At some point it’s going to happen—a client will need to take some time away from working with you, whether to retool a business, travel for fun, or because finances are tight.
And often, the client says the plan is to come back; but what’s often unsaid is that there’s an expectation that you’ll hold space in your practice till that time comes.
Navigating the conversation that has to happen at that point can feel overwhelming; you have to take a strong stand, but chances are that if you have had a good relationship, you don’t want to see the client go to begin with, and you probably want to work with him again! So what’s a girl to do?
First of all, something foundational. If you haven’t yet, get a copy of The E-Myth Revisited and read it. It’s a super book, and has been enlightening to many, many people. In it, the author discusses something that will be very helpful to you in this kind of situation, as well as countless others. That’s the concept that there are three business personalities: the entrepreneur, the manager, and the technician. At the most simplified level, the entrepreneur creates the strategy and vision for the business, the manager manages it, and the technician does the work. When you run a solo biz, it doesn’t actually matter which personality is most natural for you because you must assume all three to be successful.
100% of your billable time is spent as a technician. The time you spend working on your business is a mix of entrepreneur and manager. And decisions, like what to say to a client who wants to step away? Those are made by the manager in your business.
So, in order for you to know how to navigate this sort of conversation, you need to lace up your manager’s shoes and consider what’s best for the business. That’s not an emotional decision (which is what the technician would likely turn it into, by the way). It’s simply made with a clear focus on what’s good for the business and what’s not. And the manager—not the technician or entrepreneur—has to make it and carry it out.
I’ve had new VAs say, “But Anastacia, I don’t know much about being a business manager. How do I do this?”
If you’ve been a mama, you’ve been a manager. If you’ve owned a pet, you’ve been a manager. If you’ve organized an event, a trip, a family reunion, you’ve been a manager. If you’ve taken your health and self-care into your own hands, you’re a manager. The skill you need as the manager of your business, like in being a mama, a pet owner, an organizer, or managing yourself and self-care, is being able to look at a situation, know the best action to take, and then to take that action without attachment to the outcome (specifically, without attachment to the feelings of the other person, and the decisions he makes once you share yours).
The hardest part for most folks isn’t knowing what the right decision is, or even making the decision. It’s detaching from the outcome so that the decision can be delivered strongly. It’s hard, yet so very important, and one of the biggest places of growth for you in running a business. You can’t be attached to the outcome, or that attachment will drive the decision. Instead, you have to take the right action, and let everything follow from that as it will. See the difference?
In my view, the primary responsibility of a manager is that of being a good steward for the business. Everything the manager does has to be done with the highest and best desires for the well-being and continuation of the business. And whatever those things are, they are what must drive the decisions.
And in being a good steward, like being a good mama, or a good pet owner, or a good organizer of things, you have to do what’s right. You can’t do things based on how people will feel about it, or whether someone will be upset with you, or because you feel badly for making a decision that doesn’t give another person what he wants (in this case, for the client to know he has a space held for him).
You do what’s best for your business. Period.
I made one of my clients laugh once. She’d said she didn’t know how to manage, and because I knew she had kids, I asked, “If your kids said that they were going to go lie down in the middle of the road to see what would happen when a car came along, you’d say….?”
Her response: “OH NO YOU WON’T!”
I pointed out that her “inner mama” energy was able to quickly assess the situation and know the best thing to do, and that that energy is the exact same energy she needed to use as the manager in her business. I also asked if, in making that decision, she would care, for even a second, whether the kids would be happy with that decision, or mad at her for making it. “Nope. Not for a second.”
And she wouldn’t care because she knew what was right and best in that situation, and let that be enough. She didn’t care if they were unhappy. She didn’t care if they got mad at her. She wasn’t attached to any of that. She detached from the outcome (other than keeping the kids safe), and just did what needed doing.
And that’s how you manage your business, too.
So if you don’t have experience being a business manager, but you have your version of your “inner mama,” use it to assess what the best thing is for yourself when the client wants to take time off. If you do, you’ll know that allowing it isn’t a smart thing for your business’s well-being. And knowing that, you know half the solution.
Coming up with what to suggest to the client is the rest of it. In case it helps, here’s some great language to use that sets you both free:
“Henry, I hope you understand that it’s not feasible for me to hold a space open in my practice, and as I only work in long-term relationships, finding someone to work with for the time you’re away and then leaving that person to make space for you just isn’t my style. I understand you need to step away, and when you do, I’ll be looking for someone to fill your space in my practice. Here’s what I suggest: give me a shout when you’re ready to come back. We’ll see where I am, and if I have space available in my practice, I’d love to talk with you and discuss the possibility of our working together again.”
It’s gracious, says the truth, makes it easy for you to move on and find a new client, and leaves the door open for future possibilities with this one. More, it’s the kind of clean, clear, and detached-from-outcome communication that someone managing a business would share. And that’s what you are, right?