Making Work Enjoyable Again [The Agency Owner Special]

Do you remember the good old days?

When you enjoyed your work?

When writing brought you joy. When designing was love. Times when you were just learning, curious and in a state of flow like a child.

Then over time, you learned more. You became an expert.

Then you got a job. One that looked shiny from outside.

You were supposed to do the same work you were good at, that brought you joy.

But now there was one more side to it. There were deadlines and the work you did had to please your boss.

You were now enjoying your work less.

You somehow kept going until one day you had enough. You couldn’t continue anymore. You wanted to be your own boss and work on your terms.

And, you did what many do. 

You started a business to become a boss.

It was an agency, that sold services, your expertise to random clients.

You hustled to get the first client. And, then the client appeared. You were overjoyed. You also had the beginner’s self-doubt. But that’s natural, you told yourself.

You started executing and got more clients. You struggled to deliver work, met some unhappy, and some nasty clients. But you kept going.

It wasn’t all bad though. There were some clients who loved your work. Some that became friends. Those who were eating from your hands, and who referred you new business.

Your earnings grew and with it your confidence. Everything looked better. Except you were not enjoying your work as you used to.

It was a dread to finish client projects and receive client feedback. This was a bummer. Your freedom was even more limited than it was when you were in a job. Instead of becoming a creative outlet your work was now a professional obligation.

Your days were tied to client whims and fancies and what you thought was good aesthetic did not matter as much to the client. How you felt depending on the mood of the client on a particular day.

You started rueing the time when you turned pro.

You were reluctant to look at client emails and take their calls. But you had to because they were the ones paying the bills.

It seemed that you were at the end of the tunnel with no place to move ahead. Going back was also tough because you had come so far.

In your moments of self-doubt, the kind that appears in the messy middle, you thought if you made a mistake by investing all these years in the pursuit of your dreams? Could you have done it better?

While you were thinking this, your phone rang. It was the client again. They did not like the urgent design you created, wanted you to update it and send it back within 1 hour. You had other pressing priorities but it was that time of the month when the invoice was due. You didn’t want to mess that up so you rushed things, stopped all other work and sent the image back in 90 minutes. You could not have done it any sooner. Still, the client wasn’t happy.

You were frustrated and almost wanted to fire the client. But you are a practical person so you held back your train of thought. 

You tapped into your positive self and thought about the bright future that was waiting for you.

You searched for answers to seeming tough questions.

  • Can work be enjoyable again?
  • How can I make the client pay without sending a reminder?
  • How to get clients to give me the space to do quality work at a relaxed pace?
  • How do I get clients to respect me and my work more?
  • How to limit client work request to scope?
  • How do I get clients to pay extra for work outside the scope or rushed?

Your search was not in vain.

You found the answers.

You actually found a note outside your door with answers to all these questions. It was as if someone who had done it before wrote it for you.

This was the note you got.

The Note With All The Answers

# Can work be enjoyable again?

Yes, it can be.

Not as enjoyable as when you did it for yourself but reasonably enjoyable.

The situation may not be as hopeless as you think it is.

You can still enjoy what you do, at least a part of the process.

You start with by cultivating “The Now” attitude and adding a bit of “For Me First” spice.

With, the now attitude, you work on, assign, delegate client requests, as soon they come in and have the first draft, concept note, wireframe, a coding plan, or a project milestone drafted within minutes or hours of receiving the inputs.

If the client didn’t follow your suggestion to send their inputs over email and told them to you verbally, you write an email with inputs as bullet points (the way you understood) and ask the client to confirm if this is what they meant.

You don’t have to deliver the ‘now draft’ you worked on, to the client yet. So take a step back and breathe deeply for a moment.  Tell yourself I am doing it for myself first. I have no deadlines, no need to make a client love it. I am just doing for myself.

Enjoy your freedom and flex your creative muscles, and finish it as if you are doing it for the sake of doing it and not for the money or making the client happy. Do it as if it is part of the process.

Then keep it in the order or inside a folder on your computer. After staying away from it for a day or two, come back to align it with client demands, and tip-top it.

Why this approach helps. 

Because it is all in the mind. Work is work. You got to practice to not let the client frustrations, anger and emotions into your brain. This take practice and time. It is not easy but totally worth it.

Also, understand that some frustrations are real. The world is not perfect. The expectations, feedback, and criticism are part of the world that pros operate it. To win in it, develop a thick skin and calm mind so that you have the energy and state of mind to deal with whatever comes at you.

It is not easy, but possible.

That is why not everyone who loves cooking and is a good cook, is not successfully running a restaurant because when you add customers to the equation it becomes a tough game.

You get the pressure of performance and in place of something that gave you joy, it becomes an exercise in pleasing someone.

If you can go past the fear and dullness that comes in creating the work and shape it as per the interest of the customer, it can become lucrative for you.

That is also why not everyone is a pro. You chose to be one.

You decided to put yourself out there and get paid to do what you do. Now, you got to stand behind your choice. Not everyone does. But you should because you can. And when you do it, you open yourself to riches, satisfaction, and growth.

At the end of it all, it is about mindset. Go all-in when you go out in the world. Know it is all for your good. If you were not capable of delivering on the client project you would not have got it.

Now you got it, so better work on it. Deliver the best you can. Be grateful that you have a client to serve. You have the opportunity to learn and grow while helping someone grow. Look at the client relationships as a stress test for your work. Use it to see if your work can survive in the real world.

Aim to give a 10x return on whatever the client is paying you. Monetary value is important but customer delight is equally important. Find out how to make them smile.

Now to other questions.

# How can I make the client pay without sending a reminder?

# How to get clients to give me the space to do quality work at a relaxed pace?

# How do I get clients to respect me and my work more?

# How to limit client work request to scope?

# How do I get clients to pay extra for work outside the scope or rushed?

The answer to all the above questions depends on how you communicate with the client before the contract is signed.

You gotta be confident and relaxed when you say what I am going to tell you, to the client.

Tell them that,

  • You don’t do urgent work. 
  • Your preferred mode of communication is email.
  • Your response time for client communication is 24 hours or earlier on weekdays.
  • Your turnout time for a small request is 2 business days, slightly bigger requests are 4-5 business days.
  • You don’t work on weekends.
  • Your work hours are 10 am – 6 pm (replace with whatever your work hours are)
  • You respond to all work requests received after 4 pm on a Friday, on coming Mondays.
  • You prefer that all work requests to be accompanied by a written note because requests on the phone don’t put you in a place to deliver your best work and leads to confusion and wasted time.
  • (If you are into design the tell) you share one design, not options, and then work with the client to turn it into a design they come to love.

(Take responsibility and show accountability by telling),

  • We send weekly/ fortnightly reports (frequency depends on the size of business) for work done during Thu – Wed, every Thursday morning. (This is to make sure that you can respond to any comment before the end of the week).
  • We welcome monthly review in the middle of the month/ billing cycle, for monthly retainers. (This ensures that the client does not tie review to payments).
  • We welcome weekly/fortnightly/monthly meetings for brainstorming (frequency depends on the size of business). The monthly meeting can be aligned with the review.
  • We work on the monthly advance on retainers, and milestone linked part advance payment for projects. → 50% (before), 25% (middle) and 25% (before delivery, after approval) for small projects and 30% (before), 20% + 20% (middle) and 30% (before delivery, after approval). 

Show your commitment by telling that,

  • You always keep client interest first.
  • You are transparency about processes, potential outcomes.
  • You rarely miss a deadline and when you do for a real reason, you tell the client in advance.
  • You do not stop until you come up with the right solution for clients.

When discussing these verbally, use your own language and way to explain so that you are comfortable and in control.

Convey all these over 2-3 meetings.

Make sure to send these as documented “Terms of Engagement” along before signing the contract.

How It Helps

It results in the following.

  • It keeps your client from turning into a monster or client from hell. The kind who expect work to completed yesterday and also call you for work request on Friday evening after work hours and as soon as they get into their office without thinking about your time.
  • For sure, you’ll repel some clients. Those who won’t agree with this approach. Be happy that they are with someone else and not you. 
  • This will make them respect you because you respect your processes and clarity on ways of doing business.

End of Note.

*****

Back to your life and your thoughts.

You found the note and you made changes to how you engaged with clients, worked on a small mind shift and rewired how you thought about work. And it all started turning around for you.

Your onboard 10 new clients in the next 12 months. And only 2 left you. Not because they were not happy but because one of them went out of business and one sold to another bigger company.

Your revenue is up 6 times.

Life is the way you wanted. And you are like ‘saddi to nikal padi boss” (a phrase loosely translated in English as everything is great or to be very much in luck.) 

This is not a dream. It’s for real. And, I am happy for you because of the way everything has shaped up.

Hope to hear from you soon. Write back with your questions, thoughts, and triumphs.