Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Serenity Tip: PITA tax

I recently finished writing up a story for Yahoo! Hot Jobs on bullying bosses. For it, I had the pleasure of talking to Bob Sutton, author of The No Asshole Rule. Let me assure you that he is not an asshole. In fact, he's a peach--a peach with a foul mouth, but a peach nonetheless.

Here's what I'd like to share with you:

Ditch toxic clients

It's not a revolutionary piece of advice, but it can be a revolutionary activity, especially when we fear for our economic security in the market's downturns. But what Sutton explained to me was that there's never a good time to work for a "certified flaming asshole"--the kind of boss who doesn't respect your time, your talent or your humanity.

If you suspect your client may be a pain in the ass (PITA), consider these three steps:

1) Become AWARE of their asshole status.
Take Sutton's Client from Hell quiz.

2) ACCEPT that they are the asshole, not you.
Chances are that you've been pulling every professional tool in your toolkit out to win this client over and get them to treat you with respect. But what you're really doing is sapping your serenity by trying to control something that's way out of your control. If someone is just a jerk, that's not something that any amount of professional courtesy or spectacular work can cure.

Once you can really accept that, it's easier to do the final step:

3) Take ACTION.
Action doesn't have to mean firing the client--but I could and maybe it should. If that feels too extreme to you, do some thinking: How much would your client have to pay you to compensate for the abuse you're taking?

Need helpl figuring it out? Look at your client mix and crunch some numbers:

* How much time does this client take, both in terms of hours worked and minutes spent answering follow-ups, traveling to your client's office, number of phone calls, etc.

* How much time does this client take in terms of the amount of time you spend debriefing with your support network and thinking about this client? Those are hours you could be spending marketing yourself and working on other paying assignments.

* How much time do you spend on personal time thinking about this client, resenting this client and being mad at yourself for not being able to convince him or her that you are a trustworthy, professional worker?

Now, add up those hours and multiply it by your hourly rate.

That's your client's PITA tax. You can up it by general emotional pain and suffering if you want.

But you can also contact your client and tell them that you've revised your business plan and that your new rate for them will be $XXX.

Of course, the best option is probably to dump the client--and seeing how much time that client takes up in your work and personal time may give you the willingness to let go of them forever.

I've had clients like this, of course. My main approach with them was to market like crazy to find other clients that could replace them. I also did a lot of writing, talking and praying to be relieved of the obsession with this client and the feeling that I needed them. I also had to remember that I need to put my faith not in that client but in my Higher Power to give me the career and fulfillment I was looking for.

Recently, I watched as a freelance friend went through this process. Today, I was gratified to get an email from her saying that she has finally cut the client loose. I said to her, and I'll say to you, that it's been my experience that letting go of those clients will give her so much extra energy that her career will grow because of it.



Anonymous said...

It's great advice. I've found that when I'm driven nuts by one client, my frustration spills over into all clients. Now how good is THAT for business?

Julie Sturgeon

Michelle Rafter said...

Nice post! I have one client who veers on PITA status, but only because they're pretty demanding when it comes to rewrites - and even then they've never asked for wholesale changes or extra reporting, the entire editing process never last more than a week or two, and in each instance, the piece has been better for it. So, is that PITA, or just me not liking to do rewrites? I would gladly continue to do work for them, though, because the pieces have been on a subject I want to build expertise in, and the clips have been great. I guess that's worth a bit of PITA.

Michelle Rafter
WordCount, http://michellerafter.wordpress.com

Anonymous said...

Best advice I've gotten in a long time. I let my most challenging client know I'd be revising my fee structure (adding a fairly heavy PITA tax, although that little acronym will remain my secret), and she agreed to it. I'm feeling much less taken advantage of now, and this will give me a substantial bump in my monthly income. Why didn't I do this a long time ago?