Why guidelines in business matter [and what happens without them]

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I’ve decided communication guidelines in business are very much an afterthought.

Even if you’re an experienced small business owner or a freelancer, it’s rare to have guidelines for working together in place.

To be clear, guidelines in business are different to contract terms and conditions.

No, instead, they are a set of principles that clearly articulate how you communicate and work together with clients or customers. They provide the foundation of mutually respectful and healthy client relationships that allow you to serve well, maintain posture, and realise the intended project objectives.

Guidelines in business inform others: This is what you can expect from me and this is what I expect from you, because business relationships, like all relationships are a two-way street.

Why would you even care about guidelines in business? I mean, isn’t it enough to effect a transaction and be done with it, especially if the client or customer is someone you’d rather not see again?

Let me just say this (do I sound like a politician?), I used to think this way too. But something happened.

Like I made a couple of mistakes.

And they cost me $10k.

Guidelines in business mean: I mean business [not I’m mean in business]

If 2020 is the year of ‘great awakening’, then 2019 was about getting the signs. At least it was for me.

Early on in the Year of the Signs, I found myself working on a website project like any other, or so I thought.

Involving what seemed like countless others, including the website developer, SEO experts, digital marketing peeps, and graphic designers, it was a BIG project with a ridiculous turnaround timeframe, but we were all onboard.

The only catch – everything hinged on the content (aka me).

Now, I am very particular about confirming the client brief, however this one expanded from the original agreed with the client (it was a sign).

Even so, I took the usual care to go back with details of the updated brief so we remained on the proverbial same page.

The second sign that things weren’t right was the pressure from the client, which skyrocketed lightning fast from relaxed-Gold-Coast-entrepreneur-vibe to antsy-venture-capitalist-with-a-super-important-deadline.

I don’t know about you, but I never do my best work when I’m threatened.

The physiological state we’re in under these conditions – the classic fight or flight – while ideal for navigating an emergency, is entirely unsuitable for being creative. In fact, it is virtually impossible to mine your creative genius in that state.

But despite this, I pressed on.

Maybe you’ve done that too. Seen the signs and kept going.

How did it work out for you?

I’ve done this more times than I care to think about it, but a couple of expensive wake up calls put paid to this approach.

Here’s the thing. Even though I had the signs – and I had a super strong sense this was not going to end well – I didn’t have the courage to make the call, that is, to pull up stumps.

I worried about the other contractors on the project. After all, I didn’t want to leave them ‘in it’.

The project had been a referral and I didn’t want to appear ungrateful by blowing off the client.

Gosh, I even felt bad for the VC. I mean, what would he do if I didn’t write his content? His entry into the US market would be a failure all because of me.

Wrong!

I needn’t have worried. In the end, everyone was stitched up by this guy. We even found A Current Affair footage of him in a past life stitching other people up. Note to self: Vet all new clients for past appearances on ACA.

Honestly, I can tell you exactly where I was when I nearly pulled out of this job.

I can also share with you where I was when I agreed to continue.

This decision cost me over $5k. And it cost everyone else on the project too.

Here’s why.

I went against my better judgment. I didn’t stick to what I knew was right for me. I didn’t call it. And I didn’t have any guidelines.

If I did, things could have been a whole lot different, because guidelines in business are a reference point for the inevitable ‘hard conversations’ that come up in business.

I could have had the hard conversation – and saved myself, and everyone else.

Avoid communication confusion: Use your guidelines

The guidelines I now use were developed through experiences like the one I described above – and the one I’m about to share with you.

Clients are people too, right? Yes, you’re stating the obvious, Macushla.

So that means they can present with the full spectrum of human behaviour. They can be rude, disrespectful, show up late or not at all, not read the work you create for them, pay late or not at all (thank you Mr VC), tell you they know better, and on it goes.

When this happens, we can end up second guessing ourselves, doubt the value of our work, feel stressed, start looking for ‘real jobs’, feel intimidated, and fall out of alignment with our purpose. We might even blame, criticize, and judge our client.

On the other hand, if we begin a project as we mean to go on, that is, by sharing guidelines for communicating and working together, it creates a level playing field.

It shows our client, I respect you enough to communicate directly and transparently and I expect you to do the same. That’s just how things roll when we communicate consciously .

Well, it seems one particular client didn’t get that memo. And although he received a very clear brief and excellent content for his 45+ page website, he chose not to read any of it, until the eleventh hour – and after his business partner had approved it all.

Now you’re probably thinking, Macushla, there were two business partners. Surely you thought to check with both of them.

Seriously, I did think that – and I did check with them both. And even though I had the ‘okay’ to proceed, I found out it wasn’t okay. Must have missed the memo.

Truthfully, early on there was a sign or two that pointed to miscommunication (between the partners), but I let it go. In fact, I remember the first meeting.

That slight niggle? Yup, totally ignored it. 

More fool me.

This error of judgment ended up at just shy of $5.5k.

Which brings me to the point of this blog.

The Guidelines are an invaluable tool

I am now an enthusiastic advocate for establishing – and maintaining – clear guidelines in business.

On. Every. Project.

With the benefit of experience, I can say with confidence, these guidelines are an invaluable tool for implementing and holding boundaries in professional relationships. And we all have those if we’re in business.

I’m so enthusiastic about these guidelines that I created a product and creatively called it The Guidelines.

After sharing them with several fellow freelancers who’d received ‘the signs’ but not known what to do about them, I figured there’s probably some value in this.

And the good news?

The guidelines can work in reverse too.

If you’re a business owner who engages freelancer creatives, there’s a chance you’ve been disappointed and let down. I know I have been – and paid for it.

On creative projects, you can share your own guidelines for working together, to avoid the disappointment, frustration, and rework that leaves you wondering Where did it all go wrong?

In the coming weeks, I’ll be releasing The Guidelines to a broader audience. If you think it could help you as a business owner or freelancer, I’d love to hear from you. And you will love how you feel when you’ve managed that tricky situation with confidence, posture, and respect.

And that, surely, is the foundation of all conscious communication.

Can’t wait for The Guidelines?

No problem. Why not download this free guide for growing your business as a purposeful freelancer committed to creating conscious content. 

Macushla Collins is a content coach. She provides written content and one-to-one coaching for business owners, content creators and  technical professionals. You can connect with Macushla via the contact form or on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram.

4 Comments
  • Excellent Cush ,

    So relatable and honest . I am sure many people will be saying ” I done that there and there and there .. Ha ha

    Very well written and explained outlining the absolute need for Business Guidelines …

    Also the money , time and anguish associated with not having them in place .

    Thank you for the reminder to have these in place in all situations even in personal situations , especially with family member in which many I feel would not think the needed them . Plus at your suggestion to have guidelines, has given me the ability to go back to any people that are bucking the system . Roslyn Saunders

    • Thank you for your comments, Roslyn. They are very much appreciated.

      So true too that this approach can be applied in other areas of life where we feel challenged to set and hold boundaries. Knowing what we’re prepared to tolerate is a great starting point.

  • Very sound advice, most importantly demonstrating learning from the pain of experience, as you set the prosperous path forward. All strength to you. Great the way you are mindful of your team of collaborators and the impact failed clients have on them as well.

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