Ms. Fix It and I have been friends since I was young. As the oldest of six children being raised by a single mom, I was often included in trying to problem solve issues related to my siblings or the house. After a while, Ms. Fix It became a permanent part of my life. When I got married, Ms. Fix It became Mrs. Fix It.
I knew from I was in middle school that I was called to serve. My brain was always filled with fun and creative ideas for helping others. My most memorable high school experience was volunteering at a Pregnancy Clinic. I often went beyond the call of duty and volunteered longer hours than expected. The Director would always comment that she wish she had the money to pay me. I was always ready to volunteer to fix a problem, even if I was not asked to do so.
As a business owner, my personality followed me into me business. I had to learn (and am still learning) to set boundaries for myself when it comes to giving my time, money and talents away in the never ending pursuits of Mrs. Fix It. If I did not seek out guidance, a mentor and a coach, I would constantly find myself making decisions that frustrate me or cost my business accounts dearly.
In this blog, I share one of my most embarrassing business stories. Writing this blog has allowed me to finally let this mistake go. Read and heed! Don't say I did not warn you!
A few years back, shortly after being laid off from my job, I took on a nonprofit client that needed help developing their fundraising and sponsorship efforts. I formulated a contract and sent it to them for their signature. After all signatures were in place, I started my work.
Going good so far, right? Don't worry, it goes south after this.
Within days of taking on this project, I realized that there were structures, policies and supports that needed to be in place in order for the outcomes of my project to be most beneficial to my client. I expressed my observations to the Executive Director and offered to FIX the issues free of charge.
Yup! Free of charge. I didn't even update the contract. I trusted this organization. There was no need to complicate issues by drafting another contract. Ain't nobody got time for that!
The troubles started when my payments became increasingly late. There were periods when I went two months without payment. My work never stopped. I would include the late fee as outlined in the contract on each subsequent invoice, but my client paid the base amount and never paid the late fee. I eventually stopped putting the late fee on the invoices. They were a small nonprofit. Maybe they did not have the money. Who knows, perhaps working with them would lead to other nonprofit gigs, right?
ANOTHER BAD MOVE!
Towards the end of the contract, I decided to do a donor mailing for my client. This was also done free of charge. The client provided stamps and envelopes, but I wrote the letter, stuffed and mailed the envelopes. For some reason, I put the wrong return address on 100 of the 400 envelopes. I caught the error quickly, informed my client, made the necessary changes to the remaining envelopes and contacted the organization whose address I used in error. I assured the organization that I would make arrangements to have someone grab any mail that came to their offices with my client's name on it. To my surprise, approximately 75 of the 100 envelopes mailed using the wrong return address was returned by the post office. The addresses provided by my client were incorrect.
I finished the terms of my contract...plus some. At the final meeting with the organization, I discussed my project report, submitted a travel drive with all the letters, databases, plans, etc. I had created and asked about my final check (which was 2 months late...again). At the conclusion of the meeting, after submitting all my work, I was informed that my final check was docked $500 because I put the wrong address on 100 envelopes. I was floored!
Say what?! Come again?!
I was being docked 50% of one month's payment because of an error that occurred during a task that was unrelated to my contract? I was being docked after waiting two months to get paid? I was bring docked after completing ALL the terms of the contract? I was being told this information AFTER I had submitted all my work?
I was heated, embarrassed, ashamed and short with my pay! I felt like a fool on the inside. On the outside, I decided to keep my cool. After all, I wasn't going to show that my dignity had been affected. I expressed my dissatisfaction with the manner in which my compensation was handled. The organization would not back down. I left. I swore I would sue. How dare they?
I huffed and puffed and almost blew an artery. I cried and cried.
After calming down and doing some self reflection, I realized that Mrs. Fix It had taught me some invaluable lessons:
Lesson #1: You need to respect the terms of your own contract. If you don't respect or enforce the terms of your contract, how can you expect a client to do so? Contracts are in place to protect and hold both parties accountable. Even work that is being done for free needs to be outlined in a contract or Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Every change in the terms of a contract should be documented and signed by both parties. If you choose to disregard the terms of your contract, you should make yourself ready to deal with all consequences.
Lesson #2: Don't be afraid to walk away from a contract. That's what your contract's termination clause is for. There are some contracts that are just not worth it. Grant it, some contracts are more difficult than others. Your challenges should not be related to the seriousness or respect your client gives to the work that you are doing. Your time is important. The work you are doing for your client is important.
Lesson #3: Value yourself and the work that you do. Many new business owners struggle with setting prices that reflect the true value of their products and services. Confidence is important in business. Lack of confidence costs money. Lack of confidence leaves money on the table. Lack of confidence leaves you feeling frustrated. Remember, your skills & expertise are priceless! Others may have the same skill or expertise as you; however, no one can do what you do quite like you.
Lesson #4: Never...Never give a client a product without final or full payment. If payment is not received per the agreement of your contract, you are not obligated to provide the final product to the client. You do not want the headache of chasing down a client for payment after they have received their product. Avoid the headache and possibly a lawsuit by clearly outlining the timeline for payments in your contract.
I am so glad that I learned these lessons when I only had $500 at stake. Even though that $500 felt like thousands at the moment, the situation could have been worse.
As with anything else in life, you have to take the good with the bad. You must learn from both and become a better, stronger, more viable person...and business owner.
Have you ever had a similar business experience? What do you have in place to make sure contracts are honored?
I would love to hear from you!
Whenever someone says, "you should be so proud of yourself!" I normally nod my head and quietly say "yeah I am." Truth is, I struggle with being proud of all my accomplishments. Most people who know me will be very surprised by this confession because I have managed to accomplish quite a bit during my 35 years on earth. However, reaching a goal and being PROUD of reaching a goal are two completely different things. Yes, I work hard. Yes, I have a high school diploma, Bachelors degree, Masters degree and am a Certified Public Manager (CPM). I have started a Foundation that has completed two international mission trips since it's inception last year. I am a mother, wife, oldest sister, friend, mentor and secret keeper (shhhh). I am, well was, quite active in my church. I sit on the Board of two nonprofits. I successfully started and am running a growing business...and the list goes on and on. Yet, in all these academic, social and philanthropic accomplishments, I feel extremely guilty about feeling proud of myself.
Case in point, several months back I was named as one of the Top 100 Women in Maryland. I posted my honor on Facebook once. I told my really good friend, Nayvette, and she was wondering why I was not making a big deal about this. She said, "Rachel! Have you seen the list of women you are named with?!! There are doctors, lawyers, judges, etc. listed and YOU are listed just as distinguished as they are!!! I am so proud of you!!! Think about all that you have accomplished! All your hard work has paid off! You should be shouting this from the rooftops!" I sat on the phone astounded. What the heck was this girl talking bout? Shouting from the rooftops? No way, I am not boastful like that. Hey-llloowww! Humility is the key! Nayvette, rightfully so, was baffled by my response. She asked me, "aren't you proud of yourself?"
Wowser! The million dollar question.
Why? Why do I feel this way? Is this a challenge of most women? Is this a challenge of black women? Do Christian women around the world feel this way? Is it the oldest child syndrome? Am I insecure? Do I have issues? Why?
Over the last few months, while working with my therapist and business coach, I have slowly begun to uncover my 'Why'. Let me tell you, the discussions have been brutally uncomfortable. There are times when I squirm in my seat like a Kindergarten child caught being naughty. One of the assignments I received in my therapy and coaching sessions was to start a gratitude list and each day write down one thing I have accomplished of which I am proud. A gratitude list? Easy peasy! Proud of myself list? Well, I cringed at the thought of writing down my accomplishments or having to feel proud of myself. Where should I begin?
As the days ticked by one after the other, my 'I am proud of me because' list got longer and longer. I started my list with easy button items, you know, 'I am proud of myself for being a good mom', ' I am proud of myself for trusting in God', yadda yadda. Then, I slowly and reluctantly challenged myself to write down the items that made me feel guiltiest. Suddenly..walah! I started feeling proud. It wasn't an 'I am better than anyone else' proud. It was a 'look at the woman you have become' proud. A 'despite your challenges. Despite what people thought. Despite what should have been' proud. I smiled several times as I read back over my list and thought back on how I made it through each accomplishment.
So, where or when did the guilt of feeling proud of myself originate?
Let's start at the beginning. When you grow up in a strict Christian home, well Pentecostal to be exact, humility is your crowning glory. As a Christian woman, you are taught to be meek, homely, quiet and subdued. You are taught to wait for God to promote you as self promotion is a true sign of pride. Matter of fact, pride comes before a fall (Lucifer's fall from grace is often used as an example of pride leading to a fall). Additionally, your feeling of pride about your accomplishment is often confused with boasting and haughtiness, especially if others feel insecure or inadequate about your show of pride. Now mind you, it is perfectly okay to celebrate, boast about and cheer on the accomplishment of others. Matter of fact, that is one of the signs of humility- when you can back seat your success and front seat the success of others without jealousy or bitterness. Besides humility, I was also to be satisfied with where I was and what I had because there were others who had or accomplished less.
Ironically, I was also taught that I am fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God. An awesome, omnipotent, omnipresent, faithful God who created the world in six days, looked it over and said, "It is good!" I am created by a God who has a plan for me to prosper and a perfect purpose for my life. I serve a God who takes pleasure in his children doing good. So why am I inherently taught to be afraid and guilty to be proud of myself?
I would often write my ideas down, day dream or even dream (like when I fall asleep dream) about so many things I wanted to do. I thought, "I have all this talent, brains, purpose and creativity bottled up, but I am afraid to use them to their full potential because someone may think or say, 'You are getting too big for your britches'. Or 'you're getting a big head'. Or 'you sure are becoming high and mighty'. Or 'so you think you are better than...?'" These thoughts would consume me.
How can I raise my son to take pride in his accomplishments, if I can't even bring myself to look at my own accomplishments on paper? How can I have price my service and products appropriately if I under value my knowledge and expertise? How can I coach other business owners through their feelings of inadequacy if I am not ready and willing to face my own insecurities? How can I reach my full potential in serving God if I am not allowing Him to transform my thoughts?
Then my thought process starting to change. Thanks to my gratitude and I am proud of me because...journal. The Bible encourages us to renew our minds. I like the New Living Translation's translation of Romans 12:2, "Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you in to a new person by changing the way you THINK. Then [and only then] you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect."
POW! I'mma run and tell that!
I write this blog to put myself on notice that things are going to change 'round here! In the words of Sam Cooke, "It's been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come." I am lining up my mind with God's purpose for my life. I am hoping you, my readers, will hold me accountable.
Life is not about being perfect. It is about living a life that is perfect for me.
I still struggle with coming to terms with my success and truly being proud of myself. However, I am a bit more proud of myself today than I was yesterday. I expect that tomorrow, I will be a bit more proud of myself than I am today. And the next day...and the next day.
Will you join me? What are you proud of about yourself?