Most Basic Policy

When Nancy Becher, the publisher of Small Biz Forward, asked me to write an article about policy, I almost said I don’t have anything for you this month. I’m not much of a policy and operations management type of person.

Then I remembered a discussion with a client who missed an appointment last week and decided that you can learn from my mistakes. Typically in my contract I let my clients know that if they cancel at the last minute without an emergency, their pre-paid session is considered used. I can’t re-schedule billable hours on a moment’s notice.

Someone said “Your failure to plan is not my emergency.”

Here’s where I made my mistake. This client had been a client some years before. At that time, I signed the client to a coaching agreement and the clarity for this policy was in writing.

This time around, the guy called me up and scheduled several meetings, sent a check, and we began working together. I made the mistake of assuming that he knew the drill. And in fact he does know the drill, but I hadn’t asked him for a renewed agreement, I just started working with him again. So I didn’t have a lot of ground to stand on ethically (let alone legally) to ask him to pay for the session he missed. I told him I assumed that he remembered “the drill” from earlier, but really it had been several years.

He did not have an emergency. He had just overbooked himself with too much to do in too little time, and his coaching session was the bit that got thrown out. Some might ask whether he’s getting much value out of a coaching relationship if that’s the thing he forfeits when the schedule gets too intense. But the reality is that he told me “I would have taken it more seriously if I’d known I was going to lose money.” That’s actually a good reason for the policy – it protects and preserves my billable hours. My goal is not to keep someone’s money for an hour of services I didn’t perform! It’s to remind people that the services I perform are valuable to them, because my real goal is to serve.

There’s the reason for policy. It’s not that the coaching is take-it-or-leave-it for him. In fact, we had a session this morning I’m confident was deeply impacting, so if anything, the policy helps the client remember that they’re losing money AND impact when they miss a meeting.

Bottom line is this: I may be a visionary, not an Ops guy. I may not have a lot of things organized to the hilt, but certain things are critical. It behooves me as the seller in the relationship to bring clarity to what I’m selling. I’m the one who risks damaging the relationship if I don’t do it, and that’s just stupid when you’re the seller. It’s your opportunity to learn from my mistake.

Know what’s critical for your business, what your customers need so they can purchase without confusion, and give it to them. A contract or agreement with expectations for your work together is the most basic of all policies. Some things to consider: Do you need to be paid in advance? Is there anything you can repossess? Because if it’s a service like coaching you really have no way of retracting the value you delivered. What is your client expected to do? What’s expected of you? What’s the agreed-upon recourse if one of you cannot meet the expectations or deadlines? What are the limitations of your expectations, and where does additional pay come in for added services or value? If you offer a money-back guarantee, you’d best have the money set aside somewhere! If you were the client, what other clarity would you appreciate?


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The author lives in Goshen, Indiana with his wife and four children. He is self-employed as a leadership coach working with business executives, writers and other artists, and spiritual leaders. His clients enjoy business growth, increased vision and purpose, work/family lifestyle balance, and freedom from writer’s block.

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