Sniffing Out Potential Clients for Issues

satisfactionEvery small business owner or freelancer has been there: working on a project that is going downhill. If it hasn’t happened, you haven’t been doing it long enough. For me, it happened about 9 weeks into working for myself when we went over a week without any new clients and I’d already finished all of the work that had come in. I was weak, vulnerable. I let the client run the show, so here is how I’ve avoided making the same mistake again.

  • Whenever possible, I attempt to get as much information as possible about the project in writing before discussing over voice because calls can drag on.
  • I try to limit calls to 30 minutes. That’s an acceptable loss of time if it doesn’t work out and also reasonably rolled into my project pricing so I can recoup the time if the project goes on the low end of time spent.
  • I don’t barter for my services. There is no working for commission that may or may not come from a site or other delayed payment option. That will not pay my mortgage or put food on my table. That is a risk.
  • I don’t negotiate my prices. My prices are fair, my service is impeccable, and my character is untarnished.
  • Want to meet to discuss a potential project? Sure, but you’re paying a consulting fee if it doesn’t work out. I spent 3 hours at Panera (5 hours away from home) with someone who wanted to pay for the work with commission generated from the site. I’d like those 3 hours of my life back or the money due for that time.
  • I try to determine as quickly as possible whether or not the task will involve a lot of technical changes (hosting or site platform) that will entail additional correspondence or labor. Some clients need ALL of the work done for them and don’t know any of their login information – they have to start over from scratch.
  • I write the terms into every estimate and invoice I send to the client so it’s clear when payment is expected, what is included, when my tasks are done, etc.
  • If things start to go badly, take the initiative and make contact to let them know the situation and discuss modification of terms or refunding their money after ensuring the project ends on good terms.
  • I reserve the right to break my own rules in favor of the client, but I also reserve the right to stick to my guns.

Statistically speaking, I’d venture a guess that I have an 80% enrollment rating from any sort of contact, 95% invoicing of clients by referral, and only 1 “good terms” refund from 139 invoices when the scope changed too drastically.

I hope this helps you avoid your own client nightmares and leads to many happy encounters. Are there any additional tips or suggestions that you or your company use when feeling out potential clients?

7 Truths of Self-Employment

As the sun rises today, I will be celebrating my 7-month anniversary of the day I woke up a free man for the first time in my life – from the bondage of having “The Man” over me. With all of the negative news around about the economy, taxes, “change” politics, and everything divisive, please use this as your own personal encouragement to aim high for yourself and know that you can make your own difference.

February 3rd changed so much for me:

  1. Our livelihood became directly related to how hard I worked and my success at operating my brand . How many times have you been on the clock wishing your pay was directly related to your effort and value to your organization? Unless you’re commission-based or get direct profit-sharing, you hardly see a dime for going above and beyond. No matter how much gets done in a day, there’s more to do tomorrow, right? Now I can see a direct correlation in our bank account based on how gung-ho I am at the beginning of the month (not including accounts receivable from some clients that use Corporate to pay on a net 30 term). I’d probably double our money if I got gung-ho twice per month.
  2. My stress level skyrocketed and plummeted daily as it has never done before. I felt like the whole world was on my shoulders one moment and relieved to not be asking permission to do things, anticipating co-workers’ reactions to my decisions, or the dreaded sin of being misunderstood for the billionth time in my life. If good intentions and a valiant effort was the ticket to success as an employee of any level, we’d be president and CEO/COO many times over, but life ain’t fair like that. Take time out to go get a Smoothie or work from the Barnes & Noble cafe over a root beer and Rice Crispy treat. Enjoy your new freedom to keep your stress in check.
  3. Be prepared for snafus with your insurance at some point. We’d already been on COBRA for several months when we hit a paperwork snafu and lost that coverage. Great thing to happen to someone with cystic fibrosis, I know, but it happened. By 4pm that day, I had an application with a check for the first month’s coverage in the mail for a conversion to an individual policy. It was approved and had an effective date of our cancellation day, so no lapse in coverage and no pre-existing condition issues (though they did mix that up in their computers for a second scare). You have to know your stuff when it comes to insurance to live this way. Corporate benefits are great, but you can earn your way out of that trap designed to keep you happy while you’re miserable.
  4. Ask friends who run successful, long-time businesses for a recommendation for a CPA. I spent a good 20-30 hours sweating over figuring out my first estimated payment in April. My CPA walked me through about 20-30 questions that my research into my books made quite easy to give me answers to. Twenty minutes later, I walked out the door with payment slips to send in quarterly and he told me to come back in November or December to get a check-up for any adjustments to my last payment. I’m actually looking forward to seeing him again. If I have to pay more taxes, then I had a really good year.
  5. Be sure you have a strong marriage if you’re married. If you’re dating, well, you’re about to find out how much you can weather as you take on crazy ideas, hours, moods, cravings of comfortable things, and more. I could have done better communicating my feelings for that first month because so much of my life was in turmoil all at once. If it didn’t involve healing myself from my job loss, things would have been smoother, but by no means smoothly.
  6. There stands a pretty good chance that you haven’t put enough thought into your business model or specific policies that your business needs. For me it was all about pricing my work, setting guidelines to help clients determine what they even wanted me to do for them as a WordPress guru, payment policies, timeline expectations, sheesh… looking back, I’m surprised my first 60-90 days were as successful as they were. I had one major customer lesson that I learned, have still only had one non-paying client, and have fine-tuned my trade with each customer experience that didn’t exactly go as I had pictured it in my mind.
  7. Certainly not the least of these is that being your own boss is FUN! I know it doesn’t sound like it after all of that reality I just spewed, but it’s the best part and best parts are always meant to be saved for last. In June, we were able to take 10 days and travel to Ohio for my grandparents’ 60th anniversary. I worked off and on for a couple of hours at a time while we were there, but nothing that made me miss any activities or neglect anyone. I think Facebook was a far bigger family distraction around the table than anything business-related. After that, we went to the beach for 3 days with my in-laws for a mini-vacation where I didn’t do a lick of work because I didn’t want to pay $12/day for Internet access at the hotel. Did we suffer in the pocketbook? Not at all. Now we just have to wait for my wife to accrue more vacation time, because I have all of the time in the world.

So if you’re thinking about taking the plunge and starting off on your own, now you have some straight talk from someone who’s done it. It’s not all good, but it’s sure not all bad. Be sure to visit my site and my portfolio at if you’re interested in taking advantage of my experience starting a business without an investor or going into debt. I can help you make your site work for you!

Connections Are King in Business

I had a call this morning with Barry Moltz to continue our design discussions on the site redesign he commissioned me to do for his book, blog, and speaking website. To set up the rest of this story, let’s go back a couple of years.

I started blogging at the end of 2005 and ran across Liz Strauss’ blog about successful blogging, appropriately called I started reading and commenting all of the time, made some friends, and took a trip to Chicago in May 2007 for the first annual SOBCon – Business School for Bloggers. There, I met Phil Gerbyshak and Terry Starbucker amongst the crowd of great people. Back for the second year in 2008, I’d already done business with quite a few SOBs, as we’re called (Successful Online Bloggers), and I came back home to even more work as a result of the conference.

About a year ago, my friend, Liz Strauss recommended that Barry send me his book to review for his site. Connection #1. I was really busy and was in school — reading just wasn’t going to happen. Meanwhile, I’d ramped up my freelancing to work most evenings after my wife went to bed and I did a complete site migration and design for Phil, then another site, and another. I started my own company in March and he had even more work for me.

Out of the blue one day, I was sitting at Panera when a tweet from Barry came through asking if I’d be interested in re-designing his site. “Heck yeah!” was really hard to hold back, but I managed. We chatted, the price was right, so we’re working on that now for release in the next couple of weeks. Connection #2. I asked him how he came to me as a service provider, and he said it was a tweet about WordPress that got his attention and that he’d even forgotten the connection to my name and the book review. I reviewed his book within a week of that call. 🙂

I’ve been working on this and that recently when I got an e-mail from Hawaii for another site. Rosa Say was wanting to move Joyful Jubilant Learning, a community blog with about 2 dozen writers from TypePad to WordPress. Along with that, there were about 4 other sites to create or migrate, which was fine with me. She has several connections with SOBCon people, but it was Phil Gerbyshak who convinced her to use my services. Connection #3.

Back to the call this morning… Barry had Phil on his radio program to talk about social media and my name was mentioned; not once, not twice, but over 5 times. I lost count when I started blushing in my own living room.

Nurture your connections, and your connections will sustain you.