You know when you make a mistake and you know better? I had that experience this week. The mistake I made? I started working with someone who I have known for around five years and who I considered to know very well. This is a person who is a professional and who I considered trustworthy. That wasn't the mistake, though.
The error I made was bending the rules because of my relationship to this person. I discounted my great work. Developed a custom payment plan that was out of whack with my payment terms. Picked up the pen before I received payment.
In fact, I completed a full week of work with the promise that payment was on the way. The worst part? I allowed this person to "pick my brains" (and yes, I did write about that recently) over the course of several months while we were waiting for the summer to hit, as this person's services are seasonal. Again, I'll reiterate how well I knew this person and to what extent I could -- at that time -- vouch for their trustworthiness.
But making these concessions didn't exactly elicit respect for the work that I do. This is why I was pissed -- but not shocked -- when I received an email where this person suddenly decided to back out of our agreement. True to form, I did have a contract in place, and of course this does offer some protection. But I know in my gut this is a reminder from the universe to never discount my worth or bend the rules for friends in business. And neither should you.
Now. I use the term "friends" loosely. Terms that also apply -- colleagues, former colleagues, lukewarm networking contacts and friends-of-friends. In other words, people you kinda-sorta know.
I've become adept at sticking to my guns in business, but I found it much tougher when this scenario applied to someone I knew very well. It's akin to navigating much choppier waters. To help you through this delicate situation, here's what you need to know about standing firm when you are approached to work for people in your inner circle.
Payment terms are concrete
You absolutely have to stand firm when it comes to payment. If your policy is to receive payment upfront and your prospect is asking for a special payment plan "just for them" -- politely decline. Likewise, if you do have a reasonable and fair payment plan in place and they want you to "do a deal," this isn't a good sign.
Anyone asking for a discount or quibbling over the cost is not going to cough up the dough to work with you, especially if they feel entitled to a special rate because they know you from way-back-when. And for the love of all things holy, don't start working for them until they pay their first installment.
Sign a contract
It pains me to say this -- but a gentleman's agreement doesn't mean shit, whether you know the person or not. When it really comes down to it, many people are simply not as good as their word and if they need to back out and you don't have a contract in place, you're hooped. Have a contract and explain it in layperson's terms if need be. State your terms and don't change them for anyone. Stay firm.
Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries
It can be tough to maintain boundaries in business when you know someone from another area of your life. It can feel weird and a little awkward if you suddenly need to be all boss lady with a friend-of-a-friend. But you don't need be aggressive, just assertive. To gauge this, ask yourself, is this person able to see me differently? Or will they see me as so-and-so's-friend, thus not respecting or appreciating my skill set as a professional? This gives you an idea of the work involved in asserting your rules with this particular prospect.
I run my business with house rules and boundaries in place, and I made the error of bending many of those policies to accommodate one person. Unfortunately, it resulted in them assuming all of our rules and agreements held no ground, and I take full responsibility for lapsing my own boundaries and allowing this person to think the rules didn't apply to them. Business is business, and the rules are what they are. You should be treated with respect no matter who you are working with.
If you're anything like me, you work closely with your clients and give them 100 per cent of your commitment and energy. You should expect -- and you deserve -- the same in return, regardless of your relationship to your client.
In short, a collaboration will never work if the other party is unable or unwilling to stick to their side of the deal.
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