Is it wrong to send your client a nasty letter?

How do you handle the frustration of a client who loads you up with work, expects add-ons to be freebies then stiffs you?  Most solopreneurs would throw their hands up in the air in defeat, but not Frank Jonen.  Frank did something different that’s sparked a highly emotional conversation on the web.

You suck- in big bold letters

What did Frank do, you ask?  Well, after repeated attempts to get paid, he took matters into his own hands.  Frank replaced his client FitnessSF website with a little nasty-gram that aired their payment woes.  You can see a copy of the page as well as read the copy on the Adweek site.

Frank exercised his anger, stress and disapproval in the most public way he could.  He put it on the web.  People are speculating on whether this move will make him a digital worker rockstar or just plain unemployable.  I’m betting on the latter. Frank broke trust and acted unprofessionally.  That leaves a mark, one that will be found anytime a prospective client googles his name.  If he did this to one client, what’s to stop him from doing it to you?  Frank threw away his credibility and trustworthiness.

Two wrongs don’t make a right

Before I even get to Frank though, I have to say that the comments totally freak me out.  The groupthink is astounding.  The facts haven’t all been revealed yet people are taking sides with Frank, the business owner, and vilifying the client.  Reminds me of Frankenstein where the townsfolk turn into an angry mob with torches that chase him. Very scary, dangerous way of thinking.

To be clear, I absolutely think Frank had a right and responsibility to speak up to his client about non-payment. (I’m not getting into the gritty details of the matter or suggesting how this could have been resolved here.)  You deserve to be paid well  for your talents. There’s no debate about that. Let’s talk about how Frank communicated.

What Frank could have done better was respond instead of react. 

Trashing your client’s website cause you’re mad about not being paid is reacting.  Understandable but not productive at all.  I’m sure Frank felt a sense of accomplishment and vindication when he pushed the publish button.  Who wouldn’t?  But if his goal was to get paid I fail to see how his actions helped him reach it.

Honestly, a visual flashed when I was reading about this.  A couple of two year olds on the playground.  One grabs a toy, the other grabs it back.  I wonder if Frank meant to say to FitnessSF, ‘You tried to ruin my business. Now, I’m gonna ruin yours. So, there!’  Frank felt betrayed and instead of finding a more productive way to deal with his emotions, he reacted.

Respond openly

It’s more productive and easier to respond than react.  The dictionary defines react this way:

  1. Respond with hostility, opposition, or a contrary course of action to: “they reacted against the elite art music of their time”.

Reacting is taking your response up a notch, in terms of aggression.  It takes more negative energy and leads to one-upsmanship.  Worse, it doesn’t solve the problem!  You’ll know you’re having a reaction if your solution to a client problem is driven by highly charged negative emotions (anger, hurt, betrayal, frustration, manipulation, resentment or irritation) and doesn’t help you reach your stated goal.

Reacting is muddy communication. The message is chockablock with extra stuff like fold-in ice cream.  Responding is clear communication.

Responding takes you through a thought process so you can separate what you feel from what you do and clarify what your goal really is.

 How do you respond?  It’s easy.  You slow down.  Take a moment or several to step back, examine your emotions and decide what you want to see happen.  I can teach you how in nothing flat.  The hard part, of course, is practicing it daily.

I’m not gonna lie.  Responding well does take practice.  Yet it’s something that I believe mature solopros must master if you’re serious about living the life you want.  There will always be someone doing or saying something you prefer they didn’t.  You want to build your emotional intelligence and conflict ‘muscles’ so you can flex when you need to.

What about Frank?

Who’s to say what the fallout will be?  Some folks will call Frank a hero.  Others will not.  He’ll attract some clients and repel others.  Could be a wash.  I wonder if all this attention will end up obscuring what Frank actually does for work (he’s a graphic designer, did you remember that?)

Have you ever been ‘Frank’?  What would you do in this situation?  Would you hire Frank after this?

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