Ask Molly

Ask Molly, Doing

Ask Molly: Should I trade security for cash?

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Dear Molly, One of my clients has offered me a full-time position. I’ve been happily working on my own for over 6 years now, and the offer is significantly less than what I make on my own. That said, the promise of security and not chasing invoices is appealing. How would you weigh the opportunity? Debating a “real” job Dear Debating, Assuming you’ve already weighed the cost of benefits like paid time off and health care, you know the dollars to dollars comparison, and you’re telling me you’re looking at a job that will pay significantly less you less than you make now? Especially in this day and age, it’s funny to me that when companies try to hire entrepreneurs they appeal to the desire for job security and a steady paycheck. If you’ve succeeded on your own for 6 years you probably have a decent portfolio and ways to drum up sales when needed. I would argue your ability to work with multiple clients gives you more job security than working for a company. I also have a hard time believing there is some supreme value knowing exactly the dollar amount you will receive every two weeks, especially if it […]

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Ask Molly, Managing

Ask Molly: When will it be “Done-Done”?

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Dear Molly, I’m pulling my hair out over here. I’ve got a bunch of talented programmers who cannot under any circumstance tell me, or even guesstimate when they are going to be able to deliver a product to a client. Sometimes they will say it is done even when they still have a few hours of work to do that they haven’t gotten around to or they will say it is done even though it is clear they never tested it. I’ve gotten to the point where I say, “Is is done or is it “DONE-DONE”? How do I get my developers to give me the information I need, and separately, how do I drive home the question of “completion”? All Done in Missouri Hey Done, Oh man, I hear you. You’re facing pressure from the client to deliver but you simply cannot get the information you need to provide the end product, or even a reliable deadline to your client. I’m guessing you’re sick of going to your client with your hat in your hands to ask for more time, especially when you don’t even know how much time you need. Right now you might need to just hire […]

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Ask Molly, Doing

Ask Molly: Always Dealing with Emergencies

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Dear Molly, Scheduling time and “fires” – we all have them. Things come up. It’s hard to say no to “emergencies” from clients and things like that. How do you keep things on track when things are always happening? Fighting Fires in Milwaukee Dear Fire Fighter, The key to retaining existing clients is to provide great, prompt service. One place to start is to define what constitutes an emergency. In my case if a clients’ server goes down and they have active users who are unable to work because of it, it’s an emergency. But make sure you qualify that. “Hey the server is down this Monday but I know you don’t run your weekly reports until Friday, are you OK if I get to it on Wednesday?” But let’s say you’ve qualified a real emergency. Your repeat business and referral business depends on you resolving emergency situations immediately. So you have to plan them into your day. At our 2016 Find Your Moose conference in Chicago, I’ll be talking about portfolio management and delegation. In an ideal world, for any given project you have at least two people assigned to the project and knowledgeable of how to solve a […]

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Ask Molly, Doing

Ask Molly: Working for Free

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Dear Molly, 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   Dear Tired, 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 […]

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Ask Molly, Improving

Ask Molly: Breaking Out of Isolation

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How to Break Out of Isolation Dear Molly, I’ve been working for myself for almost 20 years. I have a steady stream of business and basically just work out of my house. I’m a member of some listservs but I’m increasingly feeling isolated and missing the opportunity to just lean over and ask someone for advice or even just have a non-work conversation. Do you have any suggestions for me? Surprised to feel isolated after all these years   Dear Isolated, Guess what? Things change. What worked for you for the last ten years might not be working now, but the good news is that there are options! First and most drastic, you should consider checking out your local coworking scene. You may not find people who do exactly what you do, but it might be a nice affordable change of pace for you to work in the same space with other small business owners. For an even more interactive experience, schedule yourself to work on-site at clients. It will give you an opportunity for collaboration where you can be a bit more focused. I’ve also heard rave reviews about Slack. Slack is a messaging app for teams. If you’re […]

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Ask Molly, Managing

Ask Molly: How to Close Out a Project and Get Paid

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Closing Out Projects and Getting Paid We have several clients that are dragging their feet on their testing keeping us from wrapping up of our final product delivery and getting paid. Getting a commitment from them is nearly impossible. Is it acceptable to give them a firm deadline to test by and if not met, close the project, send them final invoice and disable our product until they pay? Additionally, we have several clients that are held on retainer and are not paying on our terms. Should we stop the projects until the checks are received? Signed, Not a piggy bank   Hey Not a A Piggy Bank, Ughh! It’s a horrible place where the client won’t pay you until they approve your work. There are solid ways to avoid this problem in the future by setting up a deployment and payment schedule at the beginning of the project, but that’s not where you are right now so let’s talk about the immediate situation. I’m assuming you’ve poked and prodded gently so now you have to be tackle it head on. If you’ve been reading my column you know that any difficult situation should be handled in person or over […]

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Ask Molly, Selling

Ask Molly: How to Handle Requests for Discounts

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How to handle requests for discounts Dear Molly, “Hi! I’m a big fan! Can you waive your fees?” I know this isn’t an apples to apples question but I’m just running this by you because as a small business owner in a resort town (I’m a chef and own a restaurant and hotel) I’m constantly getting requests for discounts, charity contributions, and the “Hey I’m a friend of the owner, can I have a free chocolate stout mousse?” I’m just wondering how you handle those requests? Service is everything in my business but margins are thin and I need some good ways to handle the constant requests without upsetting possible customers or breaking the bank. Sincerely, James, Summer Kitchen Café Dear James, This is a very timely question because I’ve been refining my own language to help my potential customers understand which of my services come with a price tag and which services I might do gratis. I have been very clear about what I am and am not willing to discount with my consulting work, but not with my recruiting services, referral services, or coaching. If I’m not clear, how can I expect my clients to be clear? For […]

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Ask Molly, Doing

Ask Molly: When is My Work Non-Billable?

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When is My Work Non-Billable? Dear Molly, I’m a programmer and I’m having a really hard time explaining to a client the difference between what’s billable and what’s non-billable. Every request they send me starts with the subject line, “BUG/S FOUND NEED FIXED”. 90% of the time it isn’t a bug so it is driving me crazy that they keep trying to make everything sound like it is a bug.  I know this is a petty question but how would you handle this situation? Not really a bug Hey Bugs, Opening your email box shouldn’t feel like you are being assaulted. Personally, all caps messages, regardless of their content, MAKE ME MAD! A really simple trick I use is to either change the subject line when I send a return message or say something directly like, “Hey, I have a filter on email for your requests. If you want faster response time can you please put ‘Your Client Name: To Do Item’ in your header?” I’m wondering if you have a bigger issue though. I find that a lot of clients need education on the concept of hiring someone who provides an ongoing consulting service. Do you think your client is […]

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Ask Molly, Managing

Ask Molly: Subcontractor Causing a Budget Overrun

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Subcontractor Causing a Budget Overrun Dear Molly Recently, two of my programmers have spent WAY more time than was estimated for tasks within projects and did not let me know until after the work was performed.  Now the clients are furious because of the budget overrun and we may have to credit a significant amount of money back to two clients. One of the programmers is an employee so he’s already been paid but I still have to pay the subcontractor. What are your thoughts on paying people who repeatedly go over budget without notice? Our contract even states that subcontractors will not be paid for work done without prior approval. Sticker Shock in Chicago Dear Sticker Shock, I feel your pain. One of my biggest challenges in managing a team is just that—managing. Once I’ve made an estimate I expect my developers to avoid a  budget overrun or give me a red hot alert if they even think they may need more time. Most great problem solvers are so focused on the outcome that they lose track of their time. Their focus is great but it requires you to keep an eye on the clock for them. If you’ve […]

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Ask Molly, Managing

Ask Molly: When to Stop Work

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  When to Stop Work Dear Molly, I just started working as a subcontractor for a new client. They are currently overdue on invoices worth more than $10K but are telling me that they can’t pay me until the client pays them. The client is not going to pay them until the work is considered “complete” and at this point it’s unclear how much more work they are expecting from me to complete the project. I feel I can’t continue working for them until they’ve caught up on at least some of my outstanding invoices. Does that sound reasonable? What is your opinion of the best way to handle this? Sincerely, Gotta get paid Dear Gotta, The main reason it is worth it to work as a subcontractor is that someone else has landed the work for you. Sales is a tricky business and if it is not your favorite or not your forte, well then it’s worth subcontracting for example at $75/hour while your client charges you out at $150/hour. The additional benefit of being a subcontractor is that your client assumes the risk of payment and project completion. My typical term with subcontractors is 30 days or when […]

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