Want to save yourself time, money and hassle? Then ask this question and just get it out in the open: What does your client really want, services or eduction?
You may or may not know it but if you have clients, you are in a delicate dance with them. When it comes to this dance you may think you are leading the dance but I am here to suggest that you are not. Your client is leading, you are following, and it is a dance which may lead the both of you into a trap. The trap being your client is unhappy with your billings, and you're stuck defending your right to be paid. They are unhappy and you do not know why. After all, you were responsive to their every need. You answered all of their questions. You executed your work flawlessly and many times at your expense. You missed your kids' ball games and had to cancel a date night with your spouse just to accommodate this client. Now, you have to control yourself, and remain professional while your client demands or begs you to reduce your fees, accept their payment over time, or worse yet, to forgive a substantial about of the bill that you were counting on to pay your staff, your bills, and yourself. Sound familiar? Well, you are not alone, so let's take a look at the dance you have probably been dancing and see if we can't learn some new moves so you can give it a spin in a new direction that will serve you both better.
The number one fear of clients is will you be giving them advice that is good for them, or is good for you? Yes, we are all taught to be cautious. We listen to the advice of experts with a critical ear. Unless you have the complete trust of your client, they will be evaluating everything that you say to determine if your advice is for them, or because it is your best interests. We can't help this. We are trained to be cautious. They are trained to be cautious. Let me assure you that just because someone agrees to hire you that they will not hang on your every word and execute your plan. The natural result is that as a professional, we are asked to explain our answers…and herein lies the dance and the trap.
I am a lawyer. People come to me with their problems. They say they want me to help them solve their problems. I used to give them advice and when they asked me "Why?", I would go into my explanation. I have been practicing law for over thirty years and all of those years of experience along with seven years of college education go into coming up with my advise. Can you imagine how much time I can take explaining why I came with the advice I gave? When do we stop? How much do we say? I noticed that over time I would give advise to some clients, that they wanted to have a complete education, my education, before they would execute. I was only happy to oblige. I would go on and on. What was a 5 minute question and answer would turn into a minute of advice and 59 minutes of client education. Naturally, this all translated to my billings. Sometimes, my client would argue that the time spent on the advise was fine, but the balance of the time (the education) was not furthering their goal to solve their problem. In the end, they had a point. I also had a point. But what is the point if we are going to strain our relationship and argue over billings in the end? So how do we avoid this dance and this trap?
When your client starts asking for an education stop and address the dance before it begins. I have asked many a client "Do you want me to solve your problem or do you want a legal education?" I go on to explain that solving the problem will be much cheaper in the long run than providing the education. Put this way, the client can make a choice. That choice will depend on the client. Either way, you have brought the issue into the light and have had a discussion. You may have to bring this to the attention of your client along the way to solving your client's problem but it is well worth it. Most of my clients are happy to get the advice with a minimum of education. They come back, and they send people to me because I get things done and at a fair price.
Most people, faced with the choice, really just want their problems solved.