I like analogies and metaphors. They are useful in explaining the intricacies of how things work to people — even if those same people have no idea what you’re talking about. It brings it all down to a practical, everyone-can-understand-it level, which is a delicious way to connect.
Today I present to you the car analogy.
The car analogy is one that I use to describe the vast difference between client expectations and reality in a service-based business model. It also ties in the issues surrounding value and budgets and need vs. ability to pay for. It’s a complicated thing to explain and have understood on the business level, especially to people outside the industry, but the overall message is important so thus, the analogy was birthed.
Here we go.
The Car Analogy
Imagine that you own a car.
Your car is rather filthy so you decide to book in with your local dealership for some detailing work. You get a quote for the detailing, agree on the price and you make an appointment.
On the day of the appointment, you drive to the dealership, you drop your car off and return home to wait.
While at home, you realize that you probably should get the oil changed and your fluids topped off. So, you call in and make the request.
An hour or so later, it dawns on you that one of the lights on your dashboard has been acting funky so you call the dealership and ask them to take a look and replace whatever needs replacing.
As the day wears on, you realize too that perhaps you should get them to check the brakes, as they’ve been a little sticky lately, and you give them permission to go ahead and replace them if necessary.
The dealership takes each request, adds it to the list and when all the work is complete, calls you to come and pick up your car.
You arrive at the dealership to pick up your car and the car looks great. It’s clean, the oil is changed, the fluids topped up, that little light on the dash is no longer blinking uncontrollably and your brakes are silent. Beautiful. Exactly as requested.
The mechanic takes you to the cash register, rings up the bill and hands it to you.
Your face drops. You are flabbergasted. You are gutted.
The bill is way higher than you expected.
You turn to the mechanic and say, “The quote I got was much, much lower than this… why is the bill so much higher now?”
The mechanic says, “Well ma’am (or sir), the original quote was for detailing only. You’ve made numerous requests since then. We complied with your request and now, this is what you owe.”
And you say, “Yes, but I got a quote for detailing and THAT is what I wanted to pay. I was not expecting to pay anything more than that.”
You can insert your own “choose your own adventure” style ending here.
Never Gonna Happen to Me
An impossible scenario, right? One that would never happen in the real world?
This happens to service-based business owners all the time. It doesn’t matter your billing model – whether you bill up front, quote in full, provide estimates or don’t, implement pay-as-you-go – it happens to everyone.
Client expectations can sometimes leave you feeling a bit bewildered.
Requests come in, work is complete, you’re feeling groovy and satisfied with the job well done and a client, when presented with this surprising thought of having to actually pay for the requests, brings you down from cloud nine to a space that I like to call cloud zero.
Managing client expectations and keeping it all in check with reality is the single, hardest part of a service-based business. In fact, we’ve started to have in-depth team conversations about this very thing and discussing how we can continuously remind clients about how we bill, what is expected of them, what they can expect from us, etc.
Lots and lots of open communication. And when that is done, even more open communication.
What to Do When It’s Happening to You
I’m going to talk about this on both sides of the equation: client side and service-based biz owner side.
Clients: get honest with yourself. There are a few things that play into this situation when it happens.
- Your needs and wants for your project likely exceed your budget so you need to get honest, get clear and be real about what is possible. If you only have a $300 budget but your requests take an entire team two weeks of solid work to complete, the math just isn’t right. Be clear with what you have to spend and have an in-depth conversation about what is possible within that time and relay your hard lines. If you absolutely, under no circumstance can go over a budget of $1,000, say that on day one. Open communication is the key to everything. Always.
- Expect that every single request, e-mail sent to the team, edit, modification, phone call, brainstorm, etc. is being billed to you and costing someone, somewhere, something. The person you are hiring is making a living – just like you are. If you aren’t the one paying them by the hour (or by the project, etc.) someone else is. They need to be working in order to earn money. Service-based businesses are not non-profit organizations. They are absolutely, 100% for-profit. If you want free work, you won’t find it in these businesses.
Service-based biz owners: be clear, wherever and whenever possible.
- Implement a “What to Expect When Hiring Us” guide that covers everything that could possibly come up in your work with clients. Lay out your policies and procedures, answers to frequently asked questions, people to contact when there are emergencies or issues and be absolutely, 100% clear on your boundaries and on your terms. Clarity is key.
- Consistently tweak the process. As you move through your work with clients, and those working relationships will vary from person to person, tweak and adjust the process to ensure that you’re openly communicating to the clients in all the ways they may need it. Multiple formats and touch points and reinforcing the policies in your business is perfect – when done in a way that doesn’t feel forced and rigid. Grow, converse, tweak, adjust and expand.
What is the one scenario that comes up in your service-based business that absolutely, 100% drives you batty? Once you identify what that is, flip it. What can you do to adjust your own business practices to lessen those moments? How can you possibly avoid them altogether?
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