I’d like to tell you the story of Simone. As a business coach, Simone had only been in business for six months. She had been looking forward to becoming self-employed for a very long time, she told me when we first met but now her excitement had dimmed considerably. She was beginning to discover that being good at her work wasn’t enough. Suppliers and clients seemed determined to make her life a challenge.
Simone had two clients who were particularly unreliable. They’d call to change their appointment at a moment’s notice citing business emergencies and one crisis or another. She told me she was feeling worried, frustrated and resentful.
She explained that always told them that she needed more notice but, however often repeated it, there was always some sort of urgent situation coming up. She admitted that she was afraid to confront them because, as a start-up, she needed clients and they might just walk away if she stood up for herself.
“Nobody told me it was going to be so difficult!” she wailed.
To lighten up the mood, I asked her, “Have you heard this definition of insanity? It’s when you do the same things again and again expecting different results.” She grumbled “hahaha, very funny. I just don’t know what else to do!” but she smiled.
I then asked her to tell me about the last time a client postponed an appointment at short notice. “What did you say to her?” “I told them this was the second time this month and it just wasn’t on.” “And what else did you tell them?”, she asked. “That’s all I said! What else could I do?”
I explained, “There are a number of issues here. The first one is, what do your terms of business say on the issue of giving notice to change an appointment?” “It says I need three days’ notice. Less than that and the client will forfeit the fee.” “And are you enforcing it?” She looked uncomfortable. “Well, not really. We have been working together for several months now and I know she’s under considerable stress at the moment.”
“This brings me to the next point”, I continued, as a coach you need to have clear boundaries. That’s the point of the contract. If you allow your client or anybody else for that matter, cross the line without challenging them, they will continue to cross the line in all sorts of ways.”
“But what can I do? I don’t want her to walk away because I get tough!” I could see she was feeling really anxious. “ I really need the money”, she admitted. “I’m scared that, if I’m inflexible then people wouldn’t want to work with me. That’s my main worry, especially since I just started up my own business.”
I could see how vulnerable she felt but I needed to make my next point clear: “people will take you at your own valuation. If you don’t value yourself enough to stop unacceptable behaviour then they will continue to act in a thoughtless manner. This damages you in terms of your professional standing, it damages your business because, once you booked an appointment that space is taken should anybody else want an appointment. And it’s also bad for the client because your work together requires you to embody the value you bring to the coaching relationship. It doesn’t serve her or you if you retreat from taking a stand.”
“So what can I do about it?”, she asked. I smiled and said: “That’s your homework. Reflect on that question and we’ll discuss it next time.”
Simone arrived at our next session looking more settled and confident. I asked her, “So, what conclusions have you come to?” She said, “After a lot of reflection I realised I was acting out of fear and I realised, people can tell when you’re feeling unsure of yourself. Often they will take advantage. And I don’t want to work like this anymore. My business means too much to me.” She continued, “I already have a contract. All I need to do is make sure the terms are observed. The only thing I did was to add to that clause that, in case of short notice, the client will forfeit the fee for that session.” I will remind her and explain the purpose of this clause. And I will make sure she understands.” Then she added. “But the biggest shift came when I realised that, if she doesn’t want to work with me on that basis anymore, then it’s OK for her to leave. I want to work with clients who are committed to the process. After all, it’s their business I’m trying to help them with! I feel so relieved! It’s been such a struggle!” I smiled. “You’ve done really well!”, I said.
Our work continued. Then, about 2 months later, her client tried to cancel at short notice again claiming an emergency. This time Simone stood firm. Her client is still there and the crises and emergencies appeared to have fizzled out.
Her new-found confidence translated also to her personal relationships, including her partner and her work colleagues and led to a general improve in the quality of her life overall.
“Here’s more homework. Reflect: What does it look, feel and sound like when you take responsibility? As a self-empowered person, what could you do differently?”
At our next session, Simone told me that she’d started asking herself some important and useful questions when a particular issue caused her anxiety and stress: First she reminded herself that she had options. She was no longer helpless. And then she told me, “I now ask myself, “Can I let this go without feeling resentful? Can I negotiate a mutually satisfactory outcome? Is this important enough to make it clear that it matters? And, if I still didn’t get it, then what are my options?”
“It then occurred to me that I had never considered the possibility that my choices actually have consequences. I started asking myself, “If I let this go, what might the consequences be? And, if I take (this particular) action, what might the consequences be for me then? And that’s not all. If I need something done and it doesn’t happen, I can now bring up the consequences, for example, in the case of short notice of cancellation it’s losing the fee; in the case of repeated poor workmanship, the consequence could be that I would change providers.” Then she beamed and said, “I’m not as helpless as I used to believe I was! What a fantastic feeling!”
I was delighted to see that, since Simone started taking responsibility for the quality of her business and personal relationships, the overall quality of her life has changed beyond recognition.”
If you decided to become self-empowered, what would you do first?
I would love to hear your comments.
You can also connect with me privately via my website www.sueplumtree.com or you might prefer to have a 30 min Skype session. Whatever you choose, I’d love to hear from you.