Throughout my career, I’ve tried really hard to not succumb to the old adage “Nice guys finish last.” And by “nice” I also mean ethical, dependable, willing, and honest. I never wanted to believe that rising to the top meant stepping on others along the way. I’ve seen it happen both ways: I have known really nice guys [and by “guys” I mean both men and women] who have risen through the ranks because they are nice, never stepping on toes, always being politically correct, and staying under the radar. There are organizations who love that type of employee. They don’t cause any trouble! And on the opposite end of the spectrum I’ve known those who are relentless when it comes to demanding what they want, powering through ranks, keeping their sights straight ahead rather than around them.
In both cases, it seems to have less to do with how nice a person is as much as where their style, goals, and ambitions best fit. Those that find that ultimate match go far.
But as a business owner, I’ve learned that there is a time and a place for nice, and a time and place for standing my ground. I’ve also learned that you can do both simultaneously. When it comes to protecting myself, those who work for me, and my assets, well, that falls in the “standing my ground” category.
We’ve all been there. Especially when starting a new business. We’re so afraid of not having enough business that when someone actually wants to buy our products or services, we jump at the chance. And we tend to use the phrase “It’s okay” a lot. But all it takes is one bad client or customer to wake us up to the reality that there are bad people who will take advantage of a little guy like you or me.
Here is how to avoid that scenario and protect yourself:
1. Hire a good attorney who specializes in small businesses. They are out there. I have found a great one. [Message me if you are in Texas, and I’ll refer you to the firm.] Small business is different from big business in all ways, and you want an attorney who understands that. You also want to be a focus, not an afterthought.
2. Yes, you really need an attorney. I had always written my own contracts. I was under the illusion that if there is a document signed by both parties, it serves as a legal binding contract. That may be true according to the definition, but in the case of a dispute, you won’t have a leg to stand on. Invest in having your attorney write up a Master Service Agreement template that you can customize to each client. On one hand, there will be a lot of legal jargon in there, but leave it in! On the other hand, you can choose to be flexible with terms such as time to payment and deposits. In the event of a dispute, you are fully protected. Most important, when the client signs the agreement, they know you are represented by legal counsel and they will take it seriously.
3. Don’t apologize. Practice saying, “I’m sending you my Master Services Agreement to sign before we begin work. It’s pretty straightforward and I think you’ll agree that it protects us both. Let me know if you have any questions.” Say it confidently. Don’t act like you’re sorry.
4. Submit an agreement to every client, even those you have known in the past. [See number 3.] For well-established relationships, you can certainly make adjustments to the template with respect to your history with that person or organization. And remember, situations change. It’s not a matter of whether you trust the person, it’s a matter of making sure both parties are in clear agreement with what the relationship is moving forward.
5. Always require some type of deposit or full payment before delivery. In the event of delinquent payments, the check is never really “in the mail.” If a client says that it is, ask for a check number, and do not proceed forward with deliverables until the check is not only in hand, but has cleared the bank. If you have received a deposit, at least you have partial compensation to cover time, materials, and employees.
6. Just because you have a client or customer doesn’t mean you need to keep them. I have been in the unfortunate situation to have to fire a client before. It’s not fun. I’ve lost sleep over it. You might think you don’t have enough clients to fire one, especially if you’re a new business or start-up. But, if you ever find yourself in that situation [there are a lot of great blogs and articles out there about when to fire a client], think about what it is costing you in:
- Time that could be spent on a good client
- Creative energy
- Emotional energy
- Resources [such as your employees or contractors]
- Availability to market yourself to acquire new clients
7. Just because a client or customer is nice, doesn’t mean they are a good client.
8. It is a red flag if a prospective client will not sign your agreement. I can’t imagine an instance, now, where I would do work for someone without a fully executed agreement on file. If you can think of one, please Comment.
I was recently in a situation where a client did not pay me for a significant amount of work and deliverables. The saddest part was that he was someone who was trying to brand himself as a consultant to small businesses and entrepreneurs! I spent a lot of time and energy delaying the inevitable with the hope that he would pay my firm for our good work. Many lies, broken promises, and weeks of waiting for payment that would never come, I had to come to the realization that it was not to be. And I was not protected legally. It was my lesson learned. Don’t wait to have that same hand dealt to you. Protect yourself. Focus on good quality clients and customers. Be nice...but stand your ground.
Published by: Connie Glover in Blog