How can I make clients respect my time?

We all get frustrated when other people don’t respect our time. Unfortunately, many small business owners and freelancers, people who are already short on time, find themselves in situations where their clients aren’t respecting their time. How many meetings, discussions, workshops, phone calls, or even projects have you had delayed or disrupted for “something urgent”? This creates havoc not only with your schedule, but with your sales and cash flow.

I was talking to a customer who does consulting, and was happy to have closed a proposal from a new client quickly, and had gone to considerable logistical effort to set up the small project for success. The morning they were supposed to start, the client pushed back the project. The consultant lost the better part of a week for nothing. While we all recognize that there are sometime legitimate crises that require juggling schedule, the consultant wondered what he could have done to make this less likely. “How can I make clients respect my time?”

First, respect your own time. Your time is valuable, whether or not you are currently billing at $500 per hour. You have a finite amount of time, and you never get it back once you spend it. If you recognize your time as valuable, this attitude will percolate through to how your organize your day, and how your interact with prospects and clients. It’s tempting, especially when you get started, to look at a blank calendar, and tell prospects you can meet “whenever, I’m flexible.” Subconsciously, you are telling your prospect, and yourself, that your time is less precious than theirs. Instead, you can ask them to suggest a time. If they give several, pick one. Don’t just say “any of them.” If they want you to suggest, offer “10AM on Thursday”, not “anytime this week.” It’s OK to suggest that “I’m generally flexible Thursday mornings, that’s time I devote to phone calls, just tell me what time would work, so I can block off that slot for you.” Remember also that your calendar is never truly empty, and especially if you don’t have paid work on it, you should block off calendar time to your business development and sales activities.

Next, respect other people’s time. If you have a conference call at 1PM, be on it at 12:59. If you have a meeting somewhere new, plan to get there a little early in case you have trouble finding it, you have to park far away, or whatever. If you commit to delivering a proposal by 5PM on Friday, deliver it by 5PM on Friday. Better, yet, unless they actually want to read it over the weekend, don’t promise it until 7am Monday morning.

While we tend to be really impatient as small business owners, if you slow things down, you can do better work, and generally get more in sync with your clients’ schedules. It also makes it much easier to respect your clients’ time, when life’s little obstacles pop up and your aggressive schedule slides.

Being respectful of your time and others’ conveys professionalism, both to your clients and prospects, and your own subconscious.

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Now, let’s talk about a couple of things you can do in your proposals to encourage people to respect your time.

  • When you discuss the potential project with your prospect, talk about their timeline expectations. Do they need this done yesterday? Or by the end of the next quarter? When do they want to start? If you know this, you can align properly to their needs. Otherwise, it’s easy to get impatient and get ahead of the customer, and wonder why they don’t seem very committed to their meetings with you.
  • Get payment upfront. For a small project like a workshop, get all of it upfront. For midsize projects, get half of it upfront. For larger projects, divide it into milestones, but get one payment upfront. Depending on the client, you may start work while your invoice is in progress, or you may wait until the check clears.
  • If you have deep relationships with clients, set up a retainer that will save them money, while helping you manage your time.
  • When you just don’t know how much time you need, charge them by the hour. I usually don’t recommend this, and customers who don’t respect your time are the ones who are likely to complain about you billing them if you have to wait around at their offices. Even if you don’t bill by the hour, if you know a client is going to end up taking more time than they “should”, they should get a bigger price.

Lastly, know that some people just don’t respect other people, or their time. Try not to take it personally, but if you have to do business with them, be psychologically and financially prepared. Avoid these people, if you can. There are some people I like talking to, and sometimes enjoy working with, but they are so bad at respecting other people’s time that I don’t work with them anymore.

What are you some of your tips for encouraging clients to respect your time?


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