“I go above and beyond for my clients. I wish they knew how much I do for them.”


Kimberly is a trader.


Not a stock trader. Kimberly is a bookkeeper who trades services with her clients.


“I don’t charge that guy for his books,” she says, “because he clears my parking lot every winter.”


She has similar “trades” worked out for landscaping, car detailing, personal training, spa treatments, parking…


Kimberly is running out of cash, and she’s embarrassed by it. As a bookkeeper, she’s worried that her professional reputation will suffer if anyone thinks she’s mismanaging her money. But she’s not making math mistakes: she’s making relationship mistakes. Her trades are holding her cash flow hostage.


“I just need more clients,” she says. But she actually has a large caseload: at least in April, she’ll be working 14-hour days to finish her clients’ books before their tax returns are due.


Kimberly understands how to balance a bank account. She’s a wizard at spreadsheets. But she doesn’t understand value at all. At our first meeting, she described her strategy as “making deposits in our clients’ emotional bank accounts”–as if such a thing actually existed.


“All of these accounts know that I’m over-delivering for them, and they’ll never go anywhere else.”


I knew we were in for some hard work with Kimberly. But I like to start every client with some quick wins, so we turned to her strength: math.


First, we calculated the value of the work she was doing for them. On average, she was providing around $1500 of work per year ($125 per month for 12 months.) I thought that was low, especially given the extra work required in many cases. She showed me the bag of receipts–literally a plastic grocery bag crammed with receipts–that her “snowplow guy” dropped off at her door. Kimberly doesn’t charge an extra cent for these clients, even though it requires around 2 extra hours every month to sort the receipts and enter them into her software. But we’d have that conversation later.


I was too curious to resist this question, though: “On average, do the clients with whom you trade services generally bring you a well-organized list of transactions, or a plastic bag?” She thought about it. “Actually, I think more of my trades bring me the plastic bag–and I have to chase them for reports every month, too!”


She took this as a good sign: “They really, really need me! No one else will give them this much service! We have a great relationship!” I thought the opposite (that they didn’t actually value her time, and were taking advantage of her) but planned to raise that topic in a few weeks.


Next we calculated the value of the service they were providing to her.


In some cases, Kimberly wasn’t sure about the real prices her trades were charging, so we simply called and asked their rates. In every single relationship except one, Kimberly was providing far more value than what she was receiving. Her net dollar-for-dollar loss was over $825 per month. She was shocked.


But this is actually very common for entrepreneurs. Most new business owners open their practice to buy themselves a job. They’re not good at asking for money, and they believe that a healthy client relationship means “over-delivering” and “emotional bank accounts”. But that’s why money was invented: to make these transactions measurable.


The craziest example I’ve seen in my years as a mentor? One client was earning trading her monthly gym membership for office supplies. She was stealing the office supplies from work as needed. One month, her $150 CrossFit membership cost her five Dry Erase markers.


The first step with Kimberly was to call her trades and explain the new deal.


We made it easy: first, we called the single trade who was over-delivering, and insisted on paying for their service. That made it easy for her to make the next few calls. We also took the step of blaming the government: Kimberly was comfortable saying “If you and I got audited, we could be forced to pay back taxes on our relationship. It would be irresponsible of me to continue.”


Every single trade opted to continue, and none balked at the suggestion to bring her a VOIDed check so she could auto-bill them every month. In one afternoon, Kimberly eased a lot of her cash flow pressure.


Our next step was to address her rates and services. But before we could do the numbers work, we had to start with value. The real reason Kimberly was trading services was that she wasn’t confident in her true value. Using her own scope of reference–numbers–we mentored her to make immediate changes that would pay her more than $10,000 per year.