Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys

A hilarious look at how to set with client boundaries. Does your client try to hand you a fat scope monkey? Guest author Michelle Hunter provides a unique illustration for how to deal with clients that want to give you more than you bargained for.

I’ve embraced this happy little Polish proverb as my own, even though I’m not Polish. It means not my problem, not my drama, not my crazy, not my issue, not my work.

As a creative entrepreneur, I spend a lot of time working closely and collaboratively with clients. I’m a copywriter… and my projects often feel quite a bit like those design projects you enjoy. The client comes to me with a vision. They tell me all about it… and then expect me to bring it to life.

They pay me to write in their voice – to share their ideas with the world – and to amplify their message in a way that expands their reach, their audience, and their revenue. They want me to work magic and miracles… and I (quite honestly) set the expectations high. Magic is something I want to deliver… You can relate to this, right?

In a perfect world, magic happens. But – this world isn’t perfect, really. No matter how hard I try, I’m not anyone’s fairy godmother or special enchantress. I just don’t have that much power.

That’s why…

I’ve learned to identify my monkeys. It’s liberating. You should try it.

Every project I work on begins with a conversation about scope. Scope is my monkey. It’s the work I’ve promised to do, nothing more and nothing less.

I used to skim over the scope conversation because it can be awkward. I would assume I understood. I didn’t ask all the questions I need to ask. I just looked at my Scope Monkey from a distance, understanding the basics and ignoring the details. Not good.

Now I look my Scope Monkey over carefully. I hold his hand, get to know how he sounds, and think about every detail of his little furry self. My clients are invited to meet the scope monkey and together we spend time playing with him.

Sometimes my clients try to give me a different Scope Monkey – one that’s fatter, annoying, or more demanding – right in the middle of the project. They’ve decided that this new scope monkey is more friendly…and fits their needs just a bit better. But, because I know our original scope monkey so well, I’m able to quickly reject the imposter.

Playing with a new scope monkey costs more money. My clients can introduce new monkeys to the project if they like… but I’m going to expand my fees to make room.

Other monkeys come around me from time to time. I’m very familiar with the Delay Monkey, for instance. Clients send him to me when they can’t make time to review my work, can’t find information I need, or have trouble making up their minds.

Delay is not my monkey but I usually don’t mind him. He doesn’t smell too bad and he’s generally well behaved. I accommodate him when I can. Sometimes, however, he messes up my schedule. When he makes a big stink, everything needs to pause while we clean things up.

Since delay is my client’s monkey, he’s my client’s problem. I wait patiently while they deal with their delay monkey and then fit their project in when I can. Of course, sometimes that costs more. 😉

My favorite monkey is the Creativity Monkey. He lives in my office and he helps me with my work. When he’s interested and awake he is amazing. He’s fun and the time I spend with him flies by. We have a wonderful time… and my calendar has lots of time blocks reserved just for him.

I love my Creativity Monkey, but he can be trouble. He wants to play hide and seek when I’m facing tight deadlines. Sometimes he gets tired of a project and refuses to come out to play. If I forget to feed him he sulks and won’t help me at all. It’s pretty frustrating… but it’s not my problem to solve.

Creativity is my monkey. It’s my job to nourish him, encourage him, and play with him regularly if I want him to work with me.

Since creativity is my monkey, I can’t ask my clients to deal with him. He’s not their problem. I can’t use him as an excuse to miss a deadline. It’s not fair to expect my clients to bear the consequences when he misbehaves. Sometimes I just have to work without him.

Now that I’ve learned to identify my monkeys, I’m better at communicating with my clients. My boundaries are clear to me and I don’t feel guilty about keeping them. If my clients don’t like my boundaries, I guess that’s not my circus, not my monkeys.

Are monkeys running wild in your business? Tell me about it. I’d love to help you get the chaos under control.
A hilarious take on the constant struggle with clients going out of scope during freelance design projects.

Author: Michelle Hunter

Michelle Hunter is a business strategist and copywriter with a gift for connecting entrepreneurs and their clients using great writing. She is a regular contributer to the DtD blog and co-creator of Designing Success Bootcamp - Helping designers create a strong marketing engine to power business growth. Visit MichelleHunterCreative.com to contact Michelle or learn more.

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