I am a BIG believer in over-delivery. I want to give my clients as much value as possible, even before they sign a contract with me. This has become a signature feature of my business and my brand. However, it can lead to being taken advantage of.
The million dollar (or $50? $500? $5,000?) question when you’re prospecting for a client is: how much work beforehand is “too much”?
The important thing here is to know your worth and figure out where to draw the line.
Think about it — what is “too much” for you? This can be a different level for everyone. There are no hard and fast rules. What’s crucial is that you value your time.
Figure out what your limits are (whether that’s a time frame, a certain number of emails over a fixed amount, or something else) and stick to those boundaries, no matter what!
How to Stop Being Taken Advantage of by Your Prospective Clients
Why I Recently Decided to Set a Boundary
Recently, I had a prospective client who was interested in a custom sales funnel. My custom sales funnels are my most expensive offers, and usually, cost somewhere between $1–10k.
I had a 1- hour discovery call with the client (usually they are 20-30 minutes). Then I did some free work for her and re-wrote an email for her. And then I spent a bunch of time building out a strategy and custom proposal.
I wasn’t surprised when, after all the time I’d put into this project already, she agreed to work with me. But as soon as I sent over the invoice, she had a bunch of additional questions that came seemingly out of nowhere (funny how that happens, right?).
She sent them over in a Google Doc, and I was happy to spend a few minutes responding. But then she wanted to hop on another call to go over some of the tech strategy for her project, and I had to ask myself… Am I being taken advantage of?
I decided to draw the line at that point.
It was hard for me to set this boundary. As service providers, we never want to run the risk of scaring off a potential client. However, I also have to value my time and the effort I’ve already put into prospecting this lead.
If the potential client wanted more from me, she was going to have to pay for my time.
So we agreed to proceed with an additional paid 1-hour consultation. For me, this was the perfect solution because it allowed me to have a good balance between (a) providing valuable insight and ideas to the client, and (b) not getting walked all over.
Just because I believe in over-delivery doesn’t mean I want to work for free indefinitely!
It’s Important to Respect Yourself + Your Other Paying Clients
Establishing boundaries and protecting yourself from being taken advantage of is going to benefit both you and your existing clients. When you respect yourself as a service provider, you’re also respecting your time and effort, plus your other clients as well.
If you’re spending too much time prospecting and working with people who aren’t even paying clients yet, it’s doing your current clients a disservice.
Prospecting can soon become a black hole — you won’t have enough time, attention, and energy to spend on your paying clients! This is a problem. It’s not only exhausting for you, it undervalues your work. You don’t want to give away for free what your current clients pay good money for. It’s just not fair!
Especially if, once you’re done prospecting, you don’t have enough time and energy left over for your existing clients. Rightfully so, they may become disgruntled if they realize the disparity. I know I would! It’s the same feeling I get when I realize new customers pay less for their cell phone plan or internet service than I do as a current subscriber (don’t you HATE that??).
Not to mention, giving away too much time and energy can subconsciously make your prospective clients not understand how valuable your services actually are. If you’d give it away for free — why would they pay for it?
When prospecting for new clients, sometimes less is more.
The Start of a Project is a Crucial Time to Set Boundaries
Doing too much work for free is a bad way to start off a project because it allows for your prospective client to walk all over you right from the very beginning. If you feel yourself being taken advantage of before they even pay, it sets a bad tone for the entire project.
I like to think of it like my puppy (not to be rude at all, it’s just a good comparison!).
She’s 10 months old now and we’re actually are having some trouble with her. She has really bad separation anxiety because we work from home and are here 24/7. If one of us leaves the apartment, she whines and cries. The breeder told us to make her spend 1 hour alone in her crate every single day to help combat this. But….we didn’t. We loved her and got suckered in, and weren’t firm with that rule. Now, 10 months later, we have to pay for it.
It’s the same thing with your clients. It’s super important to be extra firm right from the very the beginning of the project so that they learn the “rules” of what it’s like to work with you, and they don’t get used to walking all over you from the get-go. If you start out letting them take advantage of you, it’s only going to get worse and worse and worse as the project continues.
They aren’t necessarily doing it on purpose, it’s just natural to push the boundaries, especially if the boundaries aren’t all that clear. And before you know it, they’re texting you at 2 AM asking for you to do things for them. (If things have gotten really bad, you might even find yourself responding!)
Don’t Be Too Harsh With Your Prospective Clients
You need to set boundaries and be firm. But at the same time, you have to be sensitive.
Sometimes potential clients come into the situation with “baggage.” They’ve probably worked with people before who have screwed them over. And you probably have too.
The goal is to achieve some type of balance or common ground where you are giving them enough to gain their trust and get them to work with you, but not so much that you are going overboard and not respecting yourself.
This is a delicate tightrope to walk. So keep in mind that being firm does not mean being rude.
You can gently and politely tell someone that you can’t deliver more work for them without being paid. You don’t want a situation where you’re being taken advantage of, and neither do your clients. Lay out the work you’ve already completed (for free!) and what the charge for ongoing work will be.
Don’t dance around the issue or ghost the client. They may not realize that they are asking you to take on too much! The easiest solution to this is to be upfront, honest, and clear. If they choose not to work with you, you’ve simply dodged a potential client that wanted to walk all over you. 😅 Phew!
Better yet — this frees up time to work with clients who do respect your boundaries!
Want to ensure that new clients know the rules from the very beginning? A standard client onboarding process is crucial for all service providers!
Learn all about how I onboard clients by clicking the button below!