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117 - You're Fired! When you have to let a client go...


Hey Guys! Nicole Gabriel here! I’m the host of the Let’s Get Your Book Published podcast. I’m also the author multiple books, a Book Designer, and a Publishing Coach as well as an intuitive Business Coach.

I’ve been in the book business for awhile now and I’ve helped many clients get their book published over the years. On this podcast I share personal stories, client stories, and the truths about the publishing industry….


Today’s topic: You’re Fired! When You Have to Let A Client Go

So guys this is a funny but very real topic - when do you have to fire a client? There comes a point sometimes in our business where a client comes in and has a far broader understanding of your role in their life or project than you ever signed up for. It’s been a few years now and I’ve finally cooled off about a few that came in around the same time. I’m kinda glad they hit me at once because wow it took a toll on me! I’m finally neutral enough to tell you about them too.

So, there I was struggling with my day-to-day life and wouldn’t you know it but the perfect storm hit with two of the worlds worst clients I had ever seen in my business! I’m not real sure what kind of miracles they expected me to pull off but I actually am a pretty good mind reader…that wasn’t helping! I like to think they just had far higher expectations going into the relationship than I was aware of. I mean, I know we aren’t always a perfect fit for everyone, but there really wasn’t much I was going to do to make these two women happy.

I ran across something today that triggered the memories of client #1 - Color Consulting! I was hired by this client to do a book layout. She had 108 chapters to her book. If you are familiar with meditation you know that the mala necklace also contains 108 beads. She was a yoga teacher and well, there was just some reason what she wrote had to fit into this theme. The content for each of these chapters was in some cases 2 pages and in others it might have been 5. She wanted a little image on each chapter heading page and wanted it to start on the right hand side. Once the book interior was laid out she was shocked it was over her goal of 250 pages. Now, if you just take a moment and think about this even before it goes into layout you will understand that if a chapter was just 2 pages, and there are 108 chapters, you are going to double the page count and end up with 216 pages. But, for every chapter with more than 2 pages your going to add up to 6 pages more per chapter. After the book was laid out she wanted it laid out again to shrink the page count down to her desired 250 pages. I tried to explain to her this was virtually impossible unless she wanted to shrink the font, margins, and spacing…and I mean to the point where one might need a magnifying glass to see it!

Ok, so if this wasn’t enough, she also wanted me to play the role of color consultant. I had been doing book cover designs for about a decade at this point in my career and I’ve been asked to do many things, but I had never been asked to play the role of a color consultant before. When we get asked to play a particular role in our business as an entrepreneur it can sometimes be fun to be stretched by challenging clients. I kinda laughed and figured she didn’t really actually mean this. She likely just wanted a few matchy colors and once we nailed them down she’d move on and get her book over the finish line. But, nope that wasn’t the case. Now, I come from an ad agency background and I’m familiar with color sheets for branding and the idea of creating branding boards with colors and fonts and the like but I had never been asked to do this for a book cover before. We ended up coming to a final resting point with the colors and I assumed she was happy. I probably did some 50 cover samples and alternated colors in her fonts more times than I can count. I did far more work than I had been paid for and far more than what is typical, but then just before her book would go to the printer she contacted me with a raised voice and all kinds of threats. She decided that she just all of a sudden wasn’t happy and she wanted her money back! I’m thinking to myself that I actually should have charged her double or even triple what I did with the amount of time, effort, and energy I put in and I was shocked! I made a decision to tell her that I just wasn’t sure this was a good relationship.

I suddenly got hit with a chargeback threat and she wanted me to do even more work to make it right. At this point I finally had enough. I told her to go ahead and move on and find someone else. She asked for her files. I told her in good conscious that there was no way possible I could release the files unless I received payment. So, she went ahead and asked for her bank for the credit card refund. Now of course, in all my years of business I had never seen such a thing. My clients were usually elated with the work I had done. I was pretty sure she had some issues going on in her personal life that caused her to react the way she did. Despite the fact that I allotted more than double my normal time to her, I remained calm and cool and let her go about finding a new designer, getting her refund, and starting over.

I reached my limit and I had worked so smart and hard and just had to release it all and let it go. But, when something like this happens in your business you can’t help but take it personally. When you are an entrepreneur and take pride in your work and the quality of your relationship, final product, and the like it can be hard when a client comes in expecting the unexpected. Not only did I loose months of work but I also lost all my income. I put other clients on hold and dedicated even more time to the challenges this one presented.

But, I’m pretty positive-minded and I decided to make a mental note of the many gifts that came from this challenge! The greatest gift was a very detailed agreement. For many years I ran my business as a side project. I was partnered with my fiancé and he just sent me clients. It began as fun and something I did in my free time. I realized at a certain point that it became my dream job. When I began I was more interested in the spiritual and metaphysical practices and teaching them was something I had been doing for a many years. My business was a hobby and everything about it was informal. I kind of think of it like my safe zone time…you know, that time to gear up and not even knowing I was building a business, but just doing something I loved. Before I knew it, I was actually busy and really pretty darn good at doing what I loved for a pretty nice side income. But when my partner and I separated, the training wheels had to come off! I had to decide if I wanted to stick with it or move on to do something else. If I was going to stick with it I had to get a bit more professional. I needed to write up an agreement about how I work and what a new client can expect when they hire me. I needed to form a corporation, create a logo, make business cards, and take payments professionally, not just by PayPal. I needed a portfolio of my work and a real website with defined pricing and a list of services. I had put off all of this for years.

I guess part of me had never committed to my business fully because I just never set things up beforehand. But, when I ventured off on my own and this nightmare client came in shortly thereafter I realized I needed to button things up. I sat down and had a talk with myself about my worth and perceived value. I sat down to identify what my hourly wage was and what I was willing to work for and make up my mind that I wouldn’t settle for less. My dad would tell me that a lawyer never gives away his services for free. I would learn that time was money. I was enjoying my clients so much that sometimes I would even forget to charge them. They were regularly calling, texting, and emailing asking if they could pay me. I never even made it easy for them to make a payment either.

Some people have mixed feelings about showing pricing on their website, but I decided it was best just to say I have nothing to hide and here is what its going to cost to do business with me. My competition wasn’t as forthright. I’ve always worked with the underlying theme of truth and not disclosing myself fully didn’t feel right. So, now I can simply tell people my costs are on my website and we can spend more time talking about their goals and vision. So, not only did my client make me button things up to protect my business but she also helped me further define my offerings. Most of my clients didn’t even know I did eBooks or marketing pieces. So, in my agreement, I not only described the working relationship but I also listed the other things I could help my clients produce as a part of their overall book project. So, thank you to this client for showing me all the air holes in my business and helping me to plug them!

Moving on now to problem client #2. I actually felt sorry for client #2. She was a psychologist interestingly enough. She had a very clear idea of what she wanted on the book but quite honestly, I’m really just not that un-talented to create something so horrible! I mean seriously, I couldn’t undo my talent! I know that sounds egocentric but honestly it was just a real bad idea. Still to this day I’m not overly clear what she was trying to do. She wasn’t even joking but she wanted acorns on the cover because she had something about then inside. I mean seriously…aren’t all crazy people referred to as nuts? She was a psychologist writing a book for patients! I was thinking to myself that this just wasn’t going to go over well. But she also wanted them represented in a very specific color tone and artistic style. There was nothing I was going to do to shift her mind into another more engaging color scheme or positively aligned imagery. So, I tried to give her the nuts she wanted but my mind just doesn’t go that dark. I honestly couldn’t artistically match her desires. So I finally told her that I’m really not in the business of being an artist and that my job as a Designer isn’t always solely based on creativity but more on overall project management and I only allot a certain number of hours to creative work. Of course, I also come from a strong executive management background in all things brand management and marketing and I wanted to align the cover with her overall book goals and target her perfect client.

There comes a point where on occasion I have to refer people out to an artist to design the cover. For me this is no different than the typical stock photos I generally choose from. There can be a lot of confusion around the book designers roll because only a small percentage of time is actually doing the cover. Much more time is generally spent on the interior layout and design and the back and forth time perfecting it with the editor, author, and printer. There is only so much time I allot to my fixed price agreements. I finally had to let this client go before we really even got started. We just weren’t a match. I would later see her book come to print and it honestly was one of the most horrible looking books I’ve ever seen come through our system. But, the Designer she hired was able to give her exactly what she wanted and ultimately she was happy.

The gift in this client was also related to how I structured my agreement. I had to explain further in my agreement that the overall allotment of time is how I base costs. I realized that many can approach a book design project believing that the Designer only designs a pretty book cover. But generally, they have no idea what they are paying for and have no idea that the Designer does so much more than design the cover. I always had to explain to new clients that the designer also has to coordinate with a printer and an editor and that what a client is paying for is also project management. But now my agreement does all the talking. The design is important but the Designer would have to charge far more if they also played the role of artist by painting, drawing, or otherwise creating a custom piece of artwork. Yes, some of this is naturally done in the process but it’s just not the primary function. I don’t generally work with print on demand systems so I guess I would be considered more a boutique designer. I don’t work like a job shop. If something doesn’t functionally align I’m going to speak up to help my client better align their look and feel with their overall goals and objectives.

So, again, thanks to another not-so-good client… I also learned to speak up for myself and not be afraid to very clearly identify the working relationship and all the moving pieces right up front with my several page agreement. I find now that I have done the time to draw up a pretty tight and very specific agreement that not only identifies the details of the inner-workings but it also says right up front that I am a professional. It says, hey, I’ve been around awhile and I know how I can be taken advantage of and I know how to do my job. It kinda says “trust me” I know what I’m doing.

Not only did I write up a better agreement but I also boycotted Paypal for not even understanding that a service was rendered and I did my work and just because a client didn’t like a few colors it wasn’t fair to do all that work and have a 3rd party return my payment against my will. I now work with a company that allows for a dispute to be argued. I learned that in all services performed, the merchant doesn’t really fare well. It’s really quite criminal. So, I have check points where I know how the financial piece works, I don’t work for free, I don’t allow a book to go to print without full payment received, and I re-worked a few other back-end processes. I want my clients to be happy but sometimes an intangible service doesn’t have clear boundaries. My 1st client just decided she didn’t like it and colors were off. I had to put in more work to complete it and she wouldn’t pay for additional time. So she got emotional and disrespected me. When it comes down to it, if she was clear and gave me clear instructions we would have nailed it. But, often a book project is wrapped in a ton of emotion and the cost to produce it can be higher than many realize. It can be very stressful for someone unaware of things before they go in.

I’ve been doing this now for more than a decade and I’m good at what I do or I wouldn’t still be doing it. I have no desire to make unhappy clients, but once in awhile you’re gonna get one that wants to rule the roost and tries to take charge of something you know well for whatever reason. Sometimes it’s hard for a new author to give birth to a book. And the graphic pieces mean its coming right around the corner. All the people in their life that didn’t think they could do it are all hovering around the corner waiting to see it and there’s the cost, the time, the I told-you-so’s, and so much for some to face that it can just put them over the stress threshold. I totally get it. But, I’m the guy on your side and here to make a beautiful end product because I understand the investment required.

When someone comes into your business wanting to do battle with you there is always another force pushing against them. They are stressed or worried about whatever it is they’ve engaged you for. I’ve done so many years of transpersonal and metaphysical study that I go into every relationship with a client doing my best to let them know I’m definitely on their side. I want to show off their book as much as they do! I want them uber successful because I love happy clients, referrals, and the right to brag about what we created together!

I’ve been doing this work for a long time and have had hundreds of clients over the years, so I guess having (2) I had to cut ties with really isn’t so bad. I’m not for everyone and neither are you. If you’ve had this kind of thing occur in any business relationship, you have to ultimately know you’ve been liberated when it ends. They have too! All business relationships are like a courtship. Some are easier than others. Some last longer than others and some come back for another dance.

Not everyone brings flowers! Needless to say, don’t take it out on yourself if this happens to you. I know it was very hard on me as I was transitioning out of an old relationship, starting up a new business, I had moved, I was sick, it was just a perfect storm. And even though all these things were going on…I had no doubt how fully I showed up for these clients because I always give them all everything I’ve got. In the end, if you’ve done your very best and your best isn’t good enough, then you really couldn’t do anything any better. Sometimes you just have to forgive a poor match. There isn’t really a need for pointing finger and placing blame. In the end there is always room for growth if you can control your own mind and re-focus your energies on what matters most.

Here’s a quote I like by Beau Taplin that has fit me well recently:

“She was unstoppable. Not because she did not have failures or doubts, but because she continued on despite them.”

It takes grace to remain kind in cruel situations, but when you are doing anything in life you get to control only one thing - your response! When the little ripple settles there is far more clarity to see. I pretty much love all Rumi quotes and I’ll leave you with this one…

“It’s your road, and yours alone, others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you.”

On that note, chin up buttercup! It gets better from here! Until next time…wishing you peace, love, and light!

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