Let me tell you a story…one that may feel slightly familiar…

Once upon a time, I was working with a new client who begged me to start work before receiving a deposit. He promised the check would arrive in “just a couple weeks.”

One week after he needed me to finish his project. Which means I’d complete the entire gig before getting paid a dime.

Normally, I’d refuse and say that I don’t start writing without a retainer.  But in this case, the client had a sob story about annoying accounts payables processes and his boss with unrealistic deadlines. Plus, he was the friend of a friend, so I figured it would be OK.   

“I’m doing this to be nice,” I told myself. “Of course it will work out.”

Yup. You know what happened. I turned in the work, the client ignored my invoice, and I never got paid.

So much for “being nice.”

I hear stories like this ALL THE TIME when I’m coaching freelance writers…

“I discounted my rates…to be nice.” 

“I didn’t charge for my time…to be nice.”

“I took on a rush project without charging a rush fee…to be nice.”

Or, in the case of my in-house writing friends…

“My colleague asked me to take on her project because she didn’t have time. I did it…to be nice.”

“My boss begged me to work one weekend…and I did it to be nice. Now, it’s turning into multiple weekends.”

Sound familiar?

“Being nice” does not serve you — knowing your value does.

Here’s the thing…

It’s easy to think (especially if you’re a woman) that you have to accommodate others’ needs at the expense of your own.

For some of us, this is almost hardwired. We bend over backwards to do anything we can for another person. Even if that messes with our health, money and sanity.

Unfortunately, this carries into the business world where being nice has a hard cost.

  • Discounting our rates = we make less money for the same work.
  • Not charging for a rush fee = we work overtime at great expense to ourselves –and without any benefit to us or our business. 
  • Taking on another colleague’s work = you have less time to focus on your own projects, which means you may not do them as well.

See the pattern? You’re not “being nice.” You’re costing yourself money, stressing yourself out, and probably wondering, “How did I get into this situation?”

Well, unfortunately, this one is 100 percent on you. (And yes, we’ve all been there.)

While this isn’t necessarily a bad trait (after all, nice is good!), it can get us into trouble from a business perspective.

When I ask people to track their “I’m being nice” time, folks are shocked by how much time they’re spending — and money they’re losing — by accommodating other people.

One person realized she had lost around $1,000 in things because she did little one-off projects for her client “to be nice.” She may have only spent 20 minutes here and 10 minutes there, but that time adds up.

Fast.

So not only did she lose money by being nice, her freebie work sucked up time she could have spent on a paying client.

Ouch.

What’s more, we teach people how we want to be treated. If we’re always doing rush jobs for free, or coming in on our weekends, or waiving our fees…what are our clients going to expect?

Yup. OF COURSE you’ll say “yes” to their request. 

That’s why it’s hard to set boundaries late in the game. Once you set that expectation, the other person may not take it well when you start kicking back.

Ask yourself, “What will this cost me?”

Sure, there are those times when being nice is 100 percent appropriate. If you know your client is having a family emergency, waiving a no-show fee makes sense.

For those other times…

Before you say, “Yes, of course I can X,” take a pause and ask yourself…

“What will this cost me?”

Those five words can put a lot in perspective. 

You may not mind a quick rush job for a client —  if you’re paid a rush fee. Otherwise, giving up your nights and your weekend may not be worth it.

You may not be as quick to tell a new, untested client, “Sure, I’ll start your project without a retainer.” Especially if you know it may mean working for free.

Slicing your rates may not seem like such a good idea, anymore. Especially if you have other clients willing to pay your rates.

Your time (and sanity) is so important. Don’t give it away just to “be nice.”

Especially when setting clear boundaries is good business.

And yes, it’s OK to tell the other person, “I need to think about it,” if you’re asked to do something you may not want to do. That way, you don’t feel pressured in the moment — and you can come up with a kind, measured response.

What do you think? 

Want to share your own “I did it to be nice” horror story? Leave a comment and tell me all about it. We’ve all been there. Really