Nathan Ingram – Handling Clients as a Freelancer or Small Agency
Nathan Ingram of iThemes training, nathaningram.com, and the WP Business Podcast talks about Dealing with Problem Clients: Fencing in the Friendly Monsters, his take on working with clients and setting expectations.
Demo: 00:00 Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of the BoldGrid BoldLife podcast. I’m your host Mike Demo, joined by my wonderful co-host, Jesse. How’s it going, Jesse?
Jesse: 00:10 Super Duper. How are you doing Mike?
Demo: 00:12 Good. Anything fun happen the last week for you?
Jesse: 00:16 Ah, just spent most of the weekend, uh, replacing a cracked radiator, so not terribly fun.Demo: 00:21 That sounds completely boring. So I just got back from Europe from those couple of events, so, uh, trying to get back used to central time, so that’s always fun. Okay. So we also have a special guest today, Nathan. from nathaningraham.com and iThemes. How’s it going, Nathan? Nathan Ingram: 00:40 I’m great. How are you guys? Great.
Demo: 00:43 So for those people that don’t know who you are, which I know it’s kind of hard to believe, but what do you do, uh, and what’s your passion and tell people a little bit about yourself.
Nathan Ingram: 00:56 Sure. So my name is Nathan Ingram. I’m from Birmingham, Alabama. Uh, I’ve been a freelance web developer since 1995 and I’m currently, the host had I think his training where we do WordPress education on all sorts of WordPress topics from business development all the way to some technical stuff. I’m also a, a coach for freelance web developers in the WordPress space. A lot of fun. It’s been a lot of time doing that. So those are the three hats I wear training and coaching and doing some client work as well.
Demo: 01:25 Awesome. So which of those three hats do you feel you have the most passionate about or that you liked the most? Or is it just different passions in different areas?
Nathan Ingram: 01:37 Oh man, that’s a great question. So, you know, I, if I had to just do one thing for the rest of my life, I love to see freelancers succeed. Uh, so people working with clients, building sites, using WordPress or whatever, I love to help those kinds of folks, uh, destroy the obstacles that typically get in the way of being successful in that line of work. And you know what I’ve discovered over hundreds of coaching conversations over the last few years with people across the United States and around the world is that a lot of folks are one more bad month or one more bad client away from throwing in the towel. And that’s a shame because most of the problems that freelancers experienced, business owners experience are fixable by really solid systems and processes. So what I tried to do is help come along and fix some of those issues and provide some soft accountability and help folks grow their business.
Demo: 02:29 Excellent. So before we get into that conversation, cause I have some very strong feelings about freelance web developers in general, cause I used to have my own agency and that whole thing. But uh, you just published a book.Nathan Ingram: 02:42 I did.
Demo: 02:43 So tell us about that and how is that process?
Nathan Ingram: 02:48 So the book is, is actually based around one of my most popular presentations that I’ve done atWordCamps and other events, uh, called dealing with problem clients, building fences around friendly monsters. And it, it’s really a book about how to deal with one of the most common issues that, uh, people working with clients face. And that’s bad clients, uh, learning how to identify them and then deal with them, uh, once you’re already working with them. So it’s really about building good solid systems and processes in your business to recognize problem clients at the beginning and then to deal with them even maybe after you’ve taken one on. So that’s available on Amazon as a kindle and printed book. And uh, it’s been a lot of fun getting that out there and seeing folks respond to it.
Demo: 03:30 Yeah, I love my copy. It’s sitting on my shelf. Although I didn’t have you autographed feds, you don’t know what the resale value is going to be now.Nathan Ingram: 03:38 Well, you know what they say a book that’s autographed is worth a quarter in a garage sale instead of a dime. So, you know, next time I see you I’ll, I’ll write it, get you that extra 15 cents.
Demo: 03:47 Awesome. Excellent. So Jesse, uh, have you done any freelance work in the past or currently either web development or anything else?
Jesse: 03:56 Well, uh, I, when I actually got into WordPress, um, when I was a small business owner myself, um, I had a carpet cleaning company when I was in my twenties. And, um, uh, basically I, uh, realized that my website was it a heck of a lot better than I’m hauling that equipment up and downstairs. So, um, I went into the, the WordPress community after, um, after that experience, but I, I think I had my share of a problem clients. Um, so I’m interested to hear a, what a friendly monster is.
Nathan Ingram: 04:30 Oh my. So, you know, the, the, the idea behind that whole concept is every client is a friendly monster, uh, which means, you know, a lot of times you’re having a conversation with somebody in the first meeting that you have with this potential client and everything seems to be going well and they may be a great person, but every client in my experience has the potential for transformation, uh, because even friendly monsters have teeth. So, you know, it, you have to develop some good skills at the beginning to, you know, weed out the overtly bad clients. But then, you know, just building in good processes in your business to help keep good clients from transforming into these friendly monsters, uh, is always important. And you know, one of the, one of the things that I talk about in the book and in my courses that deal with this as well is, you know, you’ve, you’ve got, for example, a lot of times you’ll find yourself, uh, I don’t know about you guys, you guys have done client work and a lot of folks I’ve talked to have this similar experience where maybe you’re sitting on your couch at, you know, nine, 10 o’clock at night watching something on television or whatever.
Nathan Ingram: 05:38 And you know, ding, you get a notification on your phone and there’s an email that comes in and from a client and you realize, oh, this is only gonna take five minutes to fix. So it nine 30 at night, you open up your laptop, you fixed the thing, you send them an email, say, hey, it’s done. And we pat ourselves on the back for good customer service. But in reality, what we’ve just done is we fed the Mogwai after midnight and we’ve created a monster because what we’ve just trained this client is that you can email me at nine 30 at night and expect an immediate response and solve your problem. And you know, that may be great for a one off thing like that, but it’s not sustainable for the long term. Especially if you have a bunch of clients, you’ll find yourself working all the time and your clients making unreasonable demands quite frankly, because we’ve trained them to do so. So you know, the book and, uh, when I deal with this even more depth in detail in my courses, it’s all about, you know, a great work system that keeps these problem clients A from coming in and B from metamorphosizing, from otherwise a good clients.
Demo: 06:41 I can definitely empathize with that. And a lot of that happens even in the agency world, right, when you’re responding to emails outside of business hours. And that’s why a lot of larger agencies have different SLA rates based on response times and priority and things like that. Uh, I do have a question though. When you have those clients that are kind of like, I’m going to use the analogy Toothless from how to train your dragon where they have teeth, but they might be friendly. How do you deal with those clients that everything’s an issue? So I had this one client where every time something happened, oh my God, I’m losing all of this money. You have no idea, et Cetera, et cetera. And we’ve all heard that I’m losing dozens of dollars a day. You need to fix this right now. Although they might use different numbers, although funny story had one client and they’re like, I’m losing $10,000 a day, blah, blah, blah. And I was like, yeah, right. So I logged into their ecommerce platform. It turns out they were right, but it was in shock. Especially because the industry is the most inane benign industry you can think of. But I was like, Huh, I need to raise your rates. But how do you help deal with clients that like to them, their websites, their life, everything’s an emergency, but we also have to not train them that, hey, if it’s a weekend or whatever, how do you kind of deal with that balance? Because if it’s a small business owner, they might only get a few hundred visits a month, but to them their website down will ruin everything.
Nathan Ingram: 08:18 Yeah. Gosh, that’s such a great question. And let me take a running start at it by just mentioning something you said a second ago and that’s, you know, whether we’re talking about freelancers or agencies or whatever, these are people problems. And so, you know, the solution is the same no matter what because we’re dealing with people. Um, and in this particular issue, I totally agree. You know, it’s, I’ve had the same issues with clients who, you know, everything has an exclamation point behind it. You know, their emails are always worded in all caps. You know, it’s, everything is an emergency. And like you said, genuinely sometimes it really is an emergency and they may really be down $10,000 an hour. And if that’s the case, you need to be charging appropriately. So, you know, it’s it, it’s helping a client to understand, okay, what is the, the kind of service that you need from me?
Nathan Ingram: 09:03 Do you need something where there’s a one hour guaranteed response? And if that’s the case, you know, maybe you can provide that, but it’s going to not, it’s, you know, it’s not going to be 100 bucks a month to do that. It’s going to be, you know, a thousand plus a month to have that sort of response. And you know, if that, if their website is truly, if it’s down, if it’s going to cost them $10,000 an hour, then they ought to be paying you $10,000 a month or something like that in order to guarantee that that doesn’t happen. Uh, and you know, a lot of folks, Gosh, if I’ve got a client that’s paying me $10,000 a month, I’m willing to be woken up at 2:00 AM occasionally to deal with that problem. That the frustrating thing is when you have a client that expects that sort of level of service and they’re paying you 50 bucks a month, that’s not sustainable.
Demo: 09:47 Well, that’s a good point because I had some freelance clients before I became the evangelist at BoldGrid and I still have a couple of them. I’m not actively adding new people, anything, just servicing clients that I’ve had for five plus years. Right. But I had a conversation with all of them that said, hey, I got this new job. It’s been something to be on the road a lot. But what it doesn’t mean is that I’m going to be your nine to five same day response person. If you need urgent response or you know, any sort of quick turnaround. I’m not that person because I’m on the road x number of days a year and I can get back to you within five business days, you know, five days usually. And if you, if that’s fine for you, that’s great. If you’re looking for same day response, I can recommend somebody. And then I edited my rates appropriately for the new SLA and expectations that I was setting for those clients and advanced. And some clients are cool with it cause they know that okay it could take a few days for demo to get back to me, but that’s okay because he’s been good for all these years. Other people are like, well I really need someone, I can pick up the phone and call at four o’clock on a weekday and get a response right now, which is perfectly fair. But the probably going to have to choose a service that has a different rate than what I lowered my rate to when I was changing my expectations.
Nathan Ingram: 11:07 Now. Yeah, you’re exactly right and communication is key and all that and that, that’s one area where again, as I’ve had hundreds of conversations and coaching scenarios with people, communication is always one of those issues that pops up as a problem. Uh, because most of the, most folks doing websites are not great at communicating. We’re just not, you know, we’re, we’re more on the technical side. We’re more task-oriented, not people oriented. And you know, that’s great. For the building of the website. But if you’re going to have a business, you have to also be good or at least learn some soft skills of dealing with people. And simply, you know, a lot of times these problems can be avoided if you just communicate well with the client. So just like you said, if you set expectations well, hey, this is what’s changing, this is what you can expect. You know, here’s some options, you know, and just talk through the process that education and communication goes a long way either to helping that client self select out of your service and maybe go to somebody that you recommend or you know, just realize, you know, yeah, we, we can deal with a three, four, five day, right. You know, nothing we have is that mission critical. So yeah, that, that communication is important, but you also put your finger on something super important and that is, you know, some of your clients stayed with you because they trust you. And ultimately that’s what we’re selling. Uh, as, as freelancers or small agencies, a lot of business owners simply want someone that they can trust to handle the technical side of the web. And you know, once you build that rapport with a client, that’s gold, you know, and that’s really what keeps the client engaged with you. And that’s what they’re buying to begin with.
Demo: 12:41 Yeah. Self-selecting that is something that I try to really bring home quite a bit. When people ask us about what’s the best hosting company? Well, of course, we say go to boldgrid.com and click on web hosting it. Any of those hosts are great, but I also say, okay, but in a serious conversation, what are you looking for? Not any two WordPress hosts are created equal and the price points vary. Do you care about price as your number one motivator it? Would you care about service if you care about service, do you want managed, do you care about phone support? If you care about phone support, do you care if that phone support is a hundred percent domestic or is international call centers? Okay. And all of these change the offerings. And I don’t really, you know, tried to believe that any host is bad or any hosts is good because for any five people that say, oh my God, Xyz host is the worst host in the world, I can find five people that say they’re the best hosts in the world because it always goes back to individual experiences. But at the end of the day, they all have different offerings at different price points. If it’s shared managed, dedicated, et Cetera, that might fit different people’s needs. But too many people are just buying something because they said, oh, this one’s the best and I want the best, but maybe they don’t care about some of those features that are charging 50, 60, 80 bucks a month.
Nathan Ingram: 13:56 Yeah, it’s all about educating the client and just keeping that good open line of communication to help them figure out what’s the best option to solve their problem.
Demo: 14:05 Excellent. Well, I want to switch gears a little bit and switch from the clients to the freelancer because this is my personal pet peeve and a lot of people, uh, I’ve been called a little dense at times when I’ve given this example, but I have a talk and how to make $120,000 your first year freelancing. And it boils down to you have to do one $500 project every business day. You have to bill 500 bucks in revenue every single business day. And I talked to all these like agencies and developers and I say, well, I can’t do that I’m lucky to get one project a month. And I say, okay, fine. What’s, what’s your rate? Well, my rate starts at eight grand or five grand because in their mind they feel they’re worth x number of dollars. And I’m not saying they don’t have the skills to get there, but I see so many freelancers. I talked to you at all these WordCamps and I say, okay, how, what’s your average project? Oh, it’s five grand. How often do you get one of those? Every eight weeks. Okay, well what about, do you just turn down lower level projects? Well, yeah, I do. Okay. Why? Well, because I’m worth this and so I think there’s this weird misconception and yes, it especially people that are brand new that are just starting out. I encourage people to join the Chamber of Commerce, BNI, whatever because there’s tons of places to get those really turn-key websites. These are people that would go after the Wix or the Weebly’s or the Squarespaces of the world and but they might pay you 500 bucks or 1000 bucks digging a basic site going and as long as you set expectations of what they’re buying ahead of time, then you can make residual money on their hosting account and a standard $10 a month hosting account with a standard affiliate plan. If you do in one of those every business day, at the end of four years, you’re making like 80 grand just on residual income on hosting. And I know people that do this every single day. They just spent two hours, two hours Max and building a brand new site and to going after those very entry level clients. But what they’re finding is not only are they getting hundreds and hundreds of clients, but then they, when those clients need additional work that can gradually step them up. So do you find that there are a lot of uh, agencies or freelancers that are taking, you know, their pride and talking themselves out of revenue when they might be at the stage where they can need all the revenue that can get, I understand that, yes. If you don’t have enough hours in the day, you should raise your rates and find that good balance point. But I talked to a lot of people, like you were saying, Nathan, that are one month away from just giving up, but they still are like, well my, my minimum is five grand, but they only get one like every three months or whatever the case is. Do you find that’s a common problem in this space?
Nathan Ingram: 16:54 Yeah. So, you know, I’ll tell you, pricing your work is one of the most difficult aspects of having any sort of business, particularly a business that is, you know, a custom craft like, like we do here. Uh, with web development. It’s tough. And if you talk to any, any freelance or especially in the WordPress space or small agents, if anybody tells you they have their pricing, 100% figured out, they’re probably lying to you. I mean, I, I’ve been doing this, I built and sold my first website in 1995. I’ve been doing this forever and I still, you know, I priced some too low, some too high and all sort of comes out in the wash. But you know, I still struggle with this issue. And I think what you’re, what you said there, Mike is, is a valid point because you know, you have to figure out your market, uh, when you’re, when you’re trying to, you know, create some sort of pricing structure yet to forget your market and what you need to survive. A lot of folks, especially when they’re starting out, they, they tend to not charge enough period. Uh, and they end up, and there’s nothing wrong with doing a $500 project a day as long as you keep it to a $500 project. And what I mean by that is most people are, you know, they’ll, they’ll charge $500, but they’re delivering 2000, $3,000 worth of value or more. And that’s the trick. Now, you know, if you could do, you know, a $2,500 project a week, that’s great. As long as you can keep it at that $2,500 level. Uh, but what I find is that people are, you know, they charge too little for the value they provide. And a lot of times it’s about confidence and, you know, feeling confident that you’re able to charge this at your worth this much and so forth. But, uh, you know, one of the things that I tell people is, especially when you’re building your business, you have to take on what I call scaffolding clients. And a scaffolding client is a client that’s going to help you build your business, but they may not be the person that you want long term. And there’s nothing wrong with that. You know, it’s like, you know, when a building goes up, they build some scaffolding around it and then, you know, when the, when the building is finished, the scaffolding comes down. That and that, that’s the concept. It’s like, you know, you had to take on some clients that maybe, you know, aren’t ideal for a number of different reasons, but you got to put food on the table. And so there’s nothing wrong with that at the beginning. Just realize where you’re headed and make sure that, you know, long term you’re gonna have to start making a switch away from those less than ideal clients into your more ideal clients.
Demo: 19:23 Yeah, I think scopes, very important. One of our hosting partners InMotion hosting has a BoldGrid, a custom site offering called QuickStarter where they charge 99 bucks and they build you a one page, uh, custom BoldGrid site within two business days for 100 bucks. But people are very clear on what they’re buying. And it’s a good product for people that kind of want to get going. And that’s what I always tell people is, if you’re going to do this, you have to be very clear because a lot of people are okay with those two or three, four-page brochure sites that are just very turnkey. As long as you’re clear about that, it’s when you’re selling the moon and charging for, you know, peanuts basically.
Nathan Ingram: 20:07 Exactly right. And, and, and you just use the, the golden term there. And that’s product. If you’re gonna sell websites in the sub thousand dollar range, it’s gotta be a product, not a service. And the distinction there is, you know, it’s going to include these things. There’s no real custom thought in it. There’s no custom of the customization or the design of it and maybe changing of the colors, that sort of thing. Because otherwise, you know, what the tendency I find people in our space doing is they’ll, they’ll give at a product price, but then they provide, you know, a custom service level of service. Uh, so it, it’s really, you know, making sure you’re staying within that scope that you define and not offering way more time than the price justifies.
Demo: 20:52 Yeah. And that’s a challenge, especially when you’re starting out because you have all this knowledge and you know, you can build this amazing thing, but that person is not paying for that and quite frankly they might not care or need that as long as you set as expectations. When I had my own agency, I had a product which was actually just uh, um, white labeling go daddy’s a custom website solution. It was like it was 400 bucks and they would build you a basic three- or four-page site and it was all done white label through Godaddy’s offering. A lot of people were fine with that. They knew what they were buying, they got, they got online and then they came to me to expand it later on. So people are okay with that, but you just don’t want to over promise and under charge basically.
Nathan Ingram: 21:37 Exactly.Jesse: 21:38 Jesse, if you have any questions or final comments.
Jesse: 21:41 Yeah, I mean the, the one thing as I read about the book, which I’m going to purchase as soon as we get done recording, um, I, I’d like to hear a little more about the boundary, buster? That specific breed of monster.
Nathan Ingram: 21:57 Yeah. Yeah. So, uh, there, there are four different friendly monsters in the book. The boundary buster is one. Now there’s also the question mark and the invisible man and the drama queen. Um, the, the boundary buster in particular, those are oftentimes the easiest to identify because quite frankly, they’re just jerks, right? Uh, and those, those are, they’re easy to see on the front end, but the boundary buster is the one who is always pushing the boundaries that you set for your clients. So if you say, you know what, I work nine to five on weekdays and this person always wants to have a weekend meeting or you know, an after hours meeting or they’re the kind of people that, you know, they work all day and all night and their business they expect you to as well. They’ll send you an email at 2:00 AM and they’ll email back at 7:30 AM wondering if you’ve gotten the work done. Uh, these are folks that are very, very difficult to deal with. And unless you have a spine of steel, oftentimes these are the kinds of clients you need to let go early. So, and that’s where it’s important to have a system and a good contract that you know, helps you understand, okay, this is what happens if I need to fire a client in that sort of thing. But, uh, the, the, the book, it’s interesting, the book is actually in two parts. The first part of the book is fiction is a fiction. It’s written as a, as a story. Uh, and there are four different freelance web developers. Each of them encounter one of these friendly monsters and they’re, it’s, it’s all dialogue and they’re talking to their coach about it. Uh, and so it’s a really fun way to unpack the concept of these friendly monsters. The second half are really about the processes and the four fences that you need to build around a monster to keep it contained. And those are clarity, commitments, communication and documentation. And clarity is key for the boundary buster because, uh, you gotta be real on how and when you work and what you’ll take and what you won’t. And, uh, the boundary buster will oftentimes try to kick that fence out really early in the relationship, so they’re easy to kind of avoid.Jesse: 23:57 Gotcha. Yeah, I was Kinda thinking that the, the, um, when I feel like I’ve created my own boundary busters by, by confusing that same thing we were just talking about the difference between a product and a service. Um, and I think, uh, being, being willing to, uh, to change your product into a service kind of trains them to, uh, to do that to you. So it’s really interesting. Speaker 1: 24:20 Exactly. Right. Demo: 24:22 So, Nathan, thank you so much for taking the time. Before we do the wrap up, Jesse used to own a carpet cleaning business. Jesse: 24:30 Yes. Yeah. Demo: 24:31 Okay. Question. How do you get the deal on the coupon?
Jesse: 24:36 The, um, the, the, the, the, the part. So I, I once did a Groupon. Um, and uh, I can, I can honestly say it was the single worst business decision I ever made. Um, and uh, the how do you get the deal, um, is, uh, is basically the deal never existed. Um, it was, it was always too good to be true. Um, and then depending on what actually the scope of the project ends up becoming is what you ended up paying for the, the, the deal on the coupon is, is never going to, you know, you get one room as long as you don’t have any furniture and that’s it. Right.
Demo: 25:15 Yeah. I just, it was one of those stereotypes that I was warning if there was like a secret secret trick. Like I always tell people when they do timeshare presentations, just say no. People don’t. People don’t say no a timeshare presentations because I used to sell time shares. You guys both know. They don’t say no. They say excuses where people can overcome excuses. Here. We sit there with a firm. No, they really, as long as you do your 90 minutes or two hours, they have to give you the gifts and you have to leave. It’s when he come up, well, I dunno if now’s the right time. Oh, what would be the right time? Oh, maybe in six months. Okay, let’s push the contract out that long. Or I’m buying a house. Well, this will help your credit because blah, blah, blah. Just people don’t like to say no. They like to make excuses. So that’s Kinda my trek for when people do like those timeshare presentations, which I do them for fun. Now. My wife hates it. She’s like, can we just go on a vacation and our vacation? Why do we have to go to sales pitches? I’m like, I find them interesting.Nathan Ingram: 26:06 Okay. I’m sorry. Did you just say you do timeshare presentations for the fun of it? Yeah. Nathan Ingram: 26:12 Man, that needs to be an episode all in itself. Maybe with a psychologist of some sort. Jesse: 26:19 We’ll get a couch and a professional.
Demo: 26:22 Yeah. But when you used to be a sales guy for the timeshare company, it’s, I find it interesting. I don’t know.Nathan Ingram: 26:29 There’s no excuse for finding that interesting Mike. I’m sorry. Demo: 26:35 Love you too Nathan. Uh, okay. On that note, and Nathan, how can people find you on all the socials, the book of faces, the tweeters and all the different areas, how they can buy your book? How can they read about you? Uh, blogs, any of that stuff. Oh, awesome.
Nathan Ingram: 26:50 Yeah, so, uh, I’m on all the socials as Nathan Ingram, a Twitter @nathaningram though space. Um, you can find me and more information about, uh, courses and freelancing nathaningram.com. That’s nat, h, a n I n g r a m.com and a, there are courses there as well, specifically developed for freelancers all about process and productivity and profitability. Um, you can find my book on Amazon. It’s in the print and a Kindle editions. And I also have a new podcast. It’s dropping at the end of the month, specifically built for people working with clients using WordPress called the WP business podcast. And that’s at. MyWPbusiness.com that’s a lot of stuff, but uh, you can find me on all those places. You can also find me doing two or three free webinars a week at iThemes training. Just go to ithemes.com click the training tab and you’ll find our list of free upcoming webinars.
Demo: 27:42 Excellent. And links to all of those will be in our show notes on boldgrid.com as well as a few of those in the podcast description in your relative podcast feeds. Please join us again next Wednesday at for the next episode. And Jesse, how can people find out about all what’s happening in the world of BoldGrid?
Demo: 28:16 And if you want to continue the conversation with Nathan, I believe he’s a member of team orange, so you can definitely chat with him over there. It doesn’t, you don’t have to use BoldGrid. It’s just a WordPress user community for people that make stuff online and you know, talk with them on our Facebook group as well. So that being said, if you want to follow me on Twitter @mpmike and Jesse
Demo: 28:41 Thank you so much. And thanks again, Nathan for your time.Nathan Ingram: 28:43 Hey, thanks guys. It was a lot of fun.