Why is it that when shopping for a service, service providers are treated like they aren’t as concrete as a physical product?
A common theme in business I have come across is that solopreneurs who are in business for themselves aren’t treated the same way a corporation or agency is treated. I have seen time and time again that service businesses also don’t hold the value in people’s minds the way a new pair of shoes might. The rules are the same whether you’re buying a computer at Apple, getting your hair cut or scooping up a pastry. A business is a business is a business.
Here are five ways they aren't valued and what to do about it.
Treated with disrespect
So..I sent a proposal to a job on Upwork. I don’t recommend Upwork at all after dabbling a bit early in my solopreneur career. There’s a reason it has a terrible reputation. However, this isn’t confined to Upwork.
This is an exact conversation between a potential client and myself. I applied to a job asking for a Squarespace expert.
I spend all day and night editing Squarespace websites as a former employee of Squarespace and now full-time web designer.
I know the platform inside and out as I've helped thousands of people build, edit and maintain their Squarespace website.
I'm comfortable monitoring changes and am overly communicative so that all my clients know how their site is doing.
View my work here:
Looking forward to hearing from you!
Over one month later..
Hope you're having a great holiday. This is kind of an old posting, but I wanted to check in and see if you are still doing Squarespace work and see what your availability might be over the next couple weeks? Thx!
Me: Hi Client!
Thanks for reaching out, I'm having a great holiday.
I am taking on new clients, however I only work with clients that respect my time and process. Given the fact you never responded to my original message, I have no reason to think your communication style will change going forward. As a result, I'm going to wish you the best in your future endeavors.
20 minutes later…
Client: Well, apologies for that, I guess. Good luck right back at you :)
They don’t take any responsibility for the fact they blatantly ignored me until the day they needed my assistance. I’m not the one who needs luck- you need some professionalism. If a client can’t even have the courtesy to respond in a timely manner, what makes you think they will do the same when you’re working together? What makes you think they will pay you on time? What makes you think they will provide a glowing testimonial? What makes you think they will brag to their friends about you? What makes you think they will come back?
Notice as soon as I send something that might offend the client they respond quickly? Well, obviously since they can respond in such a timely manner to my rejection, they could have responded to my proposal in the first place?
Seeing this kind of disregard towards freelancers is part of what inspired me to work only with location independent solopreneurs, what I consider a step up from freelancers. By building them a business and dazzling brand from head to toe, they no longer are scrambling to apply for crappy jobs. I give them a tight ship to run and they run it like a queen! Or king. Freelancers ARE seen as disposable, but business owners (even if you’re just one person) shouldn’t be.
Another way service professionals are treated with disrespect is when the client doesn’t understand or respect their business model. For example, if you are a coach that only works online via video calls but a new client contacts you asking you to visit them in person because they live nearby, they aren’t respecting your process.
I believe that when you aren't at the mercy of others, and instead have a strong presence and clearly communicated service products you set yourself up to grow professionally and financially.
Expecting you to be on call
I’m not on-call. And neither are you. We aren’t nurses or doctors. The whole point of working for ourselves is having the freedom and flexibility that comes with the lifestyle.
When a client emails you at 10pm on Friday and expects a response, that is a red flag.
It doesn't matter when or how the work gets done, just that it is. This is obviously only an issue for services like writing, editing, accounting etc.. not a service that is performed on the spot like tutoring or coaching.
Try to take advantage of you because you don’t have red tape and can do whatever you want
It is unfortunate some people feel they can take advantage of an individual. Service providers are not taken as seriously as business owners.
Think about physical products- you’re cruising the internet and find a handbag you become obsessed with. You are super interested in buying it. You aren’t given a sample of the bag for free to just “try out.” No. You know that if you want the product you need to pay for it. A coupon you found online can be applied, but you still need to shell out the dough. Now, think about services. Why would you think you should ask for a copyright lawyer to do a bit of research for free to prove he’s good enough to hire?
Let me ask you something: do you work for free? Does your boss say “I can only afford to pay for 50% of your paycheck this week. That’s cool, right?” Uh, NO!! Your paycheck is your “worth” more or less. A solopreneur runs a business, not a charity shop.
Do you ask your hairstylist for a try-out trim before committing to a full cut? No!!! You pay for the service in it’s entirety. And if you aren't satisfied, you usually don't get your money back.
Service providers are treated like puppets: I tell you what to do, when to do it and you oblige. Maybe the uneducated and desperate providers will work this way, but the true experts will take control and you’ll be happy they do.
My client Ilene Miller came to me with this exact problem. She initially set her business up to help and empower the families of special needs children. As an educational consultant and special needs advocate, she stands head and shoulders above others in her field because she is a comprehensive solution to the problems her clients face. While most advocates provide generic advice and carry no credentials other than being a parent of a special needs child themselves, she possesses appropriate degrees and in-the-trenches experience her competition doesn't have.
Unfortunately, she spent most of her time going back and forth with hagglers who were always looking for a bargain. She isn’t new to the industry, she has been an educator for over 20 years! Her premium price is warranted, and yet by giving the cheap clients her time she was missing out on higher quality clients. For her, that meant families who were willing to cooperate, truly valued her advice and acted on it. Her ultimate goal is to help their child thrive, but that can’t happen if they don’t follow through on the therapies, discipline and academic support they are receiving by reinforcing it at home. In this sense, Ilene was spinning her wheels and getting nowhere by serving clients who don’t accept her value and price.
By cutting off clients who want a bargain price immediately, she is further able to hold her ground and work with families who adore her. I created a concrete process for her business- a productized service MUST be purchased as the first step in working with her. No free consults. No brain picking. Her Open Opportunity session, a one hour deep dive into the child’s life, paves the way for her other services to be purchased once a plan is crafted and the appropriate services are identified. Some children might need tutoring and counseling, some parents might only need consulting. It doesn’t matter, because if you want to work with her, this is how it works. There’s no “I just need five minutes of your time” or “Can I just pay a lower rate?” Having a tangible product and process goes a long way when you need to stand your ground amidst hagglers.
You were hired to write five blog posts. You spent a good amount of time of them and are super proud of the final draft. You hand them over to the client, and while you did everything to a T you were supposed to, they refuse to pay or want a refund for some made-up reason. They aren’t happy with the tone of your piece (despite having two rounds of edits to convey that) or they stubbed their toe and now need the money to pay their doctor. Whatever sob story they give you just drags out your partnership and causes undue stress.
You now need to explain your refund policy (no refunds) or that they have had ample opportunity to communicate and as a result you are owed the full amount.
People that do this are cheap, greedy and don’t care about anything but themselves.
Starting out, I did some work on Upwork. You can see how well that went from my above conversation. Most of my clients were gracious enough to write a review, but one in particular didn’t. I was overly communicative, got the work done in a timely fashion and always went above and beyond in clarifying the work to better help him in the future.
Once the job was closed, I reached out and asked for a review to be written since he was happy with my work. He ignored me. A few weeks later, I asked again. Still ignored me. Needless to say, I never got a review which, aside from money, is the only thing that would further my reputation and portfolio. A review is worth a lot more than money in the long-term.
Everyone wants what they want. Once they get it, they push you off to the side. This is NOT the path to a sustainable business.
How To Get Clients That Worship The Ground You Stand On and Want Your Autograph
Hangout where they are!
This is a large reason I created the Digital Nomad Business Directory. It’s a directory of location independent service professionals. You want to attract like-minded clients, so you need to consciously choose where your business is seen.
The Digital Nomad Business Directory is seen by other people running an online business, so you never have to worry about someone questioning your online-only service again.
Listing your business on a directory isn't the only way to score fans. Showing up to events in person is a great way to become known too.
Be your business.
Do this. All the time. When you shift yourself from “service provider” to “business owner” the dynamic changes. YOU run the show. YOU call the shots. And you aren't merely executing what your client wants- you are in charge because you are the expert in your relationship.
Clients don't come to me and dictate they want a website that looks like this, a logo that looks like this and a business model that look like this. They don't do that because I don't allow it. If they want to work with me, it's because I take charge and understand my business better than they do. I have no problem telling clients what works, what doesn't and what is important versus what they assume is important.
For example, a lot of people get wrapped up in SEO when they should be focusing on their content and service instead. I'm quick to dismiss SEO as the end all be all, because it's much simpler than everyone makes it out to be. Instead, I tell them what they need to do and they happily do it! Why? Because they came to me for my expertise.
I know my stuff, just like they know their stuff. I wouldn't dare tell my accountant how to file my taxes, so why would he tell me how to design his website?
I love giving people the freedom having an online business provides, but it's an uncomfortable shift for them to go from freelancer running around like a chicken with it's head cut off to a steadfast business owner.
Air-tight policies and procedures
Don’t give someone the chance to finagle their way out of your business or to manipulate you into doing it their way. Have a clear return policy (even better if you have them agree to it at the start of your relationship) and contract. Be clear. Not vague.
Have everything in writing
You can never be too careful. If you speak with a client over the phone and promise them two rounds of edits, don’t be surprised when they come back claiming you promised them five. Anything spoken needs to be documented, even if it’s just a follow-up recap email.
When you waiver on your policies and process you set a precedent that you’re a doormat. Word gets around and soon you’re the overly nice service professional who will do anything to make a client happy, even if it means hurting your business in the process.
Any client who won’t agree to a contract, complains about your no refunds return policy or consistently tells you how to run your business isn’t your client at all. Let some other poor slob bend over backwards for them and get paid a pittance for it.
If you think any of what I've written is too harsh, you clearly have never worked with clients. Checking all these boxes is the hardest thing you'll ever do. If you do it though, then the payoff includes freedom, clients who respect you and money in the bank.
Just because you are a one person operation doesn’t mean you aren’t running a BUSINESS. For money. Never forget it.