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Guest VirtuallyYours

Major Client - Minor Contract

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Guest VirtuallyYours

Hi All

My biggest client has been with me since I started out as a VA (about 1 year into it, so for about 2 years now) and has been a great backbone to my income. However, the client (or the person who hires me on behalf of the group) is being VERY resistant about signing a contract which basically just puts onto paper the general rules and regulations of business - respecting timeframes, payment of work done etc.

I have also sent out a rate increase notice which is due to commence at the start of the new financial year, using Candy's lovely straight to the point letter. The client is acting rather put-out by this (first rate increase EVER) and was insulted that I sent the letter "as if it were a fait acompli" - well matey, it IS a fait acompli.

I sent the contract out some weeks ago with an email saying that the contract was on the way and that it needs attending to prior to July 1st (sometimes these notices are not addressed as I would like- I think they take me for granted alot). He interpreted this as 'Hey you - sign the darn contract or it's OVER". He is now saying he doesn't know why we need one now when we have been happily going along with a simple letter of agreement which was drafted when we first started.

We are scheduled for a chat over coffee next week because he doesn't want to discuss it on the phone. I think he thinks I will cave in if we talk in person because he can be very intimidating - well I know I will be bloody nervous. But with your advise, I am hoping I will be armed with heaps of support and knowledge to back me.

 

This client is my major client. But I do on-site meetings constantly (I don't do onsite regularly for any other client) and evenings, and random workloads with no pre-payment. Invoices are paid as best they can be, but generally slowly and with prompting, because they are a community group and the volunteers have to work together to get it done. Out of pocket expenses are a pain in the butt, and I never know when payment will be made, so can't plan for it.

 

Usually I like the work, but I often feel as if my time and availability are taken for granted. They keep trying to get me to do sales type work and I keep having to say no (I hate sales and am no good at it). So in a nutshell, I like the work, I make many accomodations for them, and I think the respect should be two ways.

 

I really like this client and like the work because it's working with the community, but I need your help with trying to move it into a more professional status. And to make things stickier, the 'client' and myself are both members of a separate unrelated community group which is how we met. I think he thinks that I owe him because he lined this work up for me - but I earn every dollar.

 

Please help!

Rosie

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Tell him that your insurance carrier requires contracts - if you have E&O, it probably does actually :)

 

As to the other stuff... if they are taking advantage, you have to decide if you are willing to deal with it anymore. And 1 increase in 2 years is very reasonable.

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Rosie

 

What a lot of stress this guy is placing on you for something so simple.

 

For your rate increase, I think you have given ample warning if it takes effect for next financial year. I know when I worked in wholesale, the requirement was to provide advice, in writing, 30 days in advance. So you could just explain you are increasing your rates across the board, you haven't done so for a number of years, and maybe talk about being in line with CPI increases etc. Explain that putting it in writing, was a just par for the course. Ultimately you've got every right to put your increases up, and perhaps it's worth saying you are increasing your rates for all your clients so that he doesn't feel singled out. I don't think there is any harm in saying you are a business, you need to make money, and you're not doing this for free either. May also be worth pointing out any over and aboves you do for the client that you don't normally do for others (working on site etc).

 

As for the contract, if he has signed a letter of agreement, at least he isn't opposed to signing things. I'm no legal expert, but surely a letter of agreement is a form of contract anyway? I've worked in very large companies where agreements were made formal by a letter of agreement, then followed up with a detailed contract - so in effect this is what you are doing.

 

So maybe you could just explain that the contract is an updated version of the letter of agreement reflecting the increases in rates and some new ways of operating / changes in operation if applicable. Or maybe put the contract in a letter form still outlining the elements of what you want in it's a contract that intimidates him.

 

It almost sounds like he thinks things are going to really change, so when you meet with him, why not go through the elements on the contract so he feels comfortable with what is in there and give him the opportunity to voice any concerns. Perhaps there might be room for negotiation if there are some elements that worry him - otherwise stand your ground.

 

Prepare for the meeting - and drive the meeting yourself rather than let him drive the meeting, to help you feel the one in control and not get intimidated by him. If his budget is an issue and he's worried he can't afford your increased rates, then suggest you drop the number of hours / work you do to accommodate budget issues, rather than give in on not increasing your rates.

 

Good luck. Keep us posted.

 

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Guest VirtuallyYours

Whats E&O?

 

And as for the other point about dealing with it - I don't think I can afford not to. More often than not they are fine, but I don't have any other clients who get me so irritated at times. I am trying to build up to a point where I can ease back from them so am less 'apparently' dependant, but I really like the jobs they give me. Catch 22

Thanks!

Rosie

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Guest

Errors and omissions :)

 

While I can understand the importance of this client to your own financial stability, I think you need to approach the meeting with the mindset that this is your business, you are in charge of how you run it, and no client has the right to dictate your terms, policies, or your prices. You don't have to justify yourself to him. I'm not saying that you should be inflexible, or walk in with a chip on your shoulder, but you are in the driver's seat of your business, and you get to decide how you operate.

 

One of the things I would ask, though, is what is the motivation for having him enter into a contract after all this time? I think you need to look closely and very specifically at the ways in which your contract does or doesn't address this motivation, and outline for yourself in detail what the contract is intended to do for both of you. This will help enormously in being able to discuss it with him without letting him take the upper hand and intimidate you.

 

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Guest

Rosie, I'm sorry that you're being put in this position. It does sound like a Catch 22, but I think you have excellent reason for standing your ground, and you've articulated the reason quite well in your post.

 

You said, "So in a nutshell, I like the work, I make many accomodations for them, and I think the respect should be two ways."

 

That says it all to me. You teach people how to treat you. If you allow a person who is naturally a bully to intimidate you, that's what they will do because they get off on that. I have often found in my experience that people who try to bully and intimidate very often back down when you make it very clear to them that you simply will not tolerate that behavior. I can't promise that it will work in this case, but it's possible that if you state your case firmly, don't blink or offer additional justifications or rationalizations, he may back down, realize what a good VA you are and deal with you in the professional manner you deserve and should feel free to demand.

 

Please let us know how things work out.

 

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Guest TerryGreen

Rosie,

 

It sounds to me like this client doesn't completely understand the difference in your being an independent business owner and a simply a sub-contractor (or an employee). While you are a sub-contractor, you are a business owner - just like any other business owner. Sometimes they just need to be educated more (yes, they still don't get us :blink:), as well as an education as to why you need a rate increase (your expenses as a business owner and their lack of expenses because they work with you). Business owners don't ask their customers or clients if they mind if they raise their rates, they just do it. They would not question an increase in price if they went to a store to purchase a product, nor would they question their attorney, accountant or any other business they deal with on a continual basis if they raised their rates. If they are pleased with the service and like the product, they will pay the increase. If they aren't pleased, then they'll go to another store or change service providers. It's as simple as that. It shouldn't be an issue as to whether or not they can get you to "cave," but simply a business decision based on the cost of living and what it takes to operate your business.

 

As scary as it can be when you really need a client, if you allow a client to dictate your good business practices and whether or not you increase your rates, you will be validating the client's perception of your value (or lack of it) and telling him that you really aren't worth a rate increase after all. It's easy for me to say since I'm not the one in your shoes, but if this client is so resistant to signing an agreement and wants to quibble over a very justifiable rate increase, he will probably just continue to cause more problems down the line ... and you are probably better off without him. Just remember that if you lose him, that just opens the door for another client that is a pleasure to work with, sees the value you bring to his/her business, and won't quibble over your rates.

 

Best of luck with your client ...

 

 

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Guest

Hi Rosie,

 

Let's bottom line this and maybe save you what sounds like years more grief than you need or deserve:

 

Why is your client being so defensive about this?

 

I suspect his attitude stems from the fact that he's rather cozy with paying you whenever he gets around to it (or whenever the budget permits him to get around to it). Not acceptable my friend.

 

What is this unstable cash flow costing you and your business?

 

Cash flow is everything. No cash. No business. At least not if you need that cash to keep a roof over your head or food on the table ... or the marketing pipeline full. I understand the odd payment that's a few days late. Big deal. But this sounds like a different dynamic entirely. This client does not respect your position as a business owner.

 

He's also defensive because signing the contract means he might have to stop taking you for granted, get organized himself, and gee-wiz, give you proper notice about new deadlines or projects.

 

A person like this will NOT respect you until you draw your line in the sand (which I know you will very competently do!).

 

I know this is a key client, but please remember that when one door closes three more always open up.

 

Best of luck with this,

Karri

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Guest Arnie
Whats E&O?

 

And as for the other point about dealing with it - I don't think I can afford not to. More often than not they are fine, but I don't have any other clients who get me so irritated at times. I am trying to build up to a point where I can ease back from them so am less 'apparently' dependant, but I really like the jobs they give me. Catch 22

Thanks!

Rosie

 

 

If you are working to a piont where you can easy away from them, why do you want a contract that would bind you together?

 

As for the face to face, My bet is that he will use the tactics you expect, fine let him, you know whats coming so he can't surprise you. Also remind him that he will be billed at full rate for the meeting plus travel time. He may want to reconsider..

 

A

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Hi Rose,

 

I see your catch 22... but I like Candy's idea to say the idea is for insurance purposes as well as protecting you both in the case of a problem.

 

However, if you are interested in scaling back with them, then why force the contract? I can understand staying the course if you really want to keep working with them.

 

I always keep in mind that when I "give up" a less than ideal client, it makes room for an idea client to find me. It's scary to give up a client, especially a big or main one. But if you don't - you won't be able to accept the next great client (or two!) that could fill this spot.

 

Good luck with the meeting! At least you suspect he might try to intimidate you so you know what's coming.

 

Let us know how it goes! Good luck....

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Hi Rosie,

 

It sounds like the ball is in your court. I don't think this client wants to lose a good thing. So stick to your guns and get what you deserve out of this situation.

 

You can do it!!!!

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Guest VirtuallyYours

Wow - thankyou all so much for you replies. It's so heartily appreciated!

 

You all pose some good points. Why am I looking at a contract? I suppose, in the hope that it will force him to look at things professionally and get his act together, so then I can reconsider my idea of drawing back from them. But if he is dead against it, I suppose it makes my decision easier. My thoughts were that the contract would outline exactly what we want from each other now that things have changed since the last agreement. I get so frustrated when he basically indicates that he should be my number 1 client with all priorities given - every client is my number 1 client, but my other clients are so lovely and respectful of the fact that I run a business and my world cannot simply revolve around them.

 

An example of this possessiveness was last year when my partner and I went to Europe for 5 weeks. It was such an exciting thing for us and a rare opportunity. I gave clients 6 MONTHS notice and organised backup plans and solutions so that work could continue on its merry way. He actually said in a number of meetings, where we are surrounded by other professional business owners 'Rosie left us, it was so rude' - in the end, while I was taking minutes I had to say 'I will not be minuting those comments, and I will not tolerate that being brought up in a meeting like this again'. He finally stopped. Luckily for me, I think the other business people could see that he was the one being rude.

He travels alot and I am usually left up in the air with ongoing projects when he goes, but of course, this is totally different!

 

My problem is the money and some of the wonderful projects I work on. My partner and I had a chat about it last night and I think he is sick of me complaining about this client because he was quite supportive of me pulling away even with the financial risk. That surprised me to be honest.

 

So on Tuesday I will go in, with it all worked out in my head - options available etc (absolutely NO discussion of various rates, my rate is my rate and I am SO DETERMINED with that one!) - and see what happens.

 

I will let you all know.

 

Thanks so much again - you guys are becomming my most valuable resource to sanity.

 

Big hugs

Rosie

 

 

 

 

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Guest

You sound very well prepared!!

I loved reading everyone's advice too-y'all are so great!

 

Good luck Rosie! You'll do well! :thumbup:

Angela

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Great advice, everyone! :thumbup:

 

Good luck with the meeting next week, Rosie! We're all behind you!

 

Angela

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