This week’s Good Advice question comes from that murky period of time before you start hashing out details of a job — the “Are you available?” time period. Your availability, or lack thereof, is just as valuable as the cash you can make from the job, but is often a lot harder to negotiate.
I have a client that I’ve worked for a number of times in the past. We have a good working relationship, but there are certain things they do that drive me crazy. Last week they called to see if I was available for a job in two weeks; I’d have to travel, but they’d pay for it and the client they were working with would be nice to have on my resume. Plus, because of the last minute nature of the request, I’d be able to charge my top dollar rate. I said, “Yes!” and they were pleased and said they’d get back to me with details in a few days. I started setting up my schedule to accommodate the work. There was radio silence for three days, then: “We’ve decided to go with someone internal.”
This is the third time this has happened with this client. I never feel like we’re far enough along in the negotiation to talk about a kill fee or something similar, but preparing for and then not getting these jobs is really annoying. Saying no to the cash I can make from this client isn’t economically feasible. Any ideas about what I can do?
Wow. That sucks.
That sucks for all the obvious reasons of missing out on the job and being treated as if your time isn’t valuable, but it really sucks because doing it twice without ramifications makes it OK, and doing it three times makes a pattern.
As a general rule, with all your clients, if they do something that you do not like, you need to tell them that what they did is not OK and you need to do it as soon as possible. I know that is a lot easier to say than it is to do.
Telling someone their behavior is unacceptable is intimidating. It means telling someone that you do not like what they are doing. But what often makes this conversation more difficult than it needs to be is that we assume they think their behavior is completely normal.
When people do crappy things and try to get away with it, they usually aren’t shocked to find out what they did was crappy.
So the next time any client does something that is harmful to you, let them know as soon as possible. Be polite, direct and avoid accusatory language.
“Jake, thanks for letting me know that you won’t be needing me for this project. I’m disappointed because I was looking forward to the work. In the future, if there is any possibility that you might use another resource on a project we’re discussing, please let me know. It will help me better set my expectations.”
Also, next time they call you? Make one of your first questions be about the behavior that’s bitten you in the past. “Sounds great, Jake; is there any chance you’ll be using internal designers for this project?”
So that’s fine and dandy if (when) something like this happens again, but what do you do right now with the current situation?
As I see it you have two options, depending on what you know of these guys as negotiators.
If they respond well to reasonable arguments: Now, while there isn’t a potential project on the table, call the contact at the client with whom you have the best relationship. Explain that this has happened a couple times in the past, you understand the need to keep their costs down, but the activity is hurting you.
Having a straight forward conversation about what’s bothering you is usually easier when there isn’t the pressure of a
current negotiation or recent disappointment. It also lets them know what your expectations are in the next go ’round.
If they tend to only agree to things under pressure: Wait until they call you next time. Explain that because they’ve backed out in the past, you can agree to do the work but there is a kill fee if they cancel.
Make the cost of the kill fee significant for you and them so it discourages the bad behavior you want to avoid, but can help salve the wound if they do the same thing again. And if you talk about this stuff in person or over the phone (you should) follow up with an email that details the kill fee and when it would apply.
A word of caution: do not pick a negotiation tactic because you find it less intimidating than another one. You need to pick the tactic that is most likely to be successful based on how they behave and respond in negotiations. If you pick an approach based only on what works best for your fear levels, you won’t get the results you’re looking for.