the blog

Long Term Thinking

Recently, I got a call from a long-time client who had moved to a new position. There was a project that she wanted to bring me in for. It was right up my alley and I was appreciative. I needed info and in particular, to share with my client how I had revamped my business since we had last worked together including my pricing scheme. Although I made attempts to contact her, leaving detailed voice and email messages, I did not hear back. I began the project.

After the first month passed, I made two more attempts to contact my client to discuss billing. There was no response. So I sent a bill. This time, the response was swift.

Needless to say, there was a conflict. No matter how much I explained how I came to the price and that it was fair and competitive, the client wasn’t getting it. Clearly she had expected something different, basing it on how it had been done in the past. It did not matter that past was 2 years and a dollar-per-gallon of gasoline lower. That is what she had budgeted for. Work on the project was stopped. That left the question of my bill.

A couple of weeks passed when I got an email that the bill had been approved. There was another billing question, however, concerning a few hours of work that occurred between the time I sent the bill and the time the project was halted. I attempted to negotiate that fee, thinking it would be more palatable, but got nowhere. The budget had been exceeded and there was no more where that came from.

I felt badly about this outcome on a couple of fronts. First, I thought I should be paid for my work. But I also keenly felt there was a rupture in a relationship that I had valued for a long time and that had contributed to my bottom line. I decided to knock off the second fee. It was small, relatively speaking, and would not affect me in any measurable way. I was not out of pocket. I would write a letter that included this information as well as describe what I thought had gone awry. My goal was to re-build my relationship with my client so we could move forward again. I wanted to consider the long term. Following is the bulk of my letter:

In light of the circumstances concerning billing, and because I value you as a client and friend, I have decided to include the work as part of the work that was covered in the original bill, which has been paid.

I have learned a valuable lesson from this experience. The two times I contacted you to discuss the change in my fees were unsuccessful and I mistakenly interpreted this as indifference. In hindsight, I recognize that you were just extremely busy in the new job and had to prioritize. Ultimately, I should have waited to hear from you, or tried again to reach you before sending the bill.

Shortly thereafter, I received a reply from my client:

I got your note – thanks so much. I have been extremely busy (I just keep forgetting how hard it is to start from the ground and work up!). Anyway, I share some of the fault for not returning your call promptly and I appreciate the accommodation. Thanks again.

To think I came very close to doing nothing. Or sending another bill! Ultimately, communication—especially on sticky issues—works. It’s something I’m supposed to know about, but even the expert gets tripped up when it’s her own skin.

We are now working on another project and being very open about expectations. She also referred me to someone else for business.

Mission accomplished.

Copyright 2007 Ruth Sherman. All Rights Reserved.

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