I received a phone call yesterday that I referral I gave took advantage of my referral partner. I knew the person I referred a little longer than my referral partner, but not much. We had worked together briefly on a project for a mutual client and he had offered to use my services for other clients, which fell through. Six months later he called in disarray asking me to help him and his wife sort through their finances and get to the bottom of arguments over spending.
I’m in the accounting business.
Flattered that he felt comfortable enough with me to ask for help with his marital strife, I gave him and his wife a two hour consultation at no charge. Normally, I offer a free one-hour consultation. In their case, a good part of the conversation involved emotional distress. They were contentious with each other at first and by the end of the conversation, where he seemed vulnerable and exposed, she seemed more relaxed.
I put about 16 hours of work into their account after that first meeting. Once the work was complete, we had a one hour conference call from California, since he was working in Texas. I followed up with an invoice I sent only to him from my accounting program, primarily because I didn’t know how to add a second email address. He is the breadwinner, so it made sense.
It’s been almost a month and they have not paid. Then I get this call from my referral partner that he asked a million high priced questions over more than an hour of meeting time and asked for it free. My referral partner agreed to honor my referral, then called to tell me what happened as a warning that it could also happen to me.
So my question to myself and God is, was this foreseeable? Should I have seen a red flag in someone shifting from a professional to an emotional position rather than being honored that he felt so comfortable with me? Hell, if that’s the case I’m in trouble.
I’m emotional and professional and right now. I’m in a creative block that’s wrecking havoc on my ability to give a dollar about my accounting work. Instead, I’m right about at two cents. Still hanging in there, but sloppy and unmotivated, at least on the first pass of a project. By the final draft all is good, but I’m in need of client coaching. The only thing I’m proactive about right now is getting out of my block.
Do I take advantage of people? No. Am I unreliable? Not yet. I manage my creative block by responding quickly to clients’ needs. Deadlines, phone calls, emails, texts. I’m on it. Long term projects, low priority projects, not so much. In that area I’m backlogged.
In terms of screening clients though, if someone comes to you and says, “I’m terrible at paying my bills. I don’t even know what I have. Please help me.” Should I have said no? I’ve learned this lesson before, in fact I’ve blogged about it on my business blog. If someone says, “This is all I have,” they will not have the money to pay you. In the case of this miserly client, he has money he’s just not managing it well. Could I have known that he was someone to take advantage of services without being willing to pay because he shops at Goodwill when he could shop at Macy’s? I don’t know. I shop at the 99ct Store and I shop at Whole Foods. I could relate to him on that.
I don’t know that there’s an answer here. I’ve been feeling unreliable because I don’t know where recovery from this creative block will lead me. I wonder if feeling vulnerable and exposed is directly related to letting people down.