If you run a service-based business, you’re going to love this week’s episode. Emylee Williams is the co-founder of Boss Project (along with Abagail Pumphrey). She discusses her path to a profitable partnership, how to build a life-first business, and tips for taking your service offerings to the next level.
- Business partnerships require balance. Beyond getting along well, people who balance each other’s skill sets can make ideal partnerships.
- Clear boundaries and communication boost partnerships. Knowing what’s important to each partner and checking in on each other helps keep the partnership moving in the right direction.
- Entrepreneurs experience seasons. Since you’re not operating your business within a vacuum, expect your needs and bandwidth to change as your life circumstances evolve.
- Scaling a business requires a different skill set. Going from a one-to-one business model to a one-to-many model requires an entirely different set of skills, resources, and marketing.
- Consider all your inputs when determining price. The service you deliver requires a lot more behind the scenes than just the time-on-task.
- Communicate with customers individually when raising prices. Each client may need a different approach for when and how to have the new price conversation.
- Be introspective when firing a client. Have the necessary conversation, then reflect on the boundaries and communication that led to a mismatch.
- Choose your clients carefully. Saying yes to a bad client will likely keep you from many more awesome clients.
- Use lead generation intentionally. Prepare a lead magnet that helps your prospects self-filter themselves in or out of the rest of your marketing.
- Boss Project
- Price increase scripts from Boss Project
- Slack – team collaboration software
- Asana – task management software
- Dubsado – client management software
- The Strategy Hour Podcast
Who is Emylee Williams?
Bob Sparkins: Emylee, thank you so much for joining me for our episode of the Lead Generation today.
Emylee Williams: Thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Bob: I am excited to share you with the world. Obviously, your partner in crime is not joining us today unfortunately, but just shout out to Abby for all the work that the two of you do together at The Boss Project.
Bob: Before we jump into the questions around service professional business expansion and so forth, I’d love to know just a short version of what is the transformation that you and Abby provide for your clients?
Emylee: So we help women and femme service providers create and design—and actually get to enjoy and live in—a life-first business that fulfills them soulfully and financially.
We want more people getting to live in their expertise, in their zone of genius, and getting to impact people in the way that they know best without having to worry about all the messy behind-the-scenes, and how does it actually run and function. We worry about that part for them so they can show up as their best selves and just impact lives all day, every day.
Bob: That’s awesome. Very fulfilling, I bet, to impact the people in that way on a regular basis.
Bob: So I would love to go back in time, just a minute, for you to share any experience you might have had as a teenager or maybe your first way of earning money. Is there a lesson that you learned that helps you in your business today? And it’s just always fun to talk about that first zone of economic life.
Emylee: Yeah. Impact, yeah.
I had a job for forever. My parents owned their own company when I was young, so I got paid under the table to collate some paper when I was like 12. Did a little bit of babysitting.
But my first real job as soon as I got my license, because I was like, “I want to pay for things and I want my own money, so I’m going to go get a job and get out of here”, I worked retail. And I worked at… We had this brand new outdoor shopping center that had just been developed. And I got a job at one of the retail places there and I was the youngest one hired. And like six months after they hired me, they raised the age limit to 18. Because I was 16 at the time, so I was the youngest person there for two years. But it was really cool because in the retail space it was just a lot of folding clothes and helping people in the fitting room, or whatever.
But I truly think in that space, in that job and learning the lessons of how to sell people clothes, and how to make them excited about trying things on, or feel good about themselves when maybe they didn’t like what they saw, or really understand different sizes, or materials, or whatever, it was really laced in this space of truly showing up to listen and to serve people in a relationship-friendly way. And I think I really started to learn how to connect with other people just as human beings and not as like, “I’m trying to sell a bunch of stuff to you, but I’m trying to get to know what you want and what you’re after. And then I can be resourceful and look at all of the things that we have here to present you options that make sense.”
They have this really silly position, but I got the position, it was called a fashion expert. And it was literally someone who like, you could come and book an appointment. And you could talk about “I have this event coming up”, or, “I want to revamp my closet and this is how I’m feeling about my body, or my goals, or my style.” And you would wait on this couch and the fashion expert that was trained would go around the store and get all your sizes and all of the things. And we would put together outfits for you and we would present it to you. And we would reserve the big fitting room for you. And it was just this whole really incredible customer experience. And I think I started to become addicted to just showing up in different unique ways where other people might not have been doing that at other retail spaces. And it created a completely different environment. And we keep trying to find ways to do that here even in this job.
Bob: Your story reminds me of a future version of the kids these days that are born after the 2000s that are like, “What if Stitch Fix was in-person and you actually got to meet somebody?”
Emylee: Yeah, “What if you went to a place and in a room and you tried on things?” Yes. Yeah, the things my daughter’s going to be bringing up that’s going to be full circle, I’m going to be like, “Yeah, brilliant.”
Bob: Yeah, wish I would’ve thought of that when I was your age. Awesome.
The Birth of The Boss Project
Bob: So we mentioned Abby at the beginning of this conversation. Obviously, she’s not here, but I’d love for you to share your version of the story of how the two of you met and how Boss Project came to be.
Emylee: So we met in an online Facebook community, so we have a very early internet days love story.
We were complete strangers but had grown up an hour apart and didn’t realize it. I was living in a different state at the time, so nowhere near where she lived or where we grew up. And we had started our own businesses. I had graduated college and started my business like the day after I graduated college. She had gone off into the corporate world and then gotten laid off twice, and then decided to start her own business the second time she got laid off.
And so we were in this business group on Facebook that was for creative small business owners, and it was back when Instagram actually worked and you could join Instagram pods and people would share and comment on your post, and that’s how you would build community and engagement.
So someone wanted to start an Instagram pod that was in the niche that we were serving, we didn’t know each other at the time. We both raised our hands, got put into the same pod of I think five other women. And we just connected.
We talked to our clients in the same way. We taught in the same way. We had the same opinions about marketing or business in general. So, we just really hit it off. And within a couple of weeks, she was wanting to do her very first webinar ever. And I think at that point I had done, I don’t know, one or two myself. So I was an expert at webinars at that point. And I was like, “Let me just help you. Let me help you do this. We can sell your idea together. We can pitch this together. I made this course over here, you can help me pitch it.” And we just loved working together and loved working with creative business owners.
And so within three months of that, we decided to actually go into business together and start helping clients together. We expanded our services, rebranded, and launched a marketing boutique here in Kansas City. And that has shifted to everything under the sun over the last seven years. And we’re still hanging out doing the thing.
Bob: That’s amazing. I know that some partnerships work out really well. Some of them are short-lived. And yours certainly has in internet life, basically it’s like a geriatric business right now, right?
Emylee: It’s like dog years. Yes, a 100%.
Secrets of a Successful Business Partnership
Bob: What do you owe the success to? What’s worked well for the two of you working together?
Emylee: I think it comes down to a couple different aspects. We do get asked this question all the time because I think it is a freak of nature that we’re still together, and that we still like each other, and we still like being in business together.
I think one of the things that helped right off the top is, we were business partners before we were friends, so we didn’t know each other at all before going into business together. And I think that that helped us really set boundaries, and communicate, and be honest with each other about what we needed, and what we didn’t want to do, and what we would do. We both also have very similar work ethics, so we’re not resentful from the other person because our work styles are so drastically different.
But where we are different is in the skills that we bring to actually Boss Project and the way that we look at problems or our zone of genius where Abby sits more in the numbers and the finance side of things. And I sit more in the visioning and the marketing side of things. We can just balance each other out.
Where some people might hire a director of operations or an integrator, we had each other. And so I think we were able to go further faster and we saw that within months of joining forces, and it just continued to validate, “Oh, let’s stick together even if it’s hard. Let’s stick together even if we’re still confused about what we should offer, or the market gets weird, or a pandemic happens. Let’s figure out how to do it together because it’s more fun together and we get further together.”
Bob: How do you handle when a red flag comes up of a difficult situation or a difference of opinion? As I imagine, in the seven years, that’s likely happened at least once or twice.
Bob: And I think for small businesses that are thinking of operating, or maybe they’re already operating in partnership, they need to be able to handle that. And what would be the advice that you give to them?
Emylee: Well, there’s definitely been times where we’ve had a difference of opinions or we had the same goal but we wanted to achieve it in a different way. Or one of us wanted to hustle down and work faster, and the other one was in a completely different season and needed to slow down. And I think we both remember that the seasons happened for us at different times, like right after… Well, except for one time, our literally most trying time in business. I had just become a mother and Abby was recovering from a very severe car accident where she had a traumatic brain injury and was doing multiple therapies throughout the week and our business just had to shift. But we literally just tried to tackle it together. We checked in on each other like, “What is your energy level? And how do you want to show up and what is your ultimate goal?” So what is our actual bandwidth here and how can we tackle it?
Whenever it comes down to we’re disagreeing about something, it’s generally because the other person just doesn’t have the bandwidth or the energy in that season to do it. But it doesn’t mean that it’s always off the table forever.
I remember during the pandemic, a couple years prior, we were just tired. We were hustling a lot. We had come out of… My kiddo was in school, so I had a lot of time open up. Abby’s health was doing a lot better, so she had a lot of time. So we hustled for a couple years and then we just got tired. And we both just came to each other and we’re like, “I just kind of want to work 10 hours a week. Are you on the same wavelength with me?” And luckily she was, or I was. I can’t even remember who approached that conversation.
So we try to at least like, “Where are you at? What do you need? How can we get to the same page about our time, or our energy, or our hustle mode?” Or whatever it might be. And then from there, everything just kind of shakes out.
Exploring Side Projects Outside of a Partnerships
Bob: I can imagine you guys kind of similar to a band that goes on tour and then takes some time to reflect back at home. Do you wind up having some side projects while the other person is in that season of pause, or anything like that?
Emylee: Yeah, we definitely did. When we were in our season of pause, Abby had… They bought a new home that needed to be completely renovated. So she was working on the floors, and the paint colors, and the furniture, and all of those exciting things.
I decided randomly to start a handmade product business for about two years. I ran that. It did really well. And then I got tired, so I was done with that. I have a kiddo who’s running around all the time, so school schedules impact my work schedule. So we have some flexibility with that.
I’m in the middle of writing a book right now. I actually just got my edits back from my editor the first round. So yeah, we really try to create space within Boss Project to be fulfilled enough, but where it doesn’t take all of our creative energy so that if we want to have stuff outside of that, even just for us that’s not a whole other business, we have the time and space to do that.
Appreciating Seasons of Entrepreneurial Life
Bob: I love it. And you’ve mentioned this idea of season, and being married to an executive coach with a six-year-old and a four-year-old that we have together-
Emylee: So you know.
Bob: And I’m hitting my eighth year of working at Leadpages this month. Can you speak more specifically about what you mean by season and why this life aspect of things is so important to the work that you two are doing?
Emylee: Yes. Seasons are my favorite to wrap your brain around in business and in life.
I think as business owners, on one hand we like to think, and we’re chasing, and we hope that it exists as just a permanent solution to all of our problems. And it’s always going to look this way. I’m always going to be able to sell this way, market this way, serve this way. And once I figure it out, once I get the blueprint or the recipe that it will never change.
Once you learn that, it literally always changes, not just because of your clients, or the market, or the climate, or a pandemic, or whatever it might be, but because you change. And your needs change, and your schedule changes, and your energy level changes, and your health changes, and your financial goals change. And if we let those things marry with each other instead of working against each other, I think you can be more open to, “Right now, I can be in a season of intentional growth and I do want to hustle. And I do want to work at typical work hours, or maybe even more. And I want to be very active, and networking, and out there.”
And then there are seasons, when after you do that, it could be for a quarter that you turn up that dial, or it could be for a year, or it could be for three years that you turn up that dial. It’s different for everyone. But you have to also give yourself space to turn down that dial and know that your business is going to be fine. And maintenance is also very sexy and consistency is very sexy. And I think it’s very underrated to have a sustainable, consistent, just moving and grooving business.
And I think we always, especially as a new business owner, you go from nothing to you make some money. And then you probably double that. And then you maybe double that again because it’s easy to double nothing. It’s easy to double $10,000. And so that feels really good. But then you’re making a good amount of money and you’re still expecting yourself to double that for no reason. You don’t have to actually do that. So once we let ourselves go from the goals that we think that we have to have or that we should have, you actually get to decide what you want to do right now.
Bob: Yeah, the clarity on want versus expectation from external forces really digs in this.
Emylee: It’s a big lesson. Is a big lesson. And it’s a lesson you have to relearn every year, I feel like.
Bob: Yeah. And I guess, it certainly helps if you have somebody to kind of knock you upside the head or nudge you in the ribs if something seems astray.
Emylee: Yeah, they’re like, “For what? But for what?”
Bob: Very good.
What is a Service-Based Business?
So let’s shift over to your entrepreneurial zone of genius, which is helping service-based professionals and business owners really crush it, if you will, sometimes in a way that’s what they need and what they want. And other times it’s depending on the season. So first of all, for those that you serve, how do you define service-based business so that we can make sure that people listening understand what it is that we’re talking about in that way?
Emylee: Yeah, that’s a great question because there are so many different definitions. And our clients work with their own clients in a lot of different ways.
We have multi-billion dollar agencies that have tens of thousands of employees, and clients, and non-retainer in the finance space, or the disaster preparedness space, or the cookie class virtual space, and everything in between.
And so I like to look at it as more of your business values and ethics. Yes, you need to have a product and offer, but some of those products can be served digitally, virtually, in-person with physical collateral, with digital collateral, just coaching, or support, or everything in between.
Are you looking at the way that you impact people in a service mentality, in a quality over quantity, in a, “I want to make change and provide results with a skill set that I have?” But how that’s delivered in the medium in which it’s delivered, it changes depending on the industry, or your own season, or what your goals are.
Bob: And so for those people who are in that kind of… I wouldn’t call it an industry, but it’s kind of a container, right?
Emylee: Container, yeah.
Bob: Because you’ve got a bunch of different buckets there that you just talked about. What is a misconception that people tend to have in that area where they’re getting stuck because they have a belief about what that means. And then through working with you or learning from the two of you, you’re able to clear that out so they can get to that next level?
Emylee: Well, I think people come to us either in two different head spaces.
One, where they’ve gotten to a consistent amount of revenue and they want to scale for whatever reasons. Whether they actually want to or not is a whole different conversation. Everyone says they want a million-dollar business until they’re trying to run one and grow one. And then we need to wake up a little bit and figure out how you actually want to live your life. But when we get past that, a lot of people have the misconception that the only way to scale to multi-six figures, or million, or multi-million is with the one-to-many model is with a digital offer, is with a low-priced something. And they’ve been serving clients in a one-on-one capacity for years. And then they try to offer something that’s low price, and digital, and passive, and hands-off. And, “I’m going to do it once and then never have to touch it. And I’m just going to make all of this money in my sleep and not have to do anything.”
And (two) a lot of people come to us when that hasn’t worked and it’s not working. And they think that there’s something missing in their marketing or their arsenal of their skillset that they’re just not getting and that’s why it’s not working. But in reality, if you’re a service provider who’s been impacting and showing up in the way that you have been, growing a one-to-many business or starting a one-to-many business is an entirely different business that needs a different recipe with different ingredients in order to succeed.
It’s not a bad business. I love those businesses. We have that kind. But it takes a completely different skill set and it takes a lot of things that the type of clients that we work with don’t actually want to do in order to get their results, which is fine. And which is, honestly, a really big self-awareness thing that I hope a lot of people come to grips with. The type of marketing, money, resources that those businesses typically need in order to scale to what you want it to get to is just out of the desired realm of a lot of people.
So we either need to work through actual expectations of like, “Literally, what do you want to be doing day-to-day? Do you want a team of multiple people? Do you want to be spending this much money every month on advertising or marketing?” Or whatever it might be? And if that’s not the case, then we need to re-shift how you think you need to get to the goal that you think that you want. So it’s a lot of like, “What is your actual goal? And then what do you want to do to get there? Now, let’s create the container of what are you selling, how much does it cost? So, that you can make that happen in a way that feels in alignment with you.”
Bob: That’s really cool because I think there’s a differentiation factor that people can listen to what you just said and say, “Oh, that’s why I’m not getting this off the ground, because it’s like a completely different animal than what I’ve been doing all along.”
Emylee: It’s a completely different animal, yeah. I love both animals. Love them both, they just take completely different strategies to succeed.
How a High Touch Service is Different
Bob: So you and Abby emphasized the idea of high-touch service. Talk to me a little bit about that so that people can understand if that’s the avenue they would like to take. What’s attractive about it?
Emylee: Yeah. Well, we like to do math with people and say, “Okay, if this is your actual financial goal…” And we’ve really, really nailed down that, that’s what it is. Not what you think that you should have.
You want to price your product, or create a digital offer, or low price offer, here’s how many sales you would need. In order to get that many sales, here’s how many leads you would need. In order to get that many leads, here’s how big your audience needs to be, and the different marketing channels you need to get there. So when we work it backwards and we do all the math, it is overwhelming because the numbers get higher, and higher, and higher as you go down.
And so what we try to shift gears for is, if you zone in on a thing that you already know how to do, typically the service you’re literally already offering, and you look at the container of what you offer, first what we do is a pricing audit and a service audit.
Is it actually priced appropriately? Not like, “Are you charging what you’re worth?” Is it literally priced appropriately by how much time it takes you to deliver that service? That’s all I want to look at. How much time do you have to do client deliverables, not work in your business but to do client deliverables?
So how much do we need to charge based on your financial goals? And if you have a team that impacts that price, because if you have more team members who can do deliverables, not just more team members but who can actually do client deliverables, then your capacity can increase.
The biggest feeling that service providers come to us with is, they’ve reached a client capacity. They can’t serve anymore because they don’t have any more time, but they can’t hire anymore because they’re not charging appropriately. So there’s not enough cash in the reserves to pay for someone to increase their client capacity.
So what we look at is, “Okay, can we adjust the price?” For everyone, it doesn’t make sense to do a premium service. For every industry you can’t just charge $30,000 because you want to, or $60,000 because you want to. So we look at your exact industry, the clients that you’re working with.
For some of you it might be retainer. For some of you it might be a more expensive start of the project and then the lower end support that you provide. For some of you, you could maybe white-label some services so you can add more value to your clients without you having to hire people.
There’s all different sorts of levers that we can pull to impact what the actual container is. But then we actually look at, “Okay, what does the price need to be in order for you to reach your goals? Non-negotiable, like you can’t change your time. Once you know what it is, you can’t change it. The only way to change it is by hiring. That’s a whole circle. And so we actually identify the price. And then we help you identify, okay, if it’s going to charge someone that much, if it’s going to cost that much, what do we need to put in it to make sense for that price?
So typically people start with, “What do I want to offer and what do I want to put in it?” And then they figure out the price because that part’s scary. But we start with the price and then identify what does the container need to have in it so that it actually makes sense to deliver that.
And the high-touch part comes from all of the touch points that you can provide a client where you are able to increase your capacity because you have systems in place that are talking to your clients on autopilot, that are delivering an incredible experience and multiple touchpoints that premium clients deserve and are expecting from you, but without you having to actually do all of that manually.
So it’s a mix of templates, and customization, and workflows, and automations, and checkpoints for your team to go in and sometimes manually do something, but it takes you two minutes instead of 30 minutes.
Getting to the Price is Right Epiphany
Bob: I’m curious, for those that come through Boss Project curriculum courses, the stuff that they work with for you, is there kind of an epiphany moment that when you give them the information around this one idea, it like blows their mind and says, “Oh, now I get it.”
Emylee: Yep, yep.
Bob: What would that tend to be?
Emylee: It happens in the first six weeks or less, typically the first three weeks. And it always has to do with the pricing calculator. So Abby, our numbers’ queen genius, developed this proprietary calculator. It’s literally plug and play, for you to put in all the information, all the data, and it spits out your billable rate, how much your service should be if you have a team, and adjust that. What are your hours? Because most people aren’t paying attention to their utilization, so we take that into account in the calculator.
So people typically say, “Okay, I’m a service provider and it’s just me. And if I’m working with clients, then they get a 100% of my time. That means all of my time can be spent on client work.”
And it’s simply not true because, well, you have to email them and you have to maybe post something to LinkedIn or your website, or make a page, and you have to make the contract and the invoice. Then you actually do the client work.
So it’s not 100% of your time, but you’re pricing like you have a 100% of your time. So we make some adjustments there.
So the utilization is a big eye opener for people because they’re like, “Oh, yeah. And as the CEO, I’m doing my accounting, and my bookkeeping, and my marketing, and my advertising, and my community, and my customer service, and my admin.”
You’re like, “You’re doing literally all of the things, so you do not have a 100% of your time.” So when you realize that and you actually price accordingly. And then they actually change the price. A lot of people who come into our program are working with us saying, “I need this many more new clients, which means I need to hire this many more new people. And you need to help me right now to figure out how to hire.” That’s what they always say like, “Tell me how to hire. What do I need to do?”
And I’m like, “That’s not what we’re going to do first. Actually, we’re going to do some stuff over here.” So we make them go to ground zero. We go through all this stuff that I just talked about.
And every single time, not half the time, every single time they’re like, “Oh. Oh, now that I’ve had these conversations with my clients…”, because we walk them through some scripts on how to increase your client contracted revenue without new leads, so with existing or past clients. So they’re like, “Oh, I literally thought I needed twice as many clients. I need to hire two to three employees. And I actually don’t need to do that at all and I don’t want to do that actually.” So it’s like, wow, as soon as you’re being paid appropriately for the work that you’re doing, you get to actually just think about what you really want in business, because it’s not this high frenzy pressure zone of urgency.
And it’s just really cool how a lot of people are like… Like one of our clients identified and made $60,000 in six weeks without a new lead after going through the calculator and then using our scripts to reach out to past clients, thinking she needed to hire, thinking she needed more clients. Within six weeks she was like, “No, I’m not going to do that. What I’m actually going to do is take a 10-day vacation without my laptop to Costa Rica.” I was like, “Yes, do that. And then think about what you want to do.”
How to Respectfully Change Prices for Existing Clients
Bob: That’s awesome.
So you’ve broached the subject, I was going to ask about it next anyway, but is there a little bit of a tip that you can share with increasing pricing on existing clients? I think it’s a touchy subject for a lot of service providers. They get really skittish and nervous about it. How do you help them overcome the initial mindset issue about it, and how do they get the client to be an eager yes for it?
Emylee: Yeah. So we’ve developed… And you guys can stack these for free too. I think it’s bossproject.com/script-vault, maybe. If it’s not, DM me on Instagram. Abby’s my link vault person who remembers every link to everything, and I don’t. So we’ll see if that’s it. But we’re literally giving you all the scripts that we teach our clients how to use.
And so one of them is for when you haven’t raised their price in years, and you need to, how to have that conversation. Another is, if the scope of their project keeps bleeding and just getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger. And you need to readdress and reevaluate what the project is. Another one is how to reach out to dreamy clients to ask them for referrals. And then there’s one more in there that I’m blanking on. But specifically the one that people had the most problem with is, “I got them when I was a new baby business and they’re paying me like $12. And now it needs to be $12,000. And I don’t know how to tell them that.”
And so what we do, and it’s hard to explain until you’re in it, but we truly look at every single situation like that with our clients, even with the clients who we serve on our one-on-one done-for-you services and the clients who we teach how they can streamline their done-for-you service business is, how can we spend a couple of hours on something that’s going to be 98% there for every client? And then what’s the 2% that I can customize for every single conversation? Because if you begin to look at a conversation that you’re going to have with a current client, you cannot just send the blanket copy and paste script to all seven clients who you want to raise their prices for. That’s not going to work. Some of them might need a phone call. Some of them you might need to take to coffee or to lunch. Some of them you might need to wait until you have your quarterly check in and that would be the perfect time to have that conversation.
So you need to customize the way that you’re delivering that piece of information, but the actual information is the same. And it’s a really clear cut and dry like, “My prices are raising. Here’s where they’re going to be.” You have to be clear in that communication. But the client I specifically brought up, Bonnie, was anxious about this. When you’re only working with clients, and this is where all your money is coming from, raising the rate is scary to do. What if they all say, “no thanks”, and they just leave you and abandon you? That’s an option, but it’s not what happens most of the time.
So Bonnie had these scripts and she literally customized them for six people. So she looked at her client roster and was like, “Who are the people that I think are going to say yes the easiest?” Because you need a little bit of validation. You need a little bit of confidence that you’re going to have some clients say yes to your higher rates. Don’t go to the toughest client you’ve ever had first. That is really depressing and that’s not going to be any fun. So get you some easy wins. And so she structured her six conversations in the six ways that she thought would be most beneficial for them. Had a phone call for some, sent an email for some, saved it for their check-in for some, et cetera. All six said yes, every single one.
And so from there, after you have six yeses, you’re like, “Then I don’t care what these other clients do”, who are maybe going to be even more difficult because now you don’t actually even need them because you’re getting paid appropriately for the client work that you are doing, that you like doing. So start with the easiest ones. Be clear and direct. Customize the way that you’re delivering that information for what’s going to make sense for that client.
Bob: Really, really cool approach to do that.
How to Fire a Client
Bob: On the flip side of the things that I hear you say, I’d like to have you talk a little bit about firing a client, because I think a lot of service-based businesses have this as a challenge.
Bob: How do you recognize that that relationship should come to an end? And are there ways to handle that relatively gracefully, respectfully so that it still feels good on both sides, if possible?
Emylee: Yeah, absolutely. I kind of look at this in two ways. If you know that you need to fire a client because it’s not going well, the scope is bleeding, it’s not great. The energy is poor, the results aren’t great, whatever it might be. One, if you need to backfill that client first because finances will be tight when you fire that client, I would focus on that first. I would replace the money, then let the client go, so you’re not feeling stressed from two ends. Because a lot of us keep a bad client because of financial reasons, and so if you need to make that gap up, go ahead and do that first. It might be crazy busy for a couple weeks until you get to let that client go. But I think once you let them go and then you know that that money is immediately replaced by someone better, you’ll feel a lot better. So if you need to address that first, do that.
But the other aspect is typically when you’re letting go of a bad client, it’s because of scope creep nearly a 100% of the time. But scope creep happens because miscommunication happened, or boundaries weren’t clear, or the contract wasn’t clear, or you didn’t communicate how that person could ask for more things, or what the price could be, or whatever.
So I really want you to identify what needs to actually change on your end before we either have to fire that client or before you get someone else in. So do you need to change the language on your onboarding guide or your signature on your email for your business hours? Or don’t give your cell phone number to clients if you don’t want them to text you. There’s some very simple switches that we can do. I’ve literally never had a client text me ever in my life because they do not have my cell phone number. Don’t create problems that you don’t want.
So there’s a lot of boundaries that need to be set up. Your contract probably needs to be revisited, but I do personally like to have those conversations in person. Sometimes people can fire off an email, and if you never want to talk to that person ever again, that’s fine. But again, we’re in the business of serving humans to humans, and I really want you to put a human touch to it. So I would hop on a phone call. If you don’t want to see them in person, that’s fine. But I like to find something to blame like, “Is it scope?” Is it, “This is outside of my expertise, so I’m going to refer you to this person?” Or it feels like we reached this goal, and that was our initial project goal. And now we’re tacking on stuff that isn’t in the parameters of what I want to be offering. Whatever it might be. It can be just a very simple like, “Here’s the actual reason.”
But again, it all comes down to clearly communicate the thing. When is the end date going to happen? What are their expectations now that they’re leaving? What are your expectations of what you need to deliver? And then please, please, please for the love, look at all of your communications after that so it doesn’t happen again.
Bob: Yeah, I think lessons learned certainly are key.
Emylee: We’ve all done it.
Bob: We’ve all done it for sure. I’ve done it. I’m sure anybody listening has had that kind of a challenge come.
Emylee: Yes. And we’ll do it again. Like you don’t know they’re a… Well, sometimes you know the person’s going to be a bad client. You’re saying yes anyways, and that’s typically a financial reason.
Knowing When to Say No to a New Client
Bob: Yeah, that was going to be my next question was, is there a way for you that you help your students to identify the nightmare client so they don’t sign them on in the first place? Obviously, circumstantially, sometimes the money is the money, but what are some of the ways that you help people know you can say no before you actually get started?
Emylee: Yeah. Well, first of all, if you even know you’re intentionally saying yes to a bad client, it’s because of money like, we’ve all been there. We’ve all had to do it. We’ve all done it. There’s no shame in that game. Let’s try to get past that and do the next step.
But this literally just happened to us where we were just in a really busy season of we were getting a lot of discovery calls and we were going into a lot of pitch meetings. And when you’re caught up in that urgency, sometimes your brain tricks you into being like, “We have to figure out something for this prospect. We have to put them into a container.” Because either you feel like you need the client, the money, the project. You feel like it could open a door. Or this particular person was a referral from someone who we really love, and so it was like, “I want to figure something out with this person because I love the person who referred. But every sign in my gut is pointing to me that this isn’t going to be a great relationship.”
So when you find yourself making it work and making a container that you don’t offer to anyone else, and you wouldn’t offer again, just because you feel like you have to say yes to this person, I think that’s a really good gut check that you really need to assess why you’re feeling that pressure, and is it good or is it not good?
So ultimately, what we did is, we gave it one last college try. And we’re like, “This is the thing we recommend for you. If you don’t want to go this route and you want to go this route, we’re not the place for you.” And ultimately, that comes down to… I know I keep saying boundaries, but you have to understand what you’re willing to say no to, and what your zone of genius is, and how you can best show up and impact people and provide results.
Otherwise, you’re going to keep saying yes to projects that don’t even light you up, and then you’re not going to be able to use that testimonial. You’re not going to get a good referral. It’s going to be icky. And every single time you say yes to a bad client, you’re saying no to a dreamy client, so don’t do it.
Bob: Yes, all that. All that.
Tools for a Service-Based Business Owner
Bob: A little shift before we wrap up, what are some of the tools that service providers should be using in their business to make life easier for themselves, maybe for their clients?
Emylee: Oh, well, finding some sort of communication tool is number one. Even if you don’t have a team, I strongly believe in getting communication out of just emails so that there can be succinct ways to communicate with clients.
We personally use Slack. You can communicate in your project management system generally. Sometimes Voxer for audio processors is really great. We use all of those.
We use Asana for our team, and we build out entire client processes in Asana for even leads, and prospecting, and the sales pipeline is built out in Asana, so it can be used for a lot of different aspects.
What else do we… Oh, Dubsado, or getting a client relationship management tool in general. I know other industries use different specific client management tools, but getting something where your clients have a dashboard, where files can be organized and saved, where you can send auto invoices and reminders, and any sort of workflow based on actions that they take. Like if they book an appointment, do they get a reminder email? And then when they show up to that, do they get this funnel to prep them for your discovery call, or whatever it might be. Anything that you can… It almost acts as like an admin assistant, but it’s a software. Anything that you can utilize for that is key.
Bob: And you mentioned Dubsado. Is that the tool that you mentioned for that specifically, or is there another tool you recommend-
Emylee: Yes, it’s a client relationship management tool. It’s for creatives, and so it’s perfect if you have a service-based business where maybe you’re in the photographer, wedding planner, event planner, accountant, bookkeeper kind of space where it’s that intimate one-on-one relationship that you’re spending. It’s a really handy tool.
Getting Leads for a Service-Based Business
Bob: And my last tactical question for you is, for the service-based providers… Obviously, at Leadpages, we’re big fans of landing pages, and using that. Do you have a tip on how people can get people into that top of their funnel? How do you get them to first know that you exist? And is there any particular types of lead magnets that you’re recommending people utilize so that they can get towards that buying decision to start to work with a provider?
Emylee: Yeah. This is I think, honestly, where the attention needs to be spent. I think historically, in years prior, when leads were more plentiful, we could be a little bit more picky about who we were hopping on the phone with, and we could wow people in our client experience. And we could serve really well and then rely on referrals. And that was an amazing pipeline for a long time.
Well, the market has just shifted. And leads, I feel like I’m hollering out into the world for people to pay attention to me.
And so when people finally do look your way, it’s got to be clear about what you actually offer, and who it’s for, and who it isn’t. I absolutely love one-page little sales pages even for your service, little button for an opt-in for someone to book a discovery call, or to fill out a little bit of form for them to give you more information so you know should you be spending your time chatting with this person, or should you put them through a workflow to get them into a digital product, or into a lower price service, or work with a referral. And you’ve got a kickback from another contractor or another service provider there.
There are lots of different ways to channel people or to funnel them out, but I think it’s about being really intentional from the very beginning about what action do they need to take and what do you need as the service provider to even know that they’re ready for you or not ready for you.
We have people fill out a waitlist form and they just check what they’re interested in, check their budget. And depending on their literal checks, we might send you down an email sequence that gives you some blog post, or a podcast episode, or a freebie because maybe you need to book out some more clients first before it makes sense for you to work with us.
But if you check these other boxes, then Abby wants to get on the phone with you and chat about what are our opportunities here, what makes sense for you? And so wherever you can kind of funnel your leads quickly and get them served immediately, then you’re going to convert more people off the top.
What’s Next at Boss Project
So as we wrap up, I know that there’s always some cool things happening at Boss Project.
Bob: Anything that you’d like to share? And how can people connect with you and Abby?
Emylee: Yeah. So if you like listening to podcasts, which you probably do, then you should definitely listen to ours. We have over 600, almost 700, episodes at this point, which is bananas. We have not stopped talking since 2017. So there are episodes upon episodes. Start with the latest though, because we’re better at it now than we were at the beginning. So start at the most recent. There’s a lot of really great content there for service providers, it’s pretty incredible.
We have a slew of blog posts and I think you can find our script opt-in over at our website at bossproject.com/script-vault. You can sign up for our wait list if you want us to come in to your system, set up a project management system, or a CRM, or get your systems talking to each other. Maybe you need a pricing audit on your service, you can find out more information about that by heading to bossproject.com/waitlist.
We’ve got some incredible template packs in our shop that our designers put together, if you need a brand, refresh. Or Dubsado templates designed for you, we’ve got that going on. There’s lots of stuff. Bossproject.com is where you’re going to see everything.
And of course, we’ll have all that in the show notes at leadpages.com/podcast.
Emylee, it was really great to connect with you today. I really enjoyed the conversation and the tips that you provided for our service providers. Thanks so much for being here.
Emylee: Thank you for having me.