How you deal with negative experiences is very important.
Here are five things that have happened to my small business over the last couple of decades and how I learned from each example. The result is that I am a better, stronger small business.
1) The Unexplained Cancellation: I had a client who loved the work we did for her, and she was actually shaking when I unveiled the website design prototype. Her exactly quote, “I can’t believe how beautiful the site came out”. She had a few minor changes, which we made and were ready to launch the website. I didn’t hear from her for a few days then all of a sudden she said she decided to go in a different direction with no explanation. This was strange as she was so happy with the work. I sent her an invoice and she paid me every dime. She then had some questions on how to point her domain to a new site she built herself (sadly it looked terrible). Now, at this point I could’ve walked away, ignored her emails and I certainly would’ve been within my rights to do so. I hadn’t pointed the domain to my server yet, so the changes she requested had absolutely nothing to do with me. However I spent some time wrote up detailed instructions and helped her in anyway she needed.
Lesson Learned: Being the bigger person is always the right way to go. I’ve had several incidents where people left and came back due to our stellar support and because the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. And, hopefully this person may even recommend RooSites at some point to a friend or colleague.
2) The Middle Of The Night Exit. Early in my company’s history I did some work for a company for a few years. At this point I was working a full-time job at Fidelity Investments and was managing and building sites on the side. We had a very good relationship and I answered all requests the same day as we always try to do. I was billing each month on the first (Just $50!!). Well one night at 11:59 pm she sent us an email canceling her account. As she had access she moved her files and canceled her account. A few minutes later her account was billed automatically. I was at my desk at 6 AM and had a note from my payment processor saying that she had filed a complaint, as I wouldn’t refund the money. LOL, she cancelled the account just before midnight and complained at 4 am I hadn’t refunded the money!!!! At 6:01 am I refunded her $50.
But here is the funny part: she moved the site in the middle of the night but she forgot her emails. She told me this a week after canceling and had already taken down the website. I told her I could put it back up and get her files but there would be a couple of hour’s worth of work at most. She got angry and had an attorney send me a threatening letter that I was causing her to have to re-create her entire website cost of $25,000! Of course, I had only charged her $1500 to build the site! Fortunately I have a very good business attorney who wrote a 15-page response outlining the fact that she canceled the account and didn’t want to pay me $50. She then didn’t want to pay me for couple of hours, which would’ve been $100 or so at the time. But she expected us to believe it would cost her $25,000 to build a new site! Well of course she had no grounds and it ended up with us both walking away agreeing not to sue.
Lesson Learned: at this point in my business I did not have a contract. From this I learned a valuable lesson and now have an ironclad contract that protects both my clients and me. A good contract lays out everything including what happens when service is terminated.
3) The Nasty Client – I was working for a guy who was representing his child who was a very talented individual. He was one of these people who came from a very established family but he himself was a total failure and trying to live vicariously through his kid. The process of building the site was difficult as he was one of those people who were very hard to please even though you were working off of his exact requirements and using all his images. Well, we got through it and built a very nice site that was very well received. As we always do, we answered every request the same day. He would send us things to post and then get mad at us, although what we posted was what he sent, exactly! He would leave nasty voicemails in the middle of the night, and I finally told him to get someone else. He of course was ignorant but went on his own way. As with most narcissists, he was incapable of empathy or seeing how truly wrong his thinking was.
Lesson Learned: Dealing with some difficult clients is par for the course for a small business. Sometimes you need to bite your tongue and just accept the fact that you’re getting paid and running a business is not always going to be fun and games. BUT, no one deserves to be attacked and treated poorly. Especially when you are doing your job and doing it well. So if you have been abusive client for customer, sometimes it’s better just to walk away. Your health and well-being is at stake when you’re constantly under stress and you cringe every time the phone rings or an email comes into your inbox.
4) The Middle of the Night Exit #2 – I was away over Christmas and I woke I Christmas Eve to an email that I had a database issue with one of my sites. I immediately logged in and saw a new site had to replaced the one I had built and managed. Now here’s the strange part. The client had actually had me make several changes the day before. I dealt with their vice president of marketing and we had a very good relationship. The day before she even sent me a note telling me how much she appreciated my quick responses to any tasks she sent.
So I was shocked to see if they had taken down the website and put up a new one. They hadn’t cancelled their account, so I call the VP of Marketing and asked what was going on. She was very apologetic and said she had no idea that this change was even coming. The company had a new CEO and hired somebody to build a new website. The new site was a very cheap e-commerce site, and it was very strange to see this beautiful custom website down and a cheap, ugly site in its place. So it turns out this new CEO was trying to save money and impress the owners and that’s why he went with this cheap alternative. (which I am told has led to a decline sales of over 50%!) Shortsighted, he was just trying to make points with ownership with cost cutting measures. He also figured he would cancel the account with no notice and not pay us. They counted on us backing down as they were a big company and I was just a small business. Fortunately, as I learned in Example 2 I had an iron-clad contract and although they attempted to screw us over, in the end we got paid in full.
Lesson Learned: If you have a solid contract, don’t be afraid to go up against a larger company. In the end they will discover it is cheaper for them to pay you rather than drag this out in court. Also, have a good business attorney who can be straight with you and tell you whether it’s worth pursuing. In this case it ended up just taking a couple of letters and it never got to court. Their company’s attorney knew they had no case. You will on occasion run into people who would rather spend years in court, and there are times where you just have to walk away. Again a good attorney should be able to advise you whether or not to go forward.
5) Clients are being sold a bill of goods: Sadly in business you see clients and customers being sold solutions that you know will not succeed.
The first time I witnessed this, a marketing company told a client of mine that they would do some writing for them and promised all this wonderful stuff. So they thanked me and went about their own way. I knew something was fishy as they said to do the writing they needed to host the website. I asked why as it was a WordPress site and they could login and make changes. No answer. Also I have the best servers there are for this type of website, so there was no reason to move other than they wanted to make it harder for the client to leave.
I had another client that had us take their website (which they liked) and converted into a more user-friendly content management system (CMS), WordPress. They loved the work and could now add content easily. Well, fast forward a year and they told me a marketing company was going to take over their website and move it into another content management system. Sadly, this particular solution would be five times more expensive and most of the tools they brag about were things they will never, ever use.
Lesson Learned: As with example one, I try to be the bigger person and thanked them both for their Business. However, on the way out I wrote a nice email detailing why I thought they were making a mistake. This is a good way of dealing with adversity, as you get your thoughts out rather than keeping them bottled up inside, yet you do it in a nice, constructive way.
Well, in the first case the client came back a year later as they said I was right and this company’s content was poor at best. My guess is they were outsourcing the writing and not getting much back in terms of quality content. The clients own posts have been much improved and well received from their customer base.
In the second case, I explained why this new solution sounded good but down the road would be very costly and how do they would not be able to use most of the tools and therefore they would be overspending for no real return.
I am continuing to work with them until their new website is ready. I am being as helpful as possible, as I know there is a very good chance they will be back after overpaying and not getting much in return.
Bottom Line: As the expression goes, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. In a small business setting, you have a lot of interaction with clients and customers. I am fortunate in that 99% of my client interactions are great and most of my clients end up being friends as well as people I do business with. This is important as these are the people who are most likely to refer you to their friends, family and colleagues. It is not always easy to weigh what is good for you financially against your own well-being. It is easy to get caught up and get angry, but in the end that doesn’t do your business or your health any good. While having to sometimes bite your tongue is not fun, you do need to make money in order to survive and flourish as a small business. We learn from the experiences in our lives, some positive and some negative. But if we can always be adapting and growing, we find ourselves improving each and every day. And one of the most positive things you can do is wake up every day and do a bit better than the day before.