By Jake Poinier
If you’re a parent, or have had any contact whatsoever with five-year-olds, or were yourself born sometime since 1985, you’re likely familiar with Laura Joffe Numeroff’s If You Give a Mouse a Cookie book series. (The favorite in our household was If You Give a Moose a Muffin.)
The basic principle is the cascade of escalating demands that occurs once you start giving in to someone of a needy-bossy persuasion: After you give the mouse a cookie, he’ll want some milk to go with it…and if he’s got a glass of milk, surely he’ll need a straw to drink it…and before you know it, you’re running around trying to oblige his newest request and the house is in a shambles.
IYGAMAC also happens to be the favorite business book of one of the most successful salespeople I know in the custom publishing business. He deals in six- and seven-figure projects, so he’s well aware of the temptation to sweeten the pot for potential clients — one easy concession surely leads to another, until suddenly you’ve got a contract that’s a lot more complicated and a lot less profitable.
For freelancers, the escalating demand dynamic often occurs in the form of scope creep or mission creep. It’s very common for a client to test your limits on how many itty-bitty revisions you’ll do for free, how short a deadline you’ll accept without rush charges, or how many changes in project direction you can stomach without going postal.
Each of us needs to manage cookie-craving clients in our own way, but in the simple spirit of IYGAMAC, here are a few thoughts to keeping the lid on the cookie jar till it’s appropriate:
- Define policies in your contract or estimate. You can only negotiate things in writing, never he-said-she-said.
- Set expectations early. Your behaviors at the beginning of a client relationship speak volumes about how you’re going to be to work with. I aim for something along the lines of firm-but-fair.
- Don’t be a fool about it. I’m personally a lot freer with cookies when it comes long-term, loyal clients (who’ve earned them) or high-paying clients (who are paying for them) — not just any random mouse or moose who happens upon my doorstep.
Check out Jake’s most recent Dr. Freelance article: “The real freelance minimum wage.”