If you’ve never listened to Brooke Castillo’s Life Coach School podcast, I highly recommend it. Don’t start with the latest episode – go all the way back to the first one and proceed from there. It’s a masterclass in emotional intelligence.
I was tempted to skip this early episode, because “Questions to Ask Yourself” is not the most compelling title. I’m glad I didn’t. This is the episode where she illustrates how the value of the questions you ask yourself will dictate the quality of your life. She suggests moving from damning questions to empowering ones. Her example:
“Why can’t I lose weight?” versus “How can I lose weight permanently and never feel deprived?”
You don’t have to be an emotional intelligence ninja to see how one of these questions will produce far more productive responses than the other.
There are a lot of areas in my life where I am going to make a conscious effort to improve my questions. But one that I already changed several years ago was:
“How can this situation be a win for both my client AND me?”
If you’re new to this idea, you’re probably immediately skeptical. The traditional dynamic between clients and suppliers is that the former wins while the latter loses. “The customer is always right” is ingrained in our culture. But I’m going to challenge the meaning of this phrase. What if the customer always being right doesn’t mean that you have to be wrong?
Customer service is paramount to a thriving freelance practice, so I’m not suggesting you throw this out the window and tell your clients to shove it. What I am suggesting is that your clients feeling like they’re getting great service doesn’t always have to look like you saying “how high” whenever they ask you to jump.
A former colleague of mine, who produced excellent work, always assumed that her clients wanted her to fall on every possible sword. When a client asked for an expected deadline on something that would reasonably take two days, she’d commit to the next day without them even asking. It was not because the client had any expectation of that (most didn’t), but because she felt that making the tightest turn-around possible would make her client happy. I never got the sense that her clients were any happier than other people’s clients, but they certainly learned to become more demanding.
Unless we’re talking about truly toxic clients (which are rare), there is almost always a way to get a joint win, if you’re creative enough. If it’s necessary, you CAN lower the price of that project – if you remove a component or have it completed in-house. Instead of doing significantly more than the original contract outlined, you CAN typically get clients to broaden the scope at the outset based on your knowledge of how the outcomes usually fall. Several clients have thanked me at the end of a project for having the foresight to know what they would need before they did. Win win.
A savvy solopreneur I know was having challenges getting a new client to pay her in advance. She was told this company had a strict policy of paying service providers only after the fact. She came back with: “I work with many companies in this industry, so I would be out of integrity with my other clients if I accepted late payment from one company and not others.” Her win is obvious as they ultimately bent the policy to meet her requirements. But there is a win there for the company, too, as they now have confirmation that they are working with an experienced, in-demand and yes, ethical provider.
I see freelancers continuously “taking the L”, accepting less than ideal pay and work conditions because they feel they have to. If this is you, try re-framing the question and see it as a personal challenge to get the joint win. Your win if you take this path is obvious, but your clients also win with this attitude, as a provider that feels they are being treated fairly will do much stronger work in the end.
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