A few weeks ago, I had a call with a distraught friend. She seemed agitated and was talking very fast on the phone. I asked her to take a deep breath. She did and continued with her tale of desperation.
My friend, Hannah, had received a call from a client, which was a relief. 2022 has been a long dry spell for work. This is someone she had previously worked with who needed her services.
As she always does, she asked what the timelines for the work were. She quickly jumped at the job. Generally, with new clients, she would add one additional question,
“what is your budget” and then proceed to win them over with her dedication to fast delivery, “even if it means working through the weekend.”
When Hannah mentioned this client engagement process, I saw many red flags. I didn’t interject; I let her continue with the story.
Hannah worked through the weekend as promised. The client went through the usual back-and-forth tweaks on the document designs and handed them over to the client. The client requested an invoice for her pay. She quickly submitted it. What crushed her was what the client said on their receipt of the invoice.
“This time, you have really quoted low. You need to reconsider your pricing.”
That killed Hannah. She felt silly and was exasperated with constantly not getting value for money in her work. Like in Hannah’s case, there are highs and lows when you are a consultant. Sometimes you take work as it comes just because people are holding back on spending. The rule of thumb is that a consultant is an expert. Experts cost more money than staff. So if one can’t afford staff to do the task, they will forgo it. And the truth is that anything to do with communication is always on the chopping block when organisations are making budget cuts.
But just because you are desperate doesn’t mean you lack bargaining power. No one has to know you have negotiated rent payment with the landlord or may have to sell your car because it is too expensive to keep. These are human problems, but you must also learn to put your emotional turmoil on the backburner during negotiations.
How to Fix It
Here are a few tips I gave my good friend Hannah, which I would like to share with other consultants.
- Do not be desperate. Play it Slow. Even though you are relieved and yelling praises to God for an opportunity, when approached with work, play it slow. What do I mean? Don’t say yes immediately. First, find out the scope of work, and then ask for 24-48 hours to get back with your understanding of the work and cost. The slow play helps you shift from a dopamine high to planning and thinking strategically.
The beauty of slow play is that you also get to know the client. I have found myself saying goodbye to contracts because I can tell there will be a character clash. At times the drama is not worth the money.
- Don’t Be Rushed. I get it. Some clients wanted things yesterday. This irritates me the most with corporate clients who take an eternity to get back. Then nine months later.
“We want this in 2 days!” Insert expletives here.
A client’s emergency is not my emergency. And this is where you earn respect and sift through the chaff. Clients need to understand that you are not a robot or slave. You don’t take orders and obey. You are a thinking human being with other clients, so if they are pressed and you have a rapport, they pay the price, and the cost goes up for rush jobs.
If it’s someone you have never worked with before, slow it down and refer to point number one.
- Contracts are compulsory. I stopped doing “urafiki” business. Because there is a thick line between business and friendship. My friends sign contracts with me when we work together. Contracts protect both parties. If I mess them up, they can unleash a lawyer on me and vice versa.
Secondly, experience has taught me that clients who are slow to sign a contract will be slow to pay you. I don’t have time to ask my lawyer to sign demand letters now and then.
- Draft a Work scope – this is tied to points one and three. You need to know and understand your work scope. You get what you pay for. If you want to pay for githeri, you may demand chicken, but unless your demand meets a pay, your demand will remain a wish.
Work scopes exist for a reason. It provides parameters for work. You know what you need to do, and your client knows what they need to commit to paying. Even if they get excited with your work and want more, they need to issue addendums to contracts and stipulate new payment terms. No matter the relationship, this is business.
- Set up a costing framework – A few years ago, I met a client who thought I was naïve and offered some insight on how to cost for my work. He used the model of basing it on my bills. That’s great when you are starting but untenable as you get more experience.
This is how I come up with my costing. I know how many person-hours it takes me to do various tasks. It’s not about speed. My experience allows me to do jobs faster than an amateur, factoring in opportunity cost and volume.
Larger volumes are costed cheaper. It’s just the argument of economies of scale. You can figure out your formula but have a costing framework. This is not for you to blurt out when you are asked how much a service costs. It’s for you to know the cost when you understand your new assignment’s work scope and timelines.
- You need to be assertive – Assertive is a nice way of speaking your mind and edifying the other party in your discourse. If you have a problem being assertive, ask someone you know and trust to accompany you to help pitch your case to your clients. The reason Hannah cost low, took work on a whim and sometimes cowers to client budgets is partly a lack of assertiveness and, secondly, not knowing her value, which brings me to my final point.
- Know your value – you won’t always get the price you want, but you should be confident enough in your skills to fight for them with clients no matter who they are. Even if you negotiate a lower cost with clients, there should be some trade-offs. With clients I want to work with who know they genuinely can’t afford the entire cost, I usually ask them to trade off some of the work scope to make it affordable.
It’s a two-way street. If you don’t have the cash, you can’t have everything in the buffet. It’s life, and that’s business.
All in all, experience has taught me that in business, it’s good to be logical, look at things from your perspective and the clients and choose what’s best for you and the client. At times you may not be the best fit for the client. And it would be best if you were OK with that.
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