I have run a small web hosting and design business for over 18 years with some friends. We’re not big but we have provided a solid and reliable service for a long time and we have a number of great clients. We provide a reliable, friendly and fairly priced service, I’m really quite proud of what we do.
However, we’ve never been aggressive or strict about billing with our clients. We let our billing software send automated e-mail reminders and occasionally we send a personal note politely saying ‘Hey you know you’re really overdue on your bill’. We never shut people off for being past due. I just assume they must just have other things going on and this was a low priority bill. This results in some clients being months, sometimes years behind in payment. (yes, seriously, years)
I guess, while my logical side knows better and knows some people will take advantage of trusting people like me, I still believe the best in everyone and assume everyone intends to pay and that hard work will be recognized and rewarded fairly.
Sometimes this had paid off, the person who moved and changed e-mail addresses and totally forgot they owed us money for their website finally resurfaces athen says ‘Oh I’m really sorry, I’ll pay my entire balance right now, thank you so much for not shutting it off‘. However for everyone of those clients there are 2 or 3 others that say, ‘I no longer want this site please cancel it and void any old invoices‘. Sigh, there goes months of services rendered with no compensation. I could argue with these people that they should have informed us earlier and that since we kept their site up they owe us, but is it worth arguing?
Asking for money isn’t a strong suit of mine, to say the least. In fact I joke with friends I do contract work with that they need to keep an eye on me because I am amazingly adept at NOT making money. Given the chance I give away, not only the milk, but the entire cow.
I feel greedy, guilty and selfish asking people to pay me for work I’ve done or services I’ve provided, like I’m being unkind to them by even asking. A real friend/nice person wouldn’t ask. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve felt bad about asking for money for work I’ve done on a website, and thus never even billed them for my time at all. I rationalize this for various reasons like;
“It was just a few minutes/hours of work, not really worth bothering them with.”
“I know they don’t have much money, I hate to bug them about this.”
“They are a non-profit I like, this’ll just be my donation.”
“It wasn’t their fault their (dreadfully neglected) wordpress site got hacked, I hate to bill them to fix it”
“They are a friend, this will just be a favor for them. I’m sure they’ll return in kind when/if the time comes.”
“It will take more time explaining what I did and why I want to charge for it than it’s worth.”
“They already pay me for hosting their site, I’ll just consider this part of the services we offer for hosting”
I also tend to really round down my costs
“Well I worked 5 hours on this, but they probably only expected 2 so I’ll just bill that”.
“They only asked me to update the graphics, they didn’t know the site was out of date and needed 2 hours of other work, so I’ll just bill what they expected.”
This has been an ongoing thing for pretty much the life of the business and something I’ve struggled with all along. The first step to recovery is accepting you have a problem right? “Hi, my name is Matt, and I have a problem asking for money.”
… but recently the ‘universe’ spoke on this issue. Coincedence? kismet? karma? who knows.. but a few weeks ago in a period of several hours the following messages hit me;
1) Grace Judson, a friend I’ve never met in person but met online because our websites were both based off the word Svaha, recently posted a link to this blog & video on Facebook; How to get paid when you hate asking for money .
In fact, much of the first part of this post I wrote as a comment on her facebook entry with that post.
It was rather ironic that she posted this (and I took note of it) since I had moved her over to my server a while ago but didn’t add her to our billing system for a number of months because I wanted to make sure she was happy with our service before I billed. She asked me on numerous occasions to bill her before I finally did.
The video itself has some good advice, mainly that people should be confident about their services and their value. Perhaps that’s part of the root of my money issues in that while I believe the services we offer and the work I do is worth the amount I charge, I lack the self-confidence to argue this. If a client were ever to say “$75/hour? No way, I don’t feel you’re worth that much, I’ll pay $20”, I probably wouldn’t argue with them (though I certainly would never do business with them again). In fact, something like this happened to me last year
To be fair, business savvy friends like Nicole at Breaking Even Communications have been giving me business advice and telling me that things need to change for a long time, so the above examples are just the ‘final straws’ that pushed me into working towards a solution.
I had written up some ideas of what I’m going to do to address the above problems, but again the universe spoke and computer entropy (yes it happens to geeks too, more often than we care to admit. shh) struck and I lost the rest of this post. I guess that was a message that if I wrote too much more this post would way exceed even the most dedicated TL;DR (too long; didn’t read) threshholds.
So stay tuned for the follow up post… and if you don’t see one soon bug me, this is important.
I’ll end with a song that always comes to mind when I’m thinking about money. I want a new religion.