A few chestnuts I’ve learned along the way:
- Know what your service / product / time is worth. Corollary: Don’t give your time away. When you’re in the “agency life” or working for a small consultancy, you will invariably be approached to work on spec, work for “sweat equity”, or work at a huge discount for the promise of better pay on “the next project.” These offers never pan out. Know what your service or time is worth, and engage only at those rates. Your time, resources, and patience are finite – and these “clients” will only waste all of these.
- Never sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement. Corollary: Never sign a Non-Compete Agreement. To quote a famous proverb “there is nothing new under the sun.” Non-disclosure agreements between clients and contractors on limited engagements pretend you don’t have experience you didn’t attain but through a client engagement, are nearly impossible to police, and start from a premise of distrust and suspicion. And besides: ninety-nine times out of one hundred, the “secrets” being protected have been done many times before, and in effect, are unprotectable anyway. As far as non-compete agreements go, the only reason to sign on is that you have been compensated – greatly – to do so. The fact remains: there’s generally only downside for you to ever sign an NDA or a NCA. I was recently asked to sign a two year non-disclosure, transfer of invention, non-compete agreement – for a $2,000 contract engagement. Needless to say, this was a no brainer to walk away from. It’s not to say clients won’t ask. You should never put yourself in a position to have to explain – or defend – your prior experience, art, or inventions. Don’t sell your birthright for a bowl of lentils.
- Don’t be afraid to fire a client. Corollary: Don’t be afraid to say no. We’ve all heard that the worst mistakes in life happen when you said “yes”, when you should have said “no.” Sometimes, this moment of clarity doesn’t occur until you’re far down the road on an engagement, and it’s too late to make an easy course correction. Simply stated – not all business is good business, and some customers are more trouble than they’re worth. If a customer or relationship is in opposition to the well being of your business or your employees, then it is time to cut the relationship or engagement short as soon as you can ethically and responsibly do so. You should always be honest with the customer as to why you’re doing what you’re doing. Ultimately, your main responsibility is to yourself, your employees, and to your business. The best advice is to say “no” when your intuition tells you that that high-maintenance (though high paying / high profile) contract you’re about to bag may not be all it’s touted to be.
Take a look at your business charter – I bet it says that your business is for-profit. That fact alone should be the primary guiding principle behind all of your decision making.
Remember: your business making a profit isn’t dirty. It’s your business’s raison d’être.
And if it’s not, you’re not running a business – you’re running a hobby.