ve set. I love you.
  • NoraFor the humor and camaraderie on the MIMA board, for sure. But more than anything—for the grace with which you’ve handled life’s most difficult and horrifying events, and for the example you’ve set of a beautiful spirit and committed friend. I look up to you so very much, and my life is better with you in it.
  • Davis and Bjorn – For recent partnerships, but even more so for the counsel and support along the way.
  • Dawn Marie – For the partnership as colleagues, and the support and encouragement as friends. You’re the F to my T (there’s probably a euphemism there) and I miss seeing your face every day.

One year, 13 days. 378 days. 54 weeks. 9,072 hours. The clock is ticking. Harvest is waiting for me to work on some billable projects. And I, my friends, have to get going to create another great year.

Thank you all. For everything.


A response to a response to a new take on The Busy Trap.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Entrepreneurship, Life+Work, Personal

Since originally reading The Busy Trap, I’ve tried to avoid using “busy” as a keyword in a standard response to someone’s inquiry into my well-being (which of course, as a human, I often fail at). I’ve also tried to stop thinking about having a consistent stream of opportunities for work and fun as things that happen to me and instead as things I create and embrace to build a fulfilling life for myself.

And now that I’m “running my own business” (and by that I mean—doing work I know how to do, and figuring the rest out along the way), I’m getting even more “pick your brain?” and “catch up?” coffee or drink requests than I was before. Admittedly, it’s been hard for me to justify which meetings to take and which to politely decline, because the reality is that I earn a living by the minutes I can commit to client work. It’s a pickle, because my time, like everyone else’s, is precious…but also because I’m a full-blown E and I legitimately love these meet-up opportunities.

Last week at CoCo’s first unlea(she)d event, Nancy Lyons said something that resonated with me. She suggested that we, as people in this pickle (my word, not hers), should always take that coffee because not one of us got to where we are by ourselves. I will always attribute much of my opportunities and success to the people I’ve met, the network I’ve built. To those I now call friends, colleagues, former bosses, even acquaintances. To people who’ve made time for coffee or a drink with me.

Yes, you’re probably busy. And yes, sometimes it might feel like you’re trapped, and that you’re not in control. But remember:

The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it. – The ‘Busy’ Trap, Tim Kreider

And remember the people who’ve made time for you.

(Thanks to Greg Swan for putting this new piece on my radar.)

“Oh, sh*t” moments.

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Entrepreneurship, Life+Work, Personal
Illustrated by Yiying Lu.
Credit: Hyperbole and a Half
Credit: Hyperbole and a Half. Go visit. Now.

Sometimes, running your own business is really scary.

If you know me, you know I talk a lot about the importance of transparency and openness—especially in the entrepreneurial community, and even more so among other women business owners—we don’t do each other or ourselves any justice by pretending we’ve got it all figured out. That our business growth strategy is developed and the perfect resources are firmly in place. That we’re infallible and mighty.

I’ve already had some considerable “Oh, shit” moments in my first 87 days of solodom, and I’m pretty sure they’re just going to keep coming. Moments of:

  • “Oh, shit. What if I lose this client and don’t have anything else in the hopper?”
  • “Oh, shit. Am I really qualified to be doing this? There have to be people more experienced/more creative/better.”
  • “Oh, shit. Am I supposed to be paying attention to cash flow and lead generation and thought leadership and agghhh?!”

We’ve all had people tell us: “Don’t stress. Everyone else is faking it, too.” Which I believe to be half true. The reality is, no one is completely faking it, or they/we wouldn’t have any clients. But the important thing to remember is that everyone—yes, everyone—has had self doubt, crappy days, feelings of inferiority, bad luck, uncompromising humanness. (Unless he or she is a conceited, ignorant arse, in which case, you’re the arse for comparing yourself to him or her anyway.)

For me, yesterday was an “Oh, shit” day, almost in its entirety. Today’s quite different—full of positivity, hope, promise, and small wins that qualify as some solid emotional redemption. Enough to keep going for another day.

So here’s to more wins and less “Oh, shit” moments, and sharing them all with each other as openly and as bravely as we can, in the spirit of creating the supportive, empowering and productive community of which we all want to be part.