Giving a Client Free Work : The Cost of Devaluing Your Empathetic Currency

“And I’m free, I’m free fallin’”
— Tom Petty

It is part of our better nature to feel we have to give a little piece of ourselves away and expect nothing in return.

We give our friends rides, we help someone move, donate to a charity and give away our kidneys. Our reward is seeing the joy in others, perhaps in even saving a life; all the while knowing that we made our own little deposit in the karmic bank. It’s not selfish to hope one day that good deed will gain interest and pay back dividends, but that was not our end goal.

In business things tend to be more quid pro quo.

If we provide a valuable service or product to a customer then we expect compensation. That payment can be in the form of money or a trade of services, but in the end it all boils down to one simple fact; We need to be paid.

Now, that is not to say there is something inherently wrong with giving away your services for free. Businesses do it all the time. Most are in the forms of incentives for further business. You’ve see them before in free trials, blogs (such as this one) and e-books to name a few.

But we, as the giving humans that we are, may choose at times to give away our services away to our clients. Services normally any customer of yours would pay for. We give away something for free thinking that it will foster goodwill and nurture the relationship with your client.

This is where we run into trouble. This is when you have to be wary of a client, maybe unbeknownst to themselves, can take advantage of you.

It is extremely common in the beginning to be overtly accommodating when propositioning a new client. You will bend over backwards to get them to contract your services. The relationship begins wonderfully. They love your flexibility and remarkable ability to answer their phone calls after one ring.

But then something happens. The worm turns.

The very things your client loves about you when the relationship was in its honeymoon phase, you begin to resent. Now answering every need the client has (which is vast) can seem draining. Why do they call so much? You put them on a release schedule for their software but they constantly want impromptu updates. “Ok. We’ll do it this time.” you say. Then you say it again. Then again. Then again.

In short the relationship becomes toxic.

You know that this level of service is not sustainable. You are losing money, the client eats away at time you could use growing your business, and more to the point you are losing you very sanity.

So what do you? You set have to have boundaries.

The problem in the beginning was that were no boundaries. There were none because you did anything and everything to get their business. They then think of that level of service as baseline.

What is needed is for you to regroup. To stop, take huge deep breaths. Confer with your team and set up release schedules, main points of contact. Does the client call the CEO directly? Get a separate business cell phone. Setup weekly and/or monthly status meetings with the client. Anything that you can do to shed the anxiety induced reactionary mode of operating.

This is all towards the goal of sustaining a working relationship with your client. Not only will the client benefit knowing that you have heard their concerns and are taking steps to rectify it, they also know what they can and can’t ask from you. You can sit back and regain what is hopefully left of your soul.

Thank you so much for reading,

Sean M Doran.

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