Words to the Wise: What My Clients Have Taught Me About Running a Business

“What would you charge for helping me with my practice plan?” said the wise client to the wide-eyed consultant. “Ummm….how about $X?”.

“Are you serious?” he laughed. “Add 30 percent to it and you’ll have yourself a deal. Don’t you know what you’re worth?”

I had that conversation 10 years ago. I’ve never forgotten it.

While clients hire me to help with practice management projects of the fame and fortune variety, the truth is that I’ve learned a lot from them about running the business side of a professional practice.

Here are some of the best words of advice I’ve received from my clients. I hope they help you too.

“Know what you’re worth.” See above. I charge what my expertise is worth to clients. And I counsel my own clients to do the same. I don’t set fees based on my ego, my lifestyle or my self-doubt. And therefore I’ve never, ever had a collection issue. Ever.

“Keep your skills sharp. Challenge yourself.” The unique combination of education, practical experience and connections is what truly differentiates my clients from their competition. Why would it be any different for me? I’ve attended and spoken at conferences, pursued certifications in corporate reputation management and legal project management and discovered a lot of opportunities in the process.

“Pursue projects that genuinely interest you.” So true. For example, I am a terrible event planner. Can’t stand it. Won’t do it. Will happily send clients to very talented colleagues who possess the party-planning gene that I am apparently missing. Everyone is better off for it.

“Don’t work for people who don’t respect you as a person or a professional.” A very modest, very respected litigator quietly gave me this advice years ago. It’s the professional version of the golden rule. It’s helped me avoid a lot of stress, and a lot of uncomfortable conversations. Fool me once….

“Outsource as appropriate.” Discretionary time is better spent working on my business than in it. And besides, I like my computer; I don’t want to spend hours cursing at it in frustration while I try to code my website.

“If you like what you do, it won’t seem like work.” There have been times in the past when I was tempted to roll my eyes at anyone who said this to me. But now …it isn’t unusual for me to wake up at 4:00 in the morning to jot down ideas for client project. I’ve had some fairly late nights too. And it’s never felt like work. What a joy to remember how much I love what I do for a living.

“Be smart with your money.” I consider my business expenses to be investments. I don’t think of them as tax write-offs or an excuse for impulsive spending. By the end of Q3, I’ll have surpassed my revenue goal for the year. But I still can’t shake the fear of the work drying up; I’m smart about cash flow.

“Don’t take your network for granted.” I didn’t quite know what to expect when I started consulting again, but people I’ve known for years, people who barely know me and even some I’ve never formally met have referred work my way. I appreciate every vote of confidence, and reciprocate whenever I can.

“Be the first to offer help to those who need it.” I do my share of pro bono work, expertise sharing and mentoring, regardless of how busy I am. Many respected practitioners have generously offered their advice to me over the years – it would be an insult to them if I didn’t ‘pay it forward’.

“Ask for help. And appreciate it when it’s offered.” I could not have launched a business without the support of my spouse, Bill. Or his family. Or my family. Or my friends. Or his friends. Their wise words and encouragement have been a source of strength during many decisions regarding the direction of my work. They have been nothing but kind. This post is dedicated entirely to them, and to the clients and colleagues whose support has meant so much to me this past year.