Navigating Your On-Going Client Relationships
Have you ever found yourself in a client situation where you sit back and wonder – how did we get here?
You’re scrambling to do the work at the last minute, you’re using tools you’re unfamiliar with, and you’re responding to messages in three places at all times of the day.
Not to mention the pang of resentment you feel every time that client reaches out…sound familiar?
This is a common theme among service providers who work with clients on an on-going basis. Maybe you’re a copywriter with a monthly retainer package, or a trainer or health coach or designer or marketing professional. If you’ve ever been in this place (or maybe you’re there right now), I want to tell you something that might be hard to hear. Make sure you’re sitting down when you read this one:
“It’s not them, it’s you.”
It sounds harsh, I know, but it’s true! As business owners, we accidentally put ourselves in these situations with clients, and then scratch our heads about why those relationships don’t feel great.
The good news is that while you helped create the situation, YOU have the power to turn it all around, too.
You. Are. The. Expert. YOU know what it takes to do the work, how long it takes, and what you need to provide great service. And it starts with setting expectations right out of the gate with your contract.
We all know that our written agreements should lay out the parameters for how we work with someone, but it’s up to you to back it up by sticking to what is outlined there.
So, what do we do if we find ourselves in a less-than-stellar client relationship? We get to work reviewing again how we want to support our clients, and then we communicate those details to everyone involved.
It might come in the form of a revised or updated contract, it might be a verbal agreement to move ahead in a slightly different manner. Whatever the solution, it’s our job to take the bull by the horns and revamp what isn’t working.
1. Take Stock of Where You Are
Take a look at how you’re currently showing up for your clients. When you have meetings, are you in the driver’s seat? How are you responding to their messages, and what time frames are you delivering in? When they call, do you drop everything and answer right away, or are you sticking within the boundaries that you laid out when you first started working together? It’s so easy to slip into bad habits when we love our clients and want to help them.
The truth is: sometimes we wind up creating unhealthy working relationships simply by wanting to help so badly. In reality, in order to do that effectively and feel good about our daily work life, we need to hold ourselves (and them) accountable to reasonable expectations.
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you need to work on this – there is room for improvement. We’ve all been there.
Write out a list of things that aren’t flowing well with your current client work. This process might be a bit scary – we all fear losing clients – but it can be a good wake-up call in helping you build a business you adore, versus one that might pay the bills but you find stressful.
2. Determine Your Non-Negotiables
After you’ve looked at your current working reality, give yourself an opportunity to envision what it would look like if your business was operating the way you want it to be.
As in many of the processes I use with clients, I like to include an element of “dreaming.” How do you want to feel working with your clients? What would give you room to really spread your wings, and do the things you’d like to do in your business? Do a little fantasizing about how your ideal solution or situation could play out.
Maybe you don’t want to work on the weekends. Or, you simply don’t want to take phone calls at your client’s will. Perhaps, there are a few steps along the way that don’t require your involvement at all anymore.
Add this section to your list, too, before moving on to the next part…the hardest of all.
3. Renegotiate Your Terms
If what you came up with in the first step isn’t looking so great, it’s always okay to revisit prior agreements.
This may mean renegotiating contracts with your existing clients because what worked initially isn’t working now. Maybe the scope has shifted into uncharted territory, or the rate you agreed upon two years ago no longer meets your needs. (Inflation, anyone?)
Whatever the case, it’s our job to take the lead in this conversation. I can guarantee your clients won’t spontaneously offer to pay you a higher hourly rate or offer to stop texting you at midnight.
If you show up as the expert you are, and take control of the conversation, you’ll be happier in the long run and your clients will respect your boundaries better. You can still be open and meet people where they’re at, while being structured about your processes and procedures.
This can be done with one email, a phone call, or by hopping on a Zoom chat. You’ll simply address the problem, and lay out your new standard going forward. The goal is to relay your new packages, new policies, etc., in a kind, cohesive way. And if they can’t agree to your terms, then you can let them go – with love.
Trust me, this will be a relief for your client as well.
They hired you to take a piece of their business off their hands. And, if it’s not a good fit anymore, it’s simply not a good fit. Allow yourself and your clients the opportunity to make up their minds, while maintaining the working framework you need to feel successful.
If you don’t do this for yourself, however, you’ll continue resenting your clients, and you’ll never be able to grow.
So tell me, where have you been noticing that you need to renegotiate, or assert that you are the expert in a conversation with a client? I’d love to know. Send me a DM on Instagram, Facebook, or Linked In, and let’s talk about it!
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