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Summary:

When running a business, it can sometimes be hard to draw the line between being of service and being taken advantage of by customers, clients and other professionals. Here are a few ways to reinforce that line.

When running a business, it can sometimes be hard to draw the line between being of service and being taken advantage of by customers, clients and other professionals. Here are a few ways to reinforce that line.

1. Know your policies, terms and limitations.

I believe that the biggest mistake we all make when drawing lines with customers, clients and other professionals is that we don’t have a firm grasp of our own policies and limitations before beginning to do business with someone.

It’s important to sit down on your own, when you’re not under pressure, and decide, “These are my policies. This is how I do business. This is what I will accept. This is what I won’t accept.” That might include things like your rates, how you handle rush jobs, your availability and working hours, how you handle late payments, etc. Figure out your terms and then stick with them. If someone tries to push your policies and limitations, simply say, “That’s not how I do business,” and then outline your terms.

2. Lose the need to be liked.

Our need to be liked can interfere with our ability to run our businesses effectively and profitably. If we’re constantly allowing clients, customers, and service providers to dictate how we do business, simply because we’re afraid of making an enemy or making someone angry, we’ll never get anywhere. I’m not saying that you need to go around being a flaming jerk, but if someone is going to write you off because you won’t allow him/her to run over you, that’s not a friend you’d want anyway. Be willing to walk away from toxic people and relationships and know that you’re not always going to be liked, and that’s OK.

3. Know your value and be confident in that.

I think a lot of times it’s unnerving to stake a claim and say, “This is what I’m worth.” However, it’s necessary to establish that value and know that we don’t have to accept less than that. Sometimes you will come across people who want something for nothing, and there will be times when people who see that you’re succeeding will try to get a free ride on your coattail. If you try to cater to those types of people, you’ll never get anywhere. It’s OK to say, even just to yourself, “I’ve paid my dues to get here. I’ve worked hard, studied hard, and applied myself to make the progress that I’ve made.”

You can be willing to help other people (if they’re willing to help themselves, of course), but you have to always remember to be conscious about how you spend your time. Every minute that you give to something or someone is a minute you can’t get back and is a minute that isn’t going to something or someone else, so always think, “Is this a wise investment?” If you’re giving away your time to someone who constantly takes advantage of you, is always looking for ways to nickel and dime you, or isn’t your ideal client, then you no longer have that time to give away to someone who values it, pays you what you’re worth, and is better-suited for you.

4. Follow a modified “3-strike” rule.

Inevitably, you will come across people who will try to take advantage of you and push your boundaries, and inevitably, there will be times when you try and try (and try again) to work with these people, even though you know they’re not a good fit for you, they are trying to take advantage of you, or the relationship is a one-way or dead-end street. Knowing where to draw the line is the most important thing in these situations, which brings us back to Rule #1.  You must establish your limitations, and a good place to start is a with a modified “Thee-Strike Rule.”

If you find yourself working with a client or service provider who tests your limitations or policies, try to give three opportunities for correcting or improving a situation before walking away. This will be different for every situation and business, but in these situations, keep a mental (or even physical) record of how a project or relationship has gone. If you constantly find yourself back at the same point of negotiating your terms or what you’re worth, then eventually you have to say, “Enough is enough.”

The “modified” part comes into play when your integrity or principles are at stake. In that case, one strike is all you need, so if, for instance, a client or service provider does something or asks you to do something that clearly lets you know this person is not someone you want to do business with, be willing to walk away right off the bat. In these situations, there’s no sense in hanging around for three strikes and allowing the opportunity for your integrity to be called into question.

Finding a balance between being of service and being a doormat who is constantly taken advantage of by customers, clients and other professionals can be a challenge, but by deciding upfront what’s acceptable to you in your business, you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches — and be more likely to create a successful and thriving business.

In what ways do you make sure to leave the doormat at the door?

Photo by Flickr user say_cheddar, licensed under CC 2.0

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  1. I really like this article but it seems to go against the grain. It still seems the common thought amongst “experts” is that the customer is always right, period, end of story, there is no the customer is wrong, ever. I’m unsure what action to take, please the client at all costs or get rid of toxic clients.

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    1. It definitely goes against the grain, but I think life’s too short to worry about working with clients who are trying to take advantage of us, who can never be pleased, or who we’re not well-suited to serve. I’d rather work with clients who appreciate my work and the value I bring to their businesses. I do a better job that way, so everyone wins.

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      1. In a nutshell: clients are free to choose their service providers… just like we (freelance) service providers are free to choose our clients. The initial trial period (first jobs) is a two-way street.

        Greetings!

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  2. [...] Worker Daily: Are you the nice type and get the occasional client that tries to walk all over you? Time to even the playing field.Mashable: Let’s be honest, most freelancers don’t have a serious budget when it comes [...]

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  3. I disagree with the idea that the customer is always right, rather subscribe to the concept they customer thinks they are always right and we should give them what they want. Within limits of course.

    I think the keyword here in this article is boundaries, setting policies is a great idea, however flexibility within those boundaries is also good.

    Overall I think the above article is good, and I think the most important additions to this is conflict resolution and good communication.

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  4. Ted bendixson Friday, May 21, 2010

    I like the 80/20 rule. 20% of your clients will give you 80% of the pain. Know when, and how, to get rid of that 20%.

    I had an altercation with a bad apple this afternoon, and your post brightened my day.

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  5. [...] 4 Ways Not to Be a Doormat – “…it can sometimes be hard to draw the line between being of service and being taken advantage of by customers, clients and other professionals. Here are a few ways to reinforce that line.” [...]

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  6. The saying “the customer is always right” is one of the “Two Phrases that Destroyed American Culture”, according to this article I read a while back (warning, NSFW language): http://www.violentacres.com/archives/59/

    Basically, that mantra has led certain people to believe they have the right to act badly under the shield of being a Customer. Wrong.

    Thank you for this article. I’m dealing with an increasingly toxic client at the moment. As per your first point, I’ll revisit my terms, policies and limitations so I’ll have something concrete with which to push back.

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  7. [...] would have set some boundaries for myself and my business. I would have decided from the very beginning where I was going to draw [...]

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