Fresh from the Ask IttyBiz mailbag:
“My recording clients contact me with small requests and follow up queries after they’re done with their paid work – small things like ‘I forgot to ask you for a version of of my track without backing vocals could you just run one off’ and ‘I just got an offer to cowrite – what do you think? Here is a link to the song …’
This week it has averaged 4-5 of these little asks per day. Up till now I have just done the tasks – but the work is really adding up. I love my clients and want to treat them in the way they deserve (and are used to from me) – how do I manage the balance?
Managing “extra” client requests is a delicate balance. Here are some tips to handle the onslaught.
It would be easy to say that the “correct” way to handle extra-curricular client requests is to set firm boundaries and say no to everything. This works in one-dimensional sitcom world, where every problem gets wrapped up in 30 minutes or less, with a laugh track and poignant music to back you up.
However! The real world is a little different. You’ll want to consider different strategies for different situations – so let’s jump in to the details.
1. Consider the reasonableness of the request, from both the seller and buyers side.
In some industries, there’s a normalized expectation of how much access you can expect to someone outside of billable time, as it were.
If you buy a $500 bike from a bike shop, and a week later come in and ask a bunch of questions to the shop owner about how to maintain your new purchase, he will very likely be happy to talk to you about it on the spot.
If you spend $500 on a legal appointment and want to ask the lawyer to look at your paperwork and give his feedback, he’ll probably tell you to make an appointment, because that’s going to take a bit. It may take just as long as your conversation with the bike shop guy, but the expectations are different, and generally both buyers and sellers know this.
In other industries, its not as clear cut. Coaching, consulting and service providing from non-scary authority figures. Doctors and lawyers and dentists are scary to a lot of people. Graphic designers and recording artists and coaches, not so much. There’s generally more friendliness there, and it creates a muddied set of expectations. People need to guess.
It’s easy for the overwhelmed service provider to feel like the request is unreasonable (that is, to do for free). But it’s a good idea to give the benefit of the doubt, especially in an industry without clear cut rules, so you don’t start hating clients. :)
To add to that, if you’ve conditioned clients to expect that you’ll happily take on those requests, you’ve got to gently undo that conditioning and set up a clearer set of expectations – not boundaries, but expectations, so they know how to self-regulate.
2. Consider whether these client requests should be considered a “cost of doing business.”
The guy at the bike shop does this. Keeping retail customers happy and knowing they can come in at any time may mean they send referrals and may actually walk out that day with $100 of bike-related stuff. He wraps that activity into a cost of doing business.
In some cases you may realize that referrals and re-ups are coming in well because of these extra tasks you’re doing, and it may be worth it to just allot a certain amount of time to taking care of them for free. That decision is generally based on your branding and level of accessibility you want to be seen as having.
This will also end up being decided on a case by case basis. If you have people you know are never going to come back to you and will likely not refer (or they are a brutal pain to work with), you may not want to invest extra time taking care of their out-of-scope requests. But if you have people you know are great clients and generally pay on time and treat you with overall respect, you may decide to allot them some extra leeway.
3. Consider reframing the request so that they understand the scope of what they’re asking.
Even if it’s a small request (maybe 10 minutes in the client’s mind), they’re not aware of how many you receive. And in a way, they shouldn’t care. If you go to the bike shop and want to ask the guy some questions, you shouldn’t care how busy he is in general. If he wants to sell bikes, he knew what he was getting into. That’s his issue to manage.
But! “Manage” is the key word here. Rather than say “Leave me alone, you’re asking for too much,” you can reframe what they are asking for. If you know the task is actually going to take a while (as in your ‘listen to the song’, ‘give me feedback’, ‘tell me if I should pursue this gig’), you can always contact the client and let them know the scope.
I prefer to say something like “Great question! The answer you’re looking for is a bit of a complicated one and will likely take at least [insert duration] to sort out properly. Would you like to book a time to discuss this?”
That allows the client to save face (“Oh crap, you’re right – that is a bit of a conversation, isn’t it”), and then they can make a decision as to whether to book more time for it. If they choose to – Yay! Money! – and if they don’t, they’ll generally say “no problem – thanks for clarifying.”
However, some people will pitch a fit and guilt you. Generally, it’s a good idea to fire those clients. We don’t do nice things for rude people. Unless you have good reason to keep that client happy, in which you’d have considered this a cost of doing business anyway. Sometimes you’ll decide to take one for the team, as it were.
Additionally, after taking this reframe route, you’ll find clients start thinking through their requests before sending them over.
4. Consider doing it with an agreed upon deferral.
If it’s worth it to you from a general business standpoint to do the task, but you’re too slammed right now to do it, you can always tell them you’re too slammed right now and defer it.
Example! – “I’ll be happy to take care of that for you – I’m super slammed right now, so it will probably be Monday before things settle down I can get it to you.”
Then, you can defer it to a little batch of time where you take care of a bunch of client requests you’ve decided are worth doing for free.
This approach generally leaves the client feeling respected (you’ll often hear “Oh crap, it’s no rush. Monday’s great and YOU are great – thank you so much for fitting this in to your busy schedule.”). This is because humans are generally nice, especially when you are nice first.
Expect this process to feel awkward until it doesn’t anymore.
The reason this feels awkward is because it is awkward – you’re creating a micro-culture and a set of expectations out of thin air. I’m sure the people putting together the Constitution felt a little weird about it, too.
However, if doesn’t take long before it gets pretty easy. The key is not getting defensive in your communications, not feeling entitled to a world where these requests don’t come in (see “cost of doing business), and realizing that this process is NORMAL.
An easy way to do it is to imagine that you were sending in these kinds of requests to another service provider, and you didn’t realize the scope of what you were asking for. How would you like them to respond to you to make you feel like everyone was still friends, metaphorically?
Write that down. You have your answer right there.
Great question, Janet! Thanks for sending it in.
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