When I first started my consulting career I felt I needed experience. I offered to build a system for a local non-profit that I believed in and ended up building them a great system that manages all their contacts, donors and events. It was worth it to me because I learned a lot. The problem is, we are now three years into the project, I have a full load of paying clients, and they remain my most demanding (yet non-billable) client. Honestly, I cringe when the phone rings from them and I don’t know how to get out of this. Help!
Tired of Working for Free
I’ve been here before and the good news is there are ways to change this dynamic. First, you have built a system that they depend on, so in my mind you really do owe it to them to continue to support the system or find someone else who can. I suggest you have a formal meeting with them and explain that your business has grown and you can no longer afford to support their system for free. With this in mind you’d like to set up a transition plan with them.
Work with them to make a “punch list” of outstanding needs and wants. With regards to needs, maybe there are a few features that don’t quite work the way they should since it was a learning project for you, maybe there are a few tweaks you could make to really help the users understand the system better, or maybe you need to provide some documentation and training so they are not as dependent on you. With regards to wants, this can be their wish list of things they’d like to have. They aren’t required features, just additions that they really want.
Now put a price on that list and use your full-rate. If they are your most “demanding” client, then even if they start paying you a discounted rate, you are going to continue to be frustrated with them and you’ll still wish you were spending your time elsewhere. Perhaps you could offer some amount of transition time at no cost as a gesture of goodwill, but after that you begin charging.
Now here’s the kicker—it has been my experience that people who are used to getting work for free are not able to wrap their heads around going from free to say $150/hour. They will do everything in their power to guilt you into continuing to do the free work. The reality is that even if they can afford to pay you (many non-profits can’t), you’ve trained them that your services are not worth it. So, give them names of three other consultants, one with a rate higher than yours, one with a rate lower than yours, and one who may be in a position like you were when you started, and who might be willing to work for free. Then let them decide how they will solve their support needs.
Ask Molly is my column where I answer your questions about the things that are keeping you from truly enjoying your work. I can’t help you with your personal life or your love life, but if you have questions about your work life, I’ve got you covered. Drop me a line below and ask me a question! – Molly