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No, our clients ARE NOT doing us a favor!

The problem with the "doing a favor" business relationship is that, from the outset, the client has a lower opinion of us. They are testing the work, testing the relationship, testing how many hoops we might jump through. Maybe not intentionally, and probably not for nefarious reasons. But, by its very nature the relationship is out of balance where the client has the perceived power and we are subordinate to some extent. Remember, they should know we are testing them too.

When a client believes, or we act as if the client is doing us a favor, it is very hard for for the client to ever see us as equals. A similar dynamic exists when employees hire into a company at a low salary. After years of improvement, earning degrees, and so on, the employee finds it impossible earn a wage commensurate with their contribution to the company so they are forced leave for a better deal . . . and the cycle starts again.

The managers that hired the employee only see the value of the employee based on their starting salary and it never keeps pace with the employees professional growth. Similarly, when a client hires us to try us out, toss us a bone, or do us a favor, often what comes with that is a perceived value based on a low expectation of what we have to offer. Then comes the hoops. "We like what you've done here, now if you could only do "x", add a little "y" and so on.

Because of the relationship, it may not cross their mind that we have other clients to serve, families to enjoy and other commitments. And boy howdy, do we feed into the problem.

Feeling subordinate and wanting to win approval and possibly larger projects, we jump through the hoops, we change at the last minute, adjust our normal workflow, tie up our resources in hopes of catching "the bigger fish." (Be careful of what you ask for, you might get it.)

See the problem here. The client is very slow raise their estimation of our value. If we are "fortunate" enough to land the fish, the unspoken expectation is that we will do all the extra work at no extra charge because we were foolish enough to set that standard. Meanwhile, we mistakenly expect to get a great project from which we will earn a rate worthy of our effort.

Now that we have shown what we can offer, we want/need to increase our prices to cover the extra benefits we demonstrated. How does this play out in the clients mind? We have done a great job and now that our foot is in the door we immediately raise our prices.

Would it be unreasonable for the client to think we misled them with regards to the work we are willing to do for a specific rate? When we put ourselves in the clients shoes it's pretty easy to see their point.

We want good clients and they want high value from us and that should flow naturally. But if the relationship starts off on an unequal footing, everyone looses. We don't get meaningful work and the client does not get to appreciate our true value.

So how do we avoid this?

The way we build good business relationships is to start out on equal footing. This is accomplished by establishing ourselves as professionals. First, we need to be proactive in learning about the client. What do they need? What is their budget? What exactly do they expect from us? Then we write it down and include all of it in our quote(s) and take very little for granted. If we are going to put in extra effort on the client's behalf to show what we can do, we add that as a line item on the quote.

If we feel compelled to provide extra services for free, when we add it to the quote, we can establish the value of that service, then credit it back to them via a discount. There is nothing wrong with giving away our work for the right reasons. But there is everything wrong diminishing our value by under bidding. Cents off marketing, in my mind is a fool's errand. Once we under bid to win a job - we lose. We might get the job, but we immediately lower our perceived value, not only in the mind of a client, but in the minds of our entire client base.

We need to think in terms of adding value for particular circumstances. If we want to win an important job, we can add extras as a line items. which does a couple of things:

  1. It establishes us as professionals who know our business and theirs.

  2. It gives us common ground from which to negotiate. The client may decide they don't need "x" service, so we can remove it or we include it as an incentive at no additional cost - but either way, we have established the value of that service.

  3. It clarifies what we are going to deliver and the investment for the client.

  4. It outlines services that incur additional cost.

  5. It tells the potential client I would love to do this project for you, but I am not desperate to do it.

  6. It tells the client, "I respect you enough to to be up front about the value of my work."

There is no magic in earning a potential client's business. You just need to learn what they need, take an interest in their success, communicate well and deliver on that to which you agree.

If you offer sufficient value and they have the desire and budget, by being the consummate professional your odds are greatly improved.

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