But why stop there? Awkward client conversations will always happen, whether you're jingling bells atop a mistletoe-adorned dumpster or…fatefully not.
Here are 21 responses you'll want to memorize the next time your (well-meaning) client balks at your prices, ignores your deadlines, or otherwise plays bad kitty.
Remember: Don't be a business push over. It's up to you to control the conversation.
WHEN A PROSPECTIVE CLIENT WANTS YOUR HOURLY RATE / A QUOTE ON THE SPOT (LIKE ON THE PHONE, BEFORE YOU'VE HAD TIME TO PROPERLY VET THE PROJECT AND THE COST FOR IT.)
“Let me run some numbers and get back to you in an hour with a flat project rate I think will make the most sense for your situation.”
WHEN YOU GET BACK TO THE CLIENT AND IT'S TIME TO ACTUALLY GIVE THEM THE QUOTE (NO SHRINKING / HEDGING / HESITATION ALLOWED)
“My price for a project of this scope is $3,000.”
[And then let there be silence. Silence is confidence. Stop that waffling.]
WHEN A CLIENT FAILS TO PROVIDE TIMELY FEEDBACK (AND—EEEKKK!—HOLDS UP THE PROJECT)
“Hi, client. Just checking in to see if you've had the opportunity to review the latest revisions on your project. It's fine if you're still looking everything over – I just wanted to make sure I wasn't missing anything on my end. I'll need your feedback no later than <insert date> in order to move forward and stick to our original budget and timeline. Let me know if there's anything you're stuck on.”
[And then? Remember to always set expectations. ]
WHEN A CLIENT SENDS CONFLICTING FEEDBACK FROM TWENTY DIFFERENT PEOPLE ON THEIR TEAM (MAKING IT IMPOSSIBLE FOR YOU TO FIGURE OUT WHAT, EXACTLY, YOU'RE SUPPOSE TO DO)
“I certainly appreciate the enthusiasm from everyone on your team (it's not always the case!) and that they'd each like to weigh in with their individual commentary, but in order to keep the project on schedule and on budget, I've found that having one contact as the ultimate decision maker is most effective. Could you make the final call, and send me a consolidated list of feedback? That would help us both immensely. And by immensely, of course I mean, THANK YOU.”
[Notice a common theme here? Reminding the client that you're asking them to help you keep the project on schedule & budget will remind them that their time is money, too.]
WHEN A CLIENT SAYS THEY CAN'T AFFORD YOU, AND THEIR BUDGET IS LESS THAN THE NUMBER YOU'RE PROPOSING
“I appreciate your candidness! Here's what I can do within your budget ___________________________________.” (This is where you should suggest cutting pieces of the project, offering less revisions, offering less time, or even extending/staggering the deadline.) This way, you'll still ____________________ <insert benefit they really wanted to receive by working with you> and stay within budget. How does this feel?”
[Giving people options is never a bad thing. Nothing is ever all or nothing. And if you do a great job? Who knows—there might just be room in the budget for the rest, after all.]
WHEN THAT DOESN'T WORK AND YOU REALLY WANT THE BUSINESS (AND ARE WILLING TO REDUCE YOUR FEE BUT DON'T WANT TO SOUND LIKE YOU'RE DESPERATE)
“Okay, John – how about this – meet me half way at X.”
[Anytime anyone says “meet me halfway,” it inspires a sense of good will, doesn't it? This is an almost surefire way to get the business you want without entirely compromising on your fee. It's also a surefire way to have that god damn Fergie song stuck in your head all day.]
WHEN A CLIENT DOESN'T WANT TO SIGN YOUR AGREEMENT / INSISTS LEGAL WON'T LET THEM SIGN YOUR AGREEMENT / IGNORES YOUR AGREEMENT
“The client agreement is standard procedure, and it's in place to protect the integrity of the project, as well as to protect you, of course, in the event anything unexpected happens. (Because despite our best intentions, stuff happens, right?) For example, if for any reason you have a financial emergency and can't move forward with the project, there's a kill fee in place. Or if I get hit by a car, there's a refund policy that works to your benefit. Feel free to review the agreement with a trusted advisor, and as soon as we get this housekeeping item out of the way, we'll get started! As a reminder, in order stay on the original timeline & budget proposed, our start date is X.”
[Never, ever do business without a client agreement. I don't care if all you're doing is duck-sitting for your next door neighbor. GET IT IN WRITING. Get everything in writing. GET THEM TO WRITE IT IN BLOOD THAT THEY WILL PAY YOU FOR WORK COMPLETED. Kidding. Except NOT REALLY.]
WHEN YOUR CLIENT IS A PERPETUAL LAST MINUTE NANCY, AND ALWAYS NEED A PROJECT DONE YESTERDAY, WITH NO LEAD TIME
“Nancy, how 'bout we sit down and map out a timeline of the projects you think you'll want me to work for the next 3 months, so I can best plan my project schedule and make sure I'm available for you?”
[It's your client's job to stay organized—and you can't keep making their emergency yours forever. Evoke a little fear in Last Minute Nancy. Nancy needs to R-E-S-P-E-C-T your time.]
WHEN A CLIENT TRIES TO SEXUALLY HARASS YOU
“You can't have my number, but how about my lawyer's?”
[If that doesn't work, give them my number. I'll have a field day.]
WHEN A CLIENT GIVES A VERBAL YES TO YOUR PROJECT PROPOSAL, YOU SEND THE CONTRACT, AND THEN THERE'S RADIO SILENCE
“I know we're both excited about having me on board the project – just to give you a heads up, I’m starting to book up quickly for January & February, and want to make sure I keep room in my project schedule for you. Is there anything else you need from me regarding the agreement I sent over?”
[Most times, it's just because everybody's busy. The good news is that most likely, they have every intention of hiring you. Sometimes, it just requires a little poking and prodding. Not a fan of sending 500 reminders? I LOVE Freshbooks. It automates everything.*]
*Does not automate hustle. Nor corn bread.
WHEN A GREAT OPPORTUNITY COMES ALONG, BUT YOU DON'T WANT TO SOUND LIKE AN OVERZEALOUS, OVERANXIOUS FREELANCER WHO HAS NOTHING BETTER TO DO
“This sounds great – provided I can clear my schedule, I'd love to help out! Here's what I'll need to get started.”
WHEN YOU GET ON THE PHONE WITH A NEW CLIENT AND THERE'S AN AWKWARD SILENCE
“Tell me about yourself, John.”
[Simple. Sleek. Confident. In control.]
WHEN YOU GET ON THE PHONE WITH A CLIENT AND CAN'T SEEM TO GET OFF (NOT LIKE THAT)
“This discussion is so interesting—I definitely want to talk more about it later. Right now I've got to end this conversation, so we'll pick back up on <insert date>, okay?”
[This is probably one of the most difficult things for new service providers who talk on the phone to do—put boundaries around their time. However, it's also one of the most important things you need to learn. Don't be afraid to interrupt when you need to. It's hard, and it takes practice (especially not to sound like a grinch while doing so), but if when people are paying you for your time, and you're having trouble speaking up, try this:Divide what they paid you for that hour by 60. Then, start subtracting that amount for every minute longer you stay on the phone. That should inspire your vocal cords.]
WHEN A CLIENT WANTS TO ASK YOU JUST ONE MORE QUESTION, BUT YOU'RE WAY OVER TIME
“That’s a great question and we'll talk more about it during our next call on <insert date> – I'll make a note of it now!
[Because you *DO* want to serve your clients, after all. It isn't about trying to get out of work–it's about trying to put boundaries around your time.]
OR IF IT'S TIME-SENSITIVE, BUT YOU'VE GOT ANOTHER CLIENT WAITING
“That's a great question and I'm happy to talk more about it – let me get some ideas together and I'll send you an email in a couple of hours with my thoughts, okay?”
[I know this is the third in a row with this predicament, but I also know that you're going to feel like a huge jerk the first few times you put your foot down, so this one's a little softer. Wink.]
WHEN A CLIENT ASKS YOU TO CONSULT ON SOMETHING THAT'S OUTSIDE THE SCOPE OF YOUR PROJECT AND/OR EXPERTISE
“I'm honored (and quite frankly, blushing) that you trust my experience and level of expertise. Unfortunately, I'm not in a position to consult on _____________. I do happen to know a great <insert type of service provider> who's brilliant beyond belief – I'd be happy to send an intro email if you'd like!”
[And seriously—you really SHOULD NOT be giving consulting advice unless you've got a work agreement in place that outlines your liability. With consulting comes a lot of power—and a lot of people might be making big life changes all because of something you said. So make sure you're in a (legal) position to be giving that consulting advice.]
WHEN A CLIENT REQUESTS REVISIONS / ADDITIONAL SERVICES THAT GO BEYOND THE SCOPE OF YOUR ORIGINAL AGREEMENT
“I'd be happy to provide further revisions / that service beyond the scope of our original agreement, at a rate of $X. Just go ahead and say the word, and consider it done.”
[Scope creep is not your friend. Neither are any other creeps.]
WHEN YOU WANT TO TELL EXISTING CLIENTS YOUR RATE WILL BE INCREASING, BUT YOU'RE SCARED TO DEATH THEY'LL BE MAD AT YOU / THROW PLAY DOUGH / NEVER TALK TO YOU AGAIN / REVOLT
I've been thinking of you, and wanted to send over a quick email to say THANK YOU for the work we did together in <month.> Did you ever have any luck with <insert something relevant & thoughtful here>?
I also wanted to provide you with my 2014 rates for your records / accounting department, and let you know that as a long-standing client, I'm happy to extend you my 2013 rates for any work you book now through January 31st—even if you don't need it until March. Okay? Let me know on that front ASAP, and I'll take care of you.
To candy canes dipped in egg nog,
<Attach rate card to email>
[…Want other scripts for raising your rates under different circumstances, like long-term clients that have been with the same rate for FOREVER? I've written an entire collection here.]
WHEN YOU WANT TO SEND OUT A THOUGHTFUL HOLIDAY HELLO TO REMIND CLIENTS THAT YOU EXIST (AND YOU'RE READY FOR THEIR BUSINESS THIS YEAR!) WITHOUT SOUNDING KISS-ASSY OR GENERIC
“Hi, client! I just wanted to quickly pop in, do a Miss America style wave, (and maybe give a saucy wink), and let you know that that – HI! – I'm here for you if you need any extra support with any projects you're rolling out for the new year, and extend you priority scheduling before I release <insert fabulous new service> in January.”
[Of course, you don't want to lie. But you probably are rolling out new services, and you probably will be getting booked up, so if there's anyone you love working with (and want to work with them more), then don't wait for the business. Go get it.]
WHEN YOU WANT TO ASK FOR REFERRALS—WITHOUT SOUNDING LIKE A DESPERATE, NEEDY SCHMUCK
“Client! Guess what I'm doing right now? Hint: I'm wearing my bright red lipstick, and there are twelve French men in my foyer.
KIDDING. I don't even have a foyer.
I just wanted to pop in (hi!), and mention that even though I'm decking the halls and making tons of resolutions to stop eating licorice for breakfast, I'm also working on this coming year's project schedule. Since you're a gal in the know, I wanted to ask you: Before I book myself full with the regulars, is there anyone you know who you think I might LOVE working with this year?”
[People love to feel like they're in a position of power. This can work in your benefit.]
WHEN YOU WANT TO SEND OUT A JANUARY PROMO EMAIL BUT DON'T WANT EVERYONE TO VOMIT ALL OVER YOU
“So, if I had a nickel for each and every promo email you're going to get from businesses now that it's almost time for the new year's services to roll out, then I would have roughly 738 and 1/4 nickels. And not to be kiss-assy or generic? This is one of those promo emails. (Don't say I didn't warn you.)”
[Be human. It's the best sales tool you didn't know you had the whole time.]
AND BONUS! SINCE IT'S THE HOLIDAYS AND ALL, AND YOU NEVER KNOW WHEN YOU MIGHT HAVE TO TURN DOWN A SECOND DATE WITH SOMEONE YOU HATE, WE THOUGHT THIS MIGHT BE USEFUL, TOO
Thank you so much for the invite! Unfortunately, (*cue ominous music*) I have to pass. This is normally where I'd spew some stupid excuse and try to let you down easy, but I reckon you're too smart for cliche'd lines, (even though it really IS me, this time.)
So, in all honesty? I just felt like we didn't click as well as we could have, and I don't want to suck up your time on a Saturday night when you could be out meeting someone who break dances just as well as you do.
Consider this explicit permission to say mean things about me to your friends, okay?
P.S. If you need ammo for the trash talking, you should mention how bad my roots are, because dayummmm, I need to make a hair appointment. 😉
Double P.S. One time I peed in the shower.
From clients to creeps, these scripts have got you covered like a head-to-toe Santa Suit. Wink.
Also, why aren't there ever sexy Santa costumes?
Double also, one time I really did pee in the shower. I don't want to talk about it.