HomePersonal SituationWhen Operating your Side Business Remember to Value "You"

When Operating your Side Business Remember to Value “You”


As I have talked about I have a small trusts and estate law practice (read: really small, just a handful of clients) as a sort of side business to supplement, not supplant, my day job.  When I met with one of my first clients I told him the fee for his Will and Ancillary Documents, however, he was curious about additional secondary legal work.  I told him I would take care of a very small piece of it.  Let us fast forward a couple weeks.

After a couple weeks he still didn’t provide me with all the necessary information for his Last Will and Testament, but we had 5 or 6 lengthy conversations about the additional legal work.  These phone calls were the bane of my day and took 20 to 30 minutes a piece.  All uncompensated time for me.

I went back and forth about what to do with the client.  Do I cut him off completely as he didn’t respect what I thought our relationship was? Do I suck it up because I didn’t explain the boundaries of our relationship nor did I obtain a retainer agreement?  After yet another lengthy conversation about this secondary legal conundrum (completely unrelated to his Last Will and Testament) I made my decision.

I had to Value My Time During my Side Business

I decided to explain to him what was going on in my head and just put everything on the table.  I then explained it was his decision, and his decision alone, on how to proceed.  I explained what I thought our relationship was going to be (i.e. a transactional relationship associated with his estate planning), and that I could no longer take 25 minute phone calls about this secondary legal problem without compensation.

As I ended the phone call I told him point blank his choices:

  • I overnight him a retainer agreement with an hourly rate that I thought to be fair and I fix this secondary legal issue and this is completely separate from the already agreed upon price for the Will; OR
  • I completely divest myself from this secondary problem and complete his Will pursuant to our original conversation; OR
  • We part as friends, and I can recommend another attorney for all issues he may have.

After about week he called back today, and opted for the second option.  I had mixed emotions.  One part of me was very happy that we were moving forward with our original objective (oh, and he had that information he didn’t provide me with), but another part of me was kind of annoyed that he was willing to use my time when it was “free.”

I learned a very valuable lesson – it is my responsibility to try and define the relationship with the client, and if the client has a different view of what he or she needs then I have to adapt.

What are your thoughts? Do I handle this Correctly?



  1. I think you handled it very professionally, letting him know your thoughts without sounding too off-putting. It’s tough for us in professions that have hourly rates, since most employees are not required to fill out a time sheet every day.

    I run into the same thing sometimes when clients have me on the phone. If it starts getting long, they’ll jokingly (but probably with a hint of sincerity) say “I’m not going to be charged for this am I?” I usually say, “It depends”.

    Another option you could consider is a fixed fee arrangement for the other project. He could have all the phone calls, emails he wants but make sure to build it into the price.

    • I could have done a fixed fee situation, but was unsure how long the side project would take.

      It really was a lesson learned I guess.

  2. Interesting! I use to whimp out and help friend (and friends of friends) with the computer all the time. Sometimes they would bring me a box of donuts or give me a bottle of wine. But in many cases, it might take me half a day or more to recover their computer.

    So, now I only do free work for family, and refer friends to another friend that I have that charges for that type of work. I’ve learned that friends expect you to do things for free when you have a particular skill. Yeah, I admit if I’m at their house and they have an issue, I’ll sometimes look at the issue while drinking a beer with them. But I refuse to work a half a day or a full day for free just because they know me or whom I consider a friend…

    Life is short and I’d rather spend that time with my kids or apparently blogging 🙂

    • I get suckered into free computer work ALL THE TIME. Since it isn’t my main job I just run with helping friends and family. I can usually be bought with a 12 pack for that stuff.

      I just learned about it is AN AMAZING program check it out.

  3. Did you expect the phone calls for the secondary work to take so long?

    I think you handled it pretty well. You were hired for the will, but he asked about secondary work, and then you gave him options.

    He was taking up larger chunks of your time, but not really making progess. The only thing I can think of is that perhaps you should’ve discussed compensation for the secondary work after the 2nd or 3rd call. I’m sure you were already getting frustrated by then, right?

  4. I think you handled the situation very professionally!
    This is definitely something I have to deal with from time to time. I quite often have to explain that I keep a fairly regimented day-I have laid out my recommendations for them and the decision whether to proceed or not is completely theirs. I am available to answer questions, but please call my assistant and set an appointment or simply send me an email. Everyone that I’ve ever had to tell that to completely respects it and complies. Sometimes people mistake my being cordial with always being available, and I have to nip it as quickly as possible.
    Great job, and another great blog!

    • Hmmm interesting I can really see how Cordial and available can easily be confused by some people. Thanks for the comment

  5. You handled this situation 100% appropriately. Don’t beat up on yourself about letting these phone calls go on as long as they did – all of us who run businesses know that we have to be flexible and “go that extra mile” on occasion. But you put a stop to it as soon as it began to get out of hand – that’s the main thing!

  6. You handle it correctly – I don’t understand people who spend hours and hours creating some website and after year they are happy to reach $2 per month from Adsense. Taking a part time in McDonalds would bring them much more. But I guess it’s similar to lottery – we all heard about successful people, who turned their simple side businesses into golden egg laying goose.

    • I think creating websites is a lot like poker, you need some luck but there is a lot of skill also (wow, pretty deep right off the top of my mind).

  7. I’d say you handled it appropriately. It’s one thing to ask for a quick 5 minute consult, but another to usurp hours of your time. Least he could do is take you to happy hour and hit you up for free advice.

    • I did legal work for my boss-man once, and he I refused to take any cash especially since I did it on his dime anyway. I ended up with 2 bottles of scotch…SCORE

  8. I think you absolutely handled this situation correctly. However, I am an IT professional and the opinion of a fellow lawyer would obviously be much more appropriate.

    I do however think that multiple conversations for 20-30 minutes is obviously a billable item and this guy knew what he was doing – free legal advice. He milked it as long as he could.

    Wise move!

    • 100% milked it. The moment I told him the side project door closed he had the answers I needed to complete the will.

  9. Absolutely! You were amazingly patient to put up with the situation as long as you did.

    My tax lawyer charges me when I call her and ask her about whatever damnfool thing I can dream up. She waits until she’s done each year’s taxes to heave a gigantic bill at me. I think that’s only fair. She’s not in practice to hand out free advice, nor should she be.

    As a lawyer (and CPA), all you really have to sell is your time. Of course, your time possesses a great deal of value added: years of fancy education and (we hope) highly refined judgment. Giving away your time when a client calls about an ancillary question is like a grocer giving away a a bag of salad makings after a customer has bought a steak. When did you last get away with that at the local Safeway?

    Your approach was highly professional. Now you know to lay out that kind of groundwork at the outset of a client-professional relationship.

  10. Sounds like you did it well. I’m sure every small business goes through things like this as learning lessons. Now you know. The next client will have a different set of boundaries from you.


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