Last week, Ranetta wrote to ask:
I know you’re a fan of the retainer model. But my coach says what’s smarter is to bill at the end of the month, but require a minimum number of hours. That way you get the best of the retainer idea, without having to deal with overage hours. She also says I should do as much work as a client can give me (even if it’s more than I want to do, because it will make the client happy and the client will stay with me longer that way), but reduce the fee if the client gives me significantly more than my minimum. What’s your take on that?
I tackled the first part of that (about retainer v. billing at the end of a month) here. Today, I want to cover the question about discounting extra work done for a client, and keeping the client happy.
You know Costco, and other warehouse/wholesale businesses like them, have done a lot for us with their model of “buy more, save more” fueled by their tremendous membership base, the amounts that base buys, and the buying power Costco and others have as a result. But I am always amazed by the people who don’t understand that the model can only truly apply to selling goods, and never to services.
So I call bullshit on what your coach told you, Ranetta.
You aren’t Costco. It doesn’t cost you less to produce more work. Your expenses don’t decrease with more work. And your client doesn’t have the buying power or the client base to make that model even remotely feasible for you (and you probably wouldn’t be interested in having a business of a big-enough size to make it work, either)..
Whether you provide a little bit or a lot of support to a client, your fee is your fee. Discounting has to be off the table in order for you to be profitable.
Furthermore, this business isn’t about reducing your fee so that you can attract people who need lower fees in order to work with you more. What we all need to be about is providing convenient and valuable professional administrative and operational services and attracting those business owners who see our value and happily and easily pay our fees.
And here’s the biggie: you absolutely, positively deserve to make money. There’s no shame in wanting to make money, or in charging for the services you provide. It’s healthy, whole, and absolutely right. And anyone who tells you that you should play small, or underprice, or be happy with less is a total douche, absolutely, positively deserving of your ignoring for all of eternity.
As for doing as much work as you can, again, I have to call bullshit unless you’ve told her that you don’t really care about having a life. Assuming you do care about having a life, then there are only a relatively small number of hours in which to do billable work. And while it’s good to fill them, every hour you go above that number cuts into the time you have to live your life; to enjoy your family, engage in self-care, see friends, engage in hobbies, and do all the sorts of things that contribute to your aliveness outside of the work you do.
And I’m going to declare a trifecta of bullshit here, because that notion that you should sacrifice yourself to keep a client happy so that the client continues to work with you is perhaps the worst bullshit of the bunch.
Sacrificing anything for a client, for any reason, much less because it will keep the client in your practice is the worst advice I might have ever heard. No one is deserving of your sacrifice (except babies spilled forth from your loins, and then, only till they are grown adults), and least of all are your clients. Besides, if you sacrifice yourself for them, you’ll soon become beyond resentful, that will show up in your energy and the work you do, and the client will leave anyway.
You keep a client by doing great work, by living your word, by being a terrific partner, and by modeling your truth, which fits like a glove with the client’s own truth. When all of that fits with the client, the client stays. If that isn’t there, being a doormat isn’t going to help things.
So say no to “as much work as the client can give” you—you don’t have time for it. Say no to doing things to make the client happy so that the client will stay—the client isn’t worthy of your sacrifice. Say no to discounting your fee for more work—you don’t have the margin for it. And by all means, always say yes to self-respect, self-confidence, self-worth, and to your vast and beautiful life—of which your work should be only one very small part..