For Young Women Leaders, It's Time to Set Aside the “Nice” Card 

Today, we are pleased to welcome Elise Perkins, founder of ep communications, with a guest post.

“People work with who they like.”

That was one of the first pieces of advice I learned back when I was striking out on my own in 2014.

Great news, I thought. I’m a really nice person and I want to deliver good work for my clients. I want them to be happy, and I want to be happy.

This should work out swimmingly.

And mostly, for the past 2.5 years it has worked out. Entrepreneurship has allowed me to meld the best of both worlds: choosing work that I am interested and invested in, denying myself the horrors of commuting, and spending more time with my family.

It’s been…nice.

But 2017 has roared in with some obstacles that I’m now facing for the first time.

And nice just isn’t getting the job done.

Here’s what’s transpired:

A long-standing contract was not renewed when I returned from maternity leave.

I was acutely aware of what might happen to some clients once I decided to take some time to recover from childbirth and care for my newborn. I painstakingly attended to each client, setting them up with subcontractors as needed, working into my 40th week of pregnancy, and still being accountable. My family thought I was a bit crazy, but hey, I wanted to prove that I was still there for my clients. An annual contract had come due, and instead of resigning right away, my client (whom I do very much still like) told me to contact them when I was ready to reengage. No pressure, wonderful news. I could take the time I needed to rest, and then start back up in a few months. However, when it came time to “re-engage” there was suddenly no funds left to hire me back. As one of my biggest clients, that was a tough pill to swallow. I felt betrayed, taken advantage of, and vulnerable. All of the planning I had done to prepare myself and baby for me to begin working again were kaput.

A client stopped paying my invoices.

I’m working more and more with individuals who are trying to build their brands, and less with companies. I love it. With this sort of coaching, I feel like there is so much trust and personal interaction happening and my heart feels so full when I know that a client is feeling confident in their abilities. But in the past month, one such client has actually stopped responding to my emails, texts and phone calls. She’s stopped paying her invoices. Now, as a fellow mom and entrepreneur, this is stunning to me. Before you ask, yes, she is still alive and well. I know this because she posts to her Instagram account, daily. It’s the salt in a very deep wound. I always imagined that mutual respect was a covenant of this small business world, and I intend to preserve it from here on out. But lady, I need to get paid. Just like you.

So, what?

In the past six months I’ve been dealt a few hard blows. Perhaps you’ve been there too, or maybe its around the corner.

For all of us nice, young, dare I say naïve, female leaders – here are some new rules for 2017 and beyond:

  • Get it in writing. Contracts, estimates, you name it. In this feast or famine world, we all could use a bit of certainty.
  • Get paid up-front. Expect deposits on work at the beginning of a relationship. Just like you don’t have any problems buying items online before you receive them, clients should not have an issue putting down a little money for your services.
  • Keep the faith. I still work with a majority of awesome clients. I’m sure you do too.
  • It’s just business. I still wish the best for those who have done some unsavory things towards me…scratch that, towards my company. It’s not personal.

Elise Perkins founded ep communications in 2014 after cutting her teeth in the field of communications for Washington DC-based trade associations and think tanks during the financial crisis. Today, Elise builds brands for businesses and people, using a savvy mix of content and influencer strategies. She sits on the board of Washington Women in Public Relations. Elise lives with her husband and son in Maryland.