When a client spends money with you, do you deliver what you promise?
Of course, you do!
But if you are like 80% of business owners who sell their expertise and talent, you probably deliver far more than what was expected of you.
Over delivery is a common problem and not only does it mean you work harder than you need to and puts you on the path to burnout, but it also affects your profitability and your ability to grow your business.
Let me show you how.
Example #1 Corporate trainer & executive coach working in the tech industry
The last few years have been good. Business has turned up when they needed it (but only just in time, to be honest!). But at the end of last year, they felt exhausted. She’d been to 15 different cities and 4 different countries to deliver her training and executive coaching and she felt out of control over who needed the follow-up reports she promised.
Here’s what she’s letting happen:
- She is saying yes to every project that comes her way because she’s not sure when her good luck is going to run out. Consequently, she’s blocked out her diary to the max some months, running back-to-back with different clients.
- Her one day that she promised herself to keep free for a day at home, without work is now being spent at her laptop typing up reports and support documents that she agreed to do because she wants to impress her clients and get the repeat business they promised, even though these weren’t included in the original proposal.
- Her coaching clients are turning up late for their 121 sessions and recently she’s been left waiting patiently on the conference call whilst one client took another call and had to answer an urgent email.
Example #2 Therapist with a busy clinic
She’s got a busy schedule and from the outside looking in, she appears to have a successful and thriving clinic. But over the past few months, she’s getting tired and looking at her bank account again this week, she’s wondering why she never seems to have enough cash to do the things she wants to grow her clinic, such as that online booking system she knows will help grow her client base.
Here’s what she’s letting happen:
- Client sessions are overrunning because she’s giving them a longer treatment than advertised, which means clients who are turning up on time are being kept waiting.
- Clients are cancelling on the day which means she has spare chunks of clinic time she can’t resell at such short notice.
- Clients aren’t re-booking their next appointment before they leave because she’s telling them it’s OK to do it later in the week. They never do.
Even if you’re not this corporate trainer or therapist, do you recognise similar problems in your business?
The real truth behind all of these problems is that clients are not giving you these problems; you are allowing them to happen. You’ve let your professional boundaries slip by giving your clients everything they ask for, and more at times.
Something I teach my clients is Partnership Power; the ability to sell and work with clients from a place of equal power. When you let your boundaries slip, you start to give up your power and the power shifts over to your client. This can lead to them starting to take more liberties, perhaps start asking for discounts or add-ons to what you’ve already agreed. And when you start saying yes to these, you let your power shift away from you even more and the relationship can fast become toxic, with invoices even going unpaid.
But take too much power over your clients, and you can come across as arrogant, cold or dismissive of their needs. This, of course, would start pushing away clients and your business will suffer.
So setting boundaries doesn’t mean you need to become Queen Bitch. Far from it. Setting boundaries are about creating the space and container for both and your client to work side by side, in partnership and in service with each other, rather than you becoming the servant.
Before we dive into the practicals of how to take back control and put in strong boundaries, first let’s look at why you may be allowing these problems to happen.
Over the past 15 years of working with clients, I see these same reasons come up time and time again.
1) Feeling of a lack of worth; you don’t really believe how good you are at what you do and subconsciously overcompensate in make sure your clients are happy with their results. This often messes with your head when it comes to selling because you tie up the “no” to buying from you to mean that you aren’t good enough, rather than the offer you are making.
2) Need to be recognised; tied in with a low level of self-worth, you only feel you’re doing OK when other people tell you so. So because you want more people saying “yes” to buying from you, you charge far lower prices than you should be charging.
3) People pleasing; you are programmed to make sure all your clients are happy and pleased at all times. On one hand, it is important to strive to a high level of customer happiness but the reality is that, in business, you just aren’t going to meet every one of your clients’ expectations, all of the time. Some people simply don’t like or see the value in what it is you offer … and that’s OK.
I have had challenges with all three of these over the years. So it’s OK if you recognise one or more of these. We are all human, after all. And, in my experience, they never completely go away but live in my head like a piece of software waiting to start up at times when I’m feeling down or business is not going so well. So although it is important to spend time unravelling the emotional thinking behind your over-delivering, what I want to share with you here are some practical ways of putting in strong professional boundaries.
Once you start setting the right rules, structure and systems for you and your clients to work towards, you’ll find you will get fewer opportunities to allow your people pleasing or the need to be recognised to rear their ugly heads. And you need to re-balance the Partnership Power in your client relationship so you are working together, rather showing up as the servant.
1.Set Your Working Hours
To begin with, you may make your calendar available to anyone who is interested in speaking with you. But as your diary starts to fill up with appointments, it’s easy to lose control and become highly unproductive. It’s time to set your working hours.
Believe it not, you have total control of your working week. You may not feel it right now, but you can decide exactly when you work and where. That’s the beauty of being your own boss, yes?
For example, Monday morning is sacred to me; it’s for my weekly reflections and planning, my weekly cash flow and money, my weekly team meeting with my assistant. The time I allow my clients to book into my diary is from Monday afternoon through to Thursday, afternoons only. I also don’t work past 5 pm.
What specific working hours do you want to set? You may like to work evenings but don’t start work until 11 am. Perhaps you only want 3 days a week, term times only. Set your working hours, block out your diary accordingly and don’t let your clients or client work take you away from this.
2) Contracts, Terms of Service & Signed Agreements
Whatever you sell, your clients have to be aware of the parameters of your professional working relationship. If you don’t set the rules at the start, your client won’t know when they are stepping over the mark or requesting something that you can’t or don’t want to deliver on. Remember you are in service to them, not serving them.
The specifics of your working relationship need to include:
- Cancellation policy – What happens if they no-show or cancel late? How do you deal with emergency situations when they genuinely can’t keep their agreed time? Is there a charge in place when they don’t? (Any dentist does this now, so why should you be any different?)
- Confidentiality – Is this important to highlight in your client work?
- Support times and access to you – How do your clients reach you whilst working with you? If you don’t want them calling you on your mobile number, why do you have it on your business card or email signature? What response time do you promise for emails or phone messages? (ie instant is not an option unless they are VIP level and they paying good money for this kind of response!)
- Payment terms – When do you expect payment and how? It’s not good enough to let your clients pay you when it suits them. You either set up a pay-before-we-work process or invoice with 5 days payment terms, slightly longer perhaps if you are dealing with a finance team in an organisation (but certainly not 60 days which I’ve seen some my own clients feel obligated to agree to).
These documents don’t need to be long and legal. You can create a very personable contract or terms of service that highlights the promise you are making to your client and the level of service you are giving them, without lots of small print. But I do recommend you get your clients to sign one, rather than just email them a copy for reference, before you start working together because it means they’ve read it and acknowledged how your relationship is going work.
If you want some well-written templates to work from, then I can highly recommend The Small Business Legal Academy which is where I’ve got all my contracts and terms of service documents from.
3) Don’t Discount; Negotiate
Sometimes you are going to get clients who want to work with you but either don’t have the money or don’t want to commit themselves to the full offering straight off. It’s easy when you may be feeling unsure of yourself and lack the number of sales you may need that month to start bartering and discounting. But you lose your Partnership Power and you are starting your client relationship off on the wrong foot.
In my experience, the client that bartered and got a discount ended up a toxic client; they rarely did their “homework” between our sessions and they often didn’t pay my invoices on time.
So rather than discount, negotiate what’s on offer. If they can’t or don’t want to pay the price you are quoting and you’ve decided that you would like to work with this client because you know you can help them and they’ve be great to work with, then take something out of the offer to compensate for the lower price. This could mean one less session with you. It could mean no email support, or follow up call or access to digital files.
4) Deliver What You’ve Promised And No More
It’s easy to keep bolting on extra stuff or letting sessions going on longer than you had scheduled just because you find what you’re offering easy to do. But remember the years of experience, the hours of professional training and the many life lessons that you had to endure to be able to offer what it is you do. It’s easy to do more for your clients because it’s who you are and it comes easily to you.
But if you don’t know how to limit what service you provide, you are in danger of not just over-delivering, but also overwhelming your client. More information, training or teaching often is not helpful. It’s not that you hold back vital tools or techniques or knowledge that your clients need from you to maintain a level of expertise; that shifts your Partnership Power too much on your side. But you give your clients what they need at the time to progress. Simple as.
So however you lay out your programmes, packages or service offerings, make sure you list everything that’s included … and stick to it. If you find you want to increase what’s on offer, then adjust your pricing accordingly.
So that’s four simple ways to set your boundaries and get back into Partnership Power with your clients. Do all these and within a few weeks, you’ll notice the difference in your productivity and your profitability; working just the hours you’ve originally priced and discussed with your clients. Plus you feel far less overwhelmed and in control of your working week.
Thank you for reading. Until next time, do less, be more, play bigger.
This is such an important topic! Wish I read it the day I established my business. Thank you.
I am going to print this out and keep it to refer to. Thank you so much.
You are welcome Shona. And if you haven’t done so, I’d also welcome checking out the SBLA if you need templates for your contracts and the like.