A big difference between working for a salary and working for yourself is getting paid for your time. Experience has taught me that the more sophisticated customers value their time as much as I do. Large corporations can teach us a lot about time management. I have worked for some that held all meetings standing up and others that set a 20 minute time limit.
As a home based consultant it can be easy to fall into the habit of taking unscheduled calls after business hours. 20 minutes here and there can add up to hours of un-billable time every month. It’s hard to say no if it’s your nature to be of service but if you don’t value your time your customers won’t either.
Give Freely of Your Time, But Only to a Point
We need to get better at training our customers how to work with us effectively yet efficiently. Start setting ground rules at the beginning of every working relationship.
Living in a rural area means that very face to face meeting I schedule requires a 4 hour minimum time investment. (60 minutes to get ready + 60 minutes total travel time + 60-90 minutes meeting time.) That is just not cost effective for a small project.
But how do you draw the line without offending your client base? I’d like to think that when people hire me they expect me to boss them around to an extent. I’m not doing a very good job if I’m not in control of the situation.
If you can relate to any of the problems listed below, maybe it’s time to rethink how you spend your time and what you can do to regain some of it.
My former CPA taught me a valuable lesson about setting boundaries. During our long relationship she had always encouraged me to call her with all tax related questions questions, and these calls would often turn into gossip sessions. One year I called her to ask whether or not I should incorporate. Several days later I got a bill for $120 for our little 30 minute chat.
Problem: Multiple or lengthy meetings that don’t accomplish much
- Set expectations up front, and put it in writing.
- Add a section to client agreements that attaches an hourly rate for consultations. That way, if an unscheduled call lasts past 10-15 minutes they can expect a bill.
- Clearly spell out office hours. The exception would be if a client is only available “off hours”.
- Minimize face to face meetings. Be clear that each one must have a specific purpose and an outcome. You’re doing something wrong if you are meeting more than once about the same issue.
Problem: Scope Creep
- Scope creep is when projects morph outside of the original agreement. For example, if the scope of work is to design a website, writing a telemarketing script would have to be negotiated separately.
Problem: Project management issues
- Add an end date to all projects. Some projects drag on indefinitely through no fault on our side. When clients don’t provide the required input to facilitate timely completion, they will either incur penalties or require negotiation.
- Send new policy statement to existing clients. State the new rules of doing business with us. Explain that it’s going out to everyone so they don’t feel singled out.
Problem: Too much face time expected
- Do a better job qualifying prospects through website and over the phone.
- Assess who is worth my help based on their budget and level of neediness.
- Depending on the size and value of the project, limit face time to the initial meeting.
- Higher value clients get more personal access.
- Keep pipeline full so I have more options.
How many hours do you spend per week on non-revenue producing work?