I recently had a “Yes, this is really crappy so dig deep for the lesson” moment.

I was wrapping up a project for a client. This was a one-time flat-fee project. The components/deliverables included in the project were very clearly documented in our written agreement. So that everyone was clear (and because I have been doing this long enough to know), the agreement was also very specific in listing services related to the project that I/my company do not provide.

I felt that the final project was quite impressive. I also felt that I had gone “above and beyond” in terms of the changes, additions, revisions and tweaks I made to it far after I had submitted a 1st (and 2nd, and 3rd…) time.

As we were nearing the end of the project, the client asked me to perform a service I do not offer and that was one of the ones clearly listed as “this is something we do not do as part of this project” in the agreement. I told her I would be happy to refer her to someone who does this service.

No, she said. I thought it was part of this project and your services.

Then this client asked me if I could write something else to include in the final project. This “something else” is something that was beyond the scope of the initial project, so I let her know that I would be happy to do so and that this addition would incur an additional $XXX charge.

No, she said. I thought it was part of this project and your services.

After years of doing what I do, I have developed a sixth sense about clients — when they are thrilled and when they are not thrilled, for example. It became clear that this client was unhappy and perhaps not easily satisfied. Because I wanted to keep emotion out of the conversation and stick to the facts and to how I could work with her and help her within the context of those facts, I waited a day or two to resume conversation.

I sent her an email asking if she had any questions and if there was anything additional she was waiting on (the project was complete, but I wanted to give her a chance to share her position with me).  

Be careful what you ask for…because her return email to me said it all. She told me this was the first time she had had “buyer’s remorse” in a while.

Wow….buyer’s remorse?!?!

She also told me she felt the price I had charged her was too high for what she received in return. I had told her the flat-fee within the first few minutes of our initial phone conversation weeks before. Nothing had changed.  

OK……. I made myself breathe and think this over before reacting.

Maybe she had money problems.

Maybe she’d felt she’d be able to “squeeze” more out of me than our agreement spelled out.

Maybe she’d had a bad morning. Or week.

I knew that the deliverable was of the highest quality and that it (and I) over-delivered. I also know that the flat-fee I generally charge for this particular kind of project is lower than what it should be.

I was going to respond to her specifically and tell her why she was wrong but I stopped myself. I did email her back and, instead, told her, sincerely, that I was sorry she was unhappy. That I felt, and had been told independently, that I should be charging two-and-a-half times what I charged her for half the work. I told her I respect her opinion and wished her the best of luck.

What I learned (may or may not apply to you):

  1. I’m not doing anyone, least of all myself, any favors by under-charging.
  2. I’m also not doing anyone, least of all myself, any favors by over-delivering in terms of time and effort. My time and my expertise are valuable. Giving them away only attracts more people who want me to give them away.
  3. If I or you are delivering quality work, and someone is unhappy with the work, 9.99 times out of 10 the issue is theirs. And there is little the expert can do to “make it right.” People will do anything to make sure they are right. So trying to make it right makes them wrong and they don’t want to be wrong.
  4. My business is not based on project work. Nor is a long-term business or coaching relationship based on one-time projects. She doesn’t recognize the value in my expertise or services because she hired me for one isolated project. Refer these projects to freelancers.
  5. It’s never personal. It’s always about them, not me. (Repeat 100 times.)