Make sure the client knows how nice you are

I had a project early this year that kicked off nicely – lots of good content provided up front, quick replies to requests for reviews, everything going smoothly.  Then my contact person left, and immediately things began to go sour.

My new contact person was the owner, and someone of my previous (good) acquaintance. The first thing I heard from him was a phone call expressing his great concern that I was placing other work ahead of theirs. I was not, I explained that things were actually on schedule. That seemed to soothe him – for a while.

This person had helped me professionally a few years back, and I remain grateful for the push in the right direction. As such, I did things during this project I normally would not have done – spending extra time on this or that task, or helping him understand how the email setup worked on their new hosting account (I mean several hours of onsite and on-the-phone help. Not just “here’s your POP account info.”). I estimate I threw in 6-8 hours of free time – and I didn’t mind it.

A few days after launch I received a request to make changes (not fixes, but new changes) to a site feature. I said I’d be happy to and it would cost $X. He decided not to do it.

A few days later – another request for changes, another price quoted (and I mean like $75, not $500). And a snappy ‘don’t do this then’ in the reply from the client.

A few weeks after launch when this client called me asking to help repoint their other domain name, because it was pointing to the old host. I said I would be happy to look into it. I found out, after several hours of research that I could not help them, they had to contact the person that originally bought the domain name and get the access information. The client kept pushing me to do more, and I told him I could not. He seemed to get it and said he would look into it himself.

I sent an email later asking for a testimonial. They had been super-pleased with the website and as a matter of course I always ask for a testimonial.

I got a snarky reply saying ‘no’ – because I had damaged the working relationship by nickel-and-diming him after the launch and refusing to repoint their second domain which should have been just a part of the web design process after all.

I explained that in fact, it was not. That additional work carries additional fees, I cannot work for free because I’m a business, just like his business, and requested that he have the same respect for my time as I have demonstrated for months during the entire process.

Didn’t hear anything back from that. But I did talk to my wise marketing lady and she told me that my mistake had not been in bending over backwards, which is sometimes okay – it was in not letting the client know that I was doing it.

Every time I did something out of scope, she said, I should have let him know – with an email note such as ‘this work is nonbillable, I’m throwing it in as a thank you.’ Or ‘we met for an hour and a half but I’m billing for 1 hour today.’ Or ‘this work is gratis, but I want you to understand that it was not included in the terms of the contract.’

This was an eye-opener for me. I thought it was lame for me to point out the times when I did something extra and didn’t charge for it, but she said no – you have to make it clear when you do that, otherwise they expect that you will do anything they ask and not charge them.

So I let that sink in, and typed up what she told me. It’s hanging beside my door in my office now.

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