A post to an online community that I moderate caught my eye last week. A member had written something about going over the terms of the deal with a client and in response received a comment saying essentially – don’t bother talking, just put your terms into your paperwork and be done with it.
Don’t get me wrong. Good paperwork’s a must for all businesses. Any time we’re entering into a business transaction, we’ve got to provide proper paperwork that clearly outlines the terms & conditions of the sale.
It’s the trying to slide things under the radar part that has me troubled. See, the thing is, at the point where you’re relying on your paperwork, one party is either suing or threatening to sue the other. Even if your paperwork’s airtight, that’s still not where you want to be going, especially if you’re looking to build long term relationships.
A lot of us “passion-preneurs” shy away from having those tough business conversations but we have got to get over that. We are much better off losing (or renegotiating) the deal because we were clear about our terms than getting sued because our clients thought they were buying one thing while we thought we were selling another.
This kind of upfront, straightforward communication is key to building the kind of long-term client relationships that will help you earn a living doing what you love.
A jewelry artist I work with called me in a panic the other day. She’d landed two new galleries recently and was having trouble making her delivery deadlines.
The reasons don’t really matter. Suffice it to say that events out of her control had already forced her to ask for one extension and now she was looking at having to ask for another. To top it off, the deadline for a juried show she’d been accepted into was also rapidly approaching.
Bottom line: there was no way she could make all these deadlines. Something had to give.
She started our conversation by trying to figure out the minimum extension to ask the gallery owners for. She was so worried about permanently damaging these relationships that she was setting herself up for an overwhelming work schedule with no room for error or additional delays.
I reminded her that things go wrong – that’s part of business (and life) – the important thing is how you make them right.
Talking with her took me back to the early days of owning my studio. We prided ourselves on never missing a deadline but instead of asking clients when they really needed everything, we’d figure out the minimum amount of time necessary to complete the work and make that our delivery date. Things would go wrong and we’d kill ourselves – pulling all-nighters, skipping meals, canceling appointments – only to discover that the client didn’t actually need the files for another week!
Eventually we learned to ask our clients what their real deadlines were. 99% of the time, the date they picked was after the date we would have offered. And, if they needed something fast, we knew those all-nighters and skipped meals were for a good reason. We still pride ourselves on never missing a deadline but having realistic deadlines makes it a whole lot easier.
This approach worked for the jewelry artist, too. She gave the gallery owners the option of picking a new delivery date or getting their deposits back. One picked a date that was 2 weeks beyond what she would have offered. The other gave her 3 extra weeks. This strategy not only bought her more time but let her know which order to concentrate on first and plan a schedule that would allow her to fulfill her obligations for the juried show as well.