The Wrong Way Of Looking At Client Relationships: An Example Examined And Discussed

Recently asked on Yahoo! Answers:

My client wants an email template that uses a CMS so they can make their own updates.How much should I charge?

I’m just wondering what the going rate is for a CMS email template since I’ve never done one before and after I hand it over to the client they won’t need me any more!

It’s that concluding statement — “after I hand it over to the client they won’t need me any more” — that speaks volumes about this new businesswoman, and provides me with a chance to expand upon my previous entry about the keys to successful self-employment.

Looking at customers as a never-ending source of billable hours is one of the fastest ways to the bottom of your profession. Yes, you need to invoice someone. But far more important is the impression you leave upon the someones you invoice.

You can’t look at a job and think, “This will reduce the amount of future work I can do for this client, so I should charge more for this work than I normally would.”

I guarantee you, it’s that exact thinking that leads clients to unload contractors. If my clients are just johns, then I’m just a prostitute. And as the old saying goes, johns don’t pay prostitutes to show up, johns pay them to leave.

OK, that’s hyperbole. But the message needs to be clear: When you look at the people who hire you as a check, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Photo by StartupStockPhotos via Pixabay, in the public domain.
Photo by StartupStockPhotos via Pixabay, in the public domain.

Your Customers’ Successes Lead To Your Success

Your customers aren’t a paycheck. Your customers are people who have a problem that you can solve. The more efficient and effective you are at solving their problems, the more your customers will think of you.

Even if that customer doesn’t have much need for your services in the future, his positive experiences with you — and his willingness to speak to his peers about those experiences — are more valuable to you than any punitive surcharge you might want to impose upon a customer who wants to leave you.

I’ve been in business for myself for nearly 10 years. There are scores of clients for whom I did some work and have never heard from again.

Some of those clients are never coming back; a few, because they’re out of business now, and some because they simply do not need me any more. But most of them aren’t coming back because either they, or I, don’t want to do business any more.

I’ve made more than a few mistakes and lost good customers for good as a result. And some bad customers I’ve decided to fire — maybe they pay slowly, are too price-sensitive, can’t manage a schedule or follow the terms of a contract; whatever.

But far more often, I may not hear from a client for months, or even years, on end. But I will get a call or e-mail from these long-lost clients asking me to fix something, or improve something, or take on some new work. And my response in those cases is always the same: I treat the work as though it is the most important thing I am doing and the client as though he’s the only one I have.

That doesn’t mean I drop everything when an old client comes back around. If my work load is heavy at the time and there will be a delay, I tell the old client that. If they’ve been inactive for a while and therefore, I want payment at time of service, I tell them that. But I treat the client and the work the same as I do for whomever is taking up most of my time now.

And that results, more often than not, in new clients — someone I treated well speaking well of me. Every single client I work for at the moment is a referral from another client.

I do not advertise; I don’t even, at the moment, have a working business site. But I have plenty of work, because my customers not only come back when they need something else, they send me plenty of new work.

One of the hardest things for new freelancers to figure out is pricing. I know I promised previously to discuss pricing and some day, I will; it is on my altruism to-do list.

As the saying goes: "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours." Photo by SaWi via Pixabay, in the public domain.
As the saying goes: “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” Photo by SaWi via Pixabay, in the public domain.

‘Goodbye’ Need Not Be Forever

But in this case, the pricing is clear: Set a price that is based on a reasonable time and materials estimate, and do it with a smile.

For me, creating a simple system in PHP / MySQL that allows a client to add custom fields to an e-mail form would take about two hours, so I’d probably charge $250, based on a $125 per hour programming rate.

Again, I would treat the job as though it was just the latest in a long line of projects I’m going to do. Because if you treat your customers well, that’s exactly what it will be — if not from this client, then from one of his friends.

Again, your social network is the most important aspect in your success as a freelancer. People who think well of you and the people who think well of them are where you find good customers.

Not every client is right for you, and you’re not right for every client. But the more your attitude is that your client’s success and goodwill is your success and goodwill, the less often that’s going to be the case.

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