When you are building your practice, sometimes you choose to work with a client for free for a number of reasons:
– Gain experience with an ideal client
– Minimize risk of trying out a new program
– Build up your client testimonials
– Give back to the community by offering services to a select few who cannot afford you
While paying clients are of course more desirable, the freebies often provide their own advantages. There is nothing wrong with having a few practice clients who can help you attract paying clients, as long as you set clear boundaries.
I’ve heard from people who spend so much time with non-paying clients, they don’t have time to market themselves and attract paying clients. Obviously that’s a problem as growing your business always needs to be your primary concern as an entrepreneur. Building your practice is the main focus until you have enough money coming in to pay your bills and meet your own needs.
Truth is, establishing boundaries can be a problem with free or paying clients. That’s why learning how to be clear about your working relationship is important no matter what stage of business you are in.
How to Establish Clear Boundaries and Handle Non-Paying Clients
1. Use an agreement with all clients. Whether or not there is a fee involved, clearly outline appointment times, number of sessions and length of sessions, what will be covered, etc., in a formal document. This helps your clients understand exactly what services you are providing. Don’t leave things vague or up in the air.
2. Place a cap on the extras with non-paying clients. Sometimes, to sweeten the offer with fee-based clients, you provide unlimited emails or 5-minute calls. But, with your free clients, you can cap this so they don’t overdo the extras and drain your time. This is essential to ensure you have time to market yourself and attract clients.
3. Investigate other forms of payment. Sometimes a client comes along who is ideal, except they don’t have the funding to pay your fee. If you still want to work with them, ask if there is some other form of trade that might be an option. For example, perhaps they have great connections and can refer you, so you can attract clients who will pay.
4. Don’t get wrapped up in the drama. It’s really simple to get wrapped up in the drama around your clients and their needs. Just say to yourself, “OK, what do I need to do? I need to tell the client that we need an agreement in place for a particular amount of hours until he can start paying me.” Discuss this with your clients and finish by asking, “Is that fair?” That’s a really good question to ask because you’ll most likely gain their agreement.
If you aren’t currently using an agreement, then it’s time to create one. Be sure to explain the elements of your working relationship and what services you are providing. Be specific and quantify things like number of appointments, length of appointments, when time with you expires, how they can continue when they complete the first round, materials included, etc. Establishing clear boundaries protects your time and helps clients feel comfortable knowing what they can expect from you.