The Message We All Fear
What to do When a Client Walks Away Unsatisfied
Anyone who deals with giving advice and guidance can sometimes fall into the "intangible" trap where the value of something isn't realized until the ideas are implemented. Consulting is always a partnership. One partner gives direction, the other puts things into action. If you're a coach, consultant or working in a helping profession that deals with intangibles as deliverables, what do you do when the client sends you a text like this:
I'm not a newbie. I'm an experienced professional and do this work on a regular basis. Clients seek me out for my unique talents. My clients love the work I do and I'm used to receiving positive feedback, declarations of love, referrals and repeat business.
This. Message. Stung.
If you're an entrepreneur, solopreneur, coach where you rely on your time and talent to generate income, you may consciously or unconsciously fear a message like this. I did. And unconsciously fearing it, made me allow it.
In hindsight, I know exactly what I did that resulted in me receiving this text. I'm sharing my many mistakes (cringe) and what you can do instead in hopes that you're never on the receiving end of a message like this.
Mistake #1: I did not own my value.
As I've said, I'd done the same work for so many happy clients, but for some reason, maybe because I knew the client socially, I didn't fully own my price. I showed up more as a friend than a professional when we were discussing the project and that devalued my services.
Do this instead: Get clear on your price for that person. Show up as the professional you are.
It would have been OK for me to reduce the price or to keep the price, but I didn't consider that because I wasn't aware at the time of how I was showing up.
Mistake #2: I did not get payment up front.
Normally, I get paid at time of booking or at the latest day of service. I did not set clear boundaries because of knowing them socially. This not only devalued my service, it also set up a scenario where I could not receive payment.
Do this instead: Stick to your rules. Get paid.
Mistake #3: I over gave when I made a mistake.
I miscalendared the appointment and was late to call them. I felt bad because time was shorter than I'd like and felt guilty about making a mistake. I apologized and then told them I would give them a bonus follow-up session for free. (wtf) This set up an expectation that my fee was less than it actually was.
Do this instead: Briefly, apologize, do the session, move on or deal with any issues if they arise. You are delivering results, not time.
Mistake #4: I compounded mistakes #2 & #3
I then told the client they could pay me after the bonus session.
Part of this is trust and part of this is foolishness and at the time the two were intertwined. Maybe you find yourself doing the same?
Do this instead: Get paid. Clients respect good boundaries and will value your services more.
Mistake #5: I did not set a time and date for the follow-up bonus session.
As a result, time got away from both of us. I relied on them to follow up (which I would call mistake 5a) and never called to follow up (mistake 5b).
When they did follow up, it was a terrible time for me. I said I'd get back to them next week, but didn't (mistake 5c).
Much later I texted:
This was mistake 5d.
With fear of her getting mad at me, I made a joke which set up an imbalance of power.
Better: Say, Hey, things are super busy, let's get something on the calendar. What works for you?
The response was that they didn't hear from me and had hired someone else.
To which I replied:
This was the first good move on my part!
Then....the aforementioned dreaded text from the client clearly stating dissatisfaction.
Mistake #6: I responded to the text.
Fueled by unconscious fear of what they might share with the people we knew in common, I opened the door to reduce my rate. I was shocked and responded - wow. what do you feel is fair? - without giving myself time to ponder (mistake 6a). Ultimately, I agreed to a reduced rate (mistake 6b). I rationalized that the reduced amount of money didn't matter to me. Yeah, I'd pick it up if I saw it on the ground, but it wasn't going to put me out of my house or keep food out of my kids' mouths (mistake 6c). I put fear of confrontation over my own value (mistake 6d).
Do this instead: Don't respond. Send. The. Invoice.
If you're in this situation, here's the truth:
You had an agreement. If they had any issues they should have been brought up immediately after the session, not later when you ask for payment.
You're never going to work with them again (and obviously the feeling is mutual). And please, don't be tempted to work with them again. The imbalance of power is set. They've shown you who they are. You know they're going to question your value and you don't need that!
The people you know in common are not going to care as much as you think. Ultimately, they'll look bad just mentioning it.
The people that mean anything to you that have questions or concerns would have a grown-up conversation with you, cuz you're friends that matter to one another and you can handle that.
Not everyone is going to like you and not everyone who likes you will like you all of the time. (I need to get used to that. And, someday, I will.)
Mistake #7: I judged myself
...and I'm judging myself a teense bit right now.
I know I'm human. I know it's OK to make mistakes. I know judging myself is not going to support any meaningful change on my part. This is not the first time I've worked for less than I deserve, this is not the first time I've devalued myself, but it will be the last.
Do this instead: Course correct.
Acknowledge your part to yourself. Detail what you need to do in the future and exactly how to do it.
So if you've stepped in this pothole without proper footwear a few too many times like I have:
do your due diligence and correct your part
get clear on what you are doing, when you are doing it, and what outcomes the client can expect
have a conversation to end the session, the series, etc. and come to agreement that services rendered were satisfactory...if they're not, openly discuss possible arrangements and take time to sleep on them before you commit
In my experience, if a client doesn't feel services were of value after the fact it's because they didn't implement.