A number of years ago I designed a web site for a client that was both with her and her customers – everyone was happy, but this wasn’t one of those, “Everyone lived happily ever after” stories. As time went by the client would periodically call me for advice and the rare, very small freelancing project.
Since I’ve known this client for years on both a personal and professional level I did stretch the rules for her a little in regards to billing – I’d often hook her up with a free consultation or whatever, you know…I tried to help out where I could (as long as it wasn’t a big deal). Perhaps you’ve worked for people that you considered friends and you’ve bent the rules a little for them as well. This is a nice gesture but it can often backfire on you, as it did me in this situation…more on that in a bit.
When you make yourself available to help the client when they have “no one else to turn to” you’ll find this quickly leads to clients thinking that they can call you for anything affecting their business, whether it relates to your area of specialty or not (graphic and or web design).
Going back to my example with this client, while the actual design of the web site has never been an issue, the web hosting, domain name registration and a few other IT issues have been a source of constant aggravation.
The root of all of these problems started because the client, (we’ll call her Marge) did not take my advice and work with a reputable, reliable web host. Instead she stubbornly went out on her own and got a second-rate web hosting company that has poor support and documentation. For her efforts she’s saving $5/year…wow.
Even though I politely told her this was a mistake, she resolutely went forward with her decision and hired a poor web host. What can I say? I can only advise, right?
In any case, it was around a year ago (3 years after the site was built) on a random Saturday…yes I said Saturday (clients aren’t supposed to call on the weekends); the client called me to complain that her email account was being hit by too much spam.
Even though I didn’t set up her email account and I don’t really offer IT support, I spoke with her for about 1/2 hour because we’re friends. I suggested that she set up a master email account but give out and use forwarding email accounts so if they get overrun with spam she can delete them and her master account would still be spared. I informed her that her web host would easily be able to walk her though this (at least the web host that I recommended that she use in the first place can). Anyway, she thanked me for the free advice and went on her way.
By the way, it’s important to note that I also told her that I could address the problem, it would take me 30-60 minutes and that I’d bill for the time. She didn’t take me up on that offer, which is fine, she wanted to go with the “free” solution and contact her web host herself.
Anyway, some time passed and I thought the problem was solved – I was wrong. About a week later this email found its way into my inbox, “Hey ! I know I mentioned this to you before but I need to change my e-mail. Do I just go into Microsoft Outlook, delete the old account and create a new one? I’m not sure how all of this works but I need to do this soon because receiving over 400 emails a day is driving me crazy!! Thanks for your help.”
Hmm, didn’t I already talk to her about this? Why is she asking me about it again?
Answer: She didn’t want to call the web host, instead she wants me to “fix” the problem…fix the problem for free – and that isn’t going to happen.
Ignoring my gut reaction to let her know what I really thought about how she’s handled this, I responded, “Pretty easy and free solution here, Marge. Whoever hosts your web site will be able to help you with this. You’ll need to set up a new account (which they’ll be able to walk you through for free, rather than hiring someone like me to do it). Contact their tech support; explain your issue and they’ll probably walk you through it. There are a couple of different ways you can go to eliminate this problem in the future, the tech support folks will have better knowledge about this than I do – give them a shout, it’ll probably take about 15-20 minutes.”
A few hours later I received this from Marge, “See this is the problem. I called my web host and they told me they couldn’t help me with this?!? This is why I contacted you; I’m a little irritated and need to have this problem fixed ASAP, not good for business. I will try them again, thanks for your help.”
A couple of thoughts here:
- If Marge had listened to me and went with the web host I suggested this would all be solved by now. Not listening to her designer got her in trouble and now she’s pissed.
- Marge says, “That’s why I contacted you…” No, you contacted me so I can solve your problem for free.
- Despite wasting loads of time and energy, Marge is unwilling to pay anyone to fix the problem. She feels since it’s such an easy thing to do, it should be free…but if it was that easy why can’t she do it?
- Marge feels I should provide FREE tech support on a web site that was build over 4 years ago!
- If Marge’s web host told her that they couldn’t help her, why would she say, “I will try them again”? If they can’t help her on the first try, what’s going to change if she calls them again? Hmm, do you get the impression that Marge didn’t actually call the web host but assumed I would fix it or contact them for her? I do.
I like Marge but in this instance she’s so focused on her own frustrating situation that she’s become a jerk. And yes, I know first-hand how technology can make people crazy (sometimes I get really ticked off at it), but railing against me in her frustration isn’t exactly helpful or fair.
My wife summed it all up by saying, “The issue here is that Marge is trying to make HER problems YOUR problems.” Yep, she’s right – and I’ve seen this so often with clients – frustrated people just trying to get someone to help them…HELP THEM FOR FREE.
Don’t get sucked into this.
Remember there’s a difference between wanting to be helpful & going the extra mile, and letting clients walk all over you. Where that line is you have to decide. In this example this client has a long history of asking for free help, and heck, she hasn’t hired me in a couple of years. I would have been happy to help her, but I was going to account for my time and expertise…what a crazy concept huh?
Jeremy Tuber is the author of two break-through books, “Being a Starving Artist Sucks” and “Verbal Kung Fu for Freelancers”, which have sold in over 25 countries around the world (they are available on Amazon, iTunes and at on his website/blog www.beingastarvingartistsucks.com).