The privilege of writing for people’s lives

One of my loyal clients (I will him call Dan) came to me last week with a personal project, a letter expressing his love to a dear friend that he needed edited the same day. Dan suggested a price point of $40-$60. Since he is a valued client and someone I expect to work with for a long time, and because I felt incredibly privileged to read this heartfelt letter, I told him $40 would be fine. I edited the letter and sent it to him, and he was very happy with the result. The report is that the recipient cried (in a good way).

Unexpected generosity

The next thing I knew, I had received $50 in my PayPal account: $10 and 25% more than I had quoted to Dan. “You deserve every penny,” he wrote.

This surprise overpayment scenario has happened once before. When I forgot to bill a client for all the services he had received, I called him to tell him I had made a mistake. He very graciously agreed to pay for the unbilled service and to send a check that week. Two weeks later I had not received his payment, so I wrote to him to let him know. When I received the check, it was for $25 more than the amount of the invoice. A thank you note was enclosed, appreciating some “extra” work we had done for his LinkedIn summary that was beyond our usual service.

What’s at the source of giving?

There are some commonalities between these two true stories that struck me:

  1. In both situations, I had given something to the clients in the past that was above and beyond their expectations. Rather than push to make an extra buck, I took care of the client.
  2. In scenario #1, I had charged a lower rate than the client was initially willing to pay; in scenario #2, I had previously reduced a bill based on a misunderstanding.
  3. In neither situation did I offer what I offered with any expectation of getting something back.
  4. Both clients were very happy with the results they received.
  5. Both clients were business leaders who excelled at building teams and taking care of their people.

As a relatively new business owner myself (and as a human being), taking care of people is a muscle I am constantly working to build. Having no children, I rely on my clients for opportunities to practice generosity—to “do the right thing.” I have many such opportunities (or challenges, depending on how you frame them). My clients, especially ones like the above who are already successful in business, are great teachers.

The challenge — the risk — the gift

Here’s the truth of the matter: If I am completely honest, I must own up to the fact that a part of me wants to get paid as much as possible, avoid “loss” at all costs, and essentially make demands that will benefit me in the short term.

But good business is about relationships, and about the long term. So the part of myself that I listen to is the part that knows exactly what to do to create good will. This part knows that good will is more valuable than a quick buck. It does not worry about being taken advantage of. It does not worry at all, in fact. It simply does what’s right.

Do I ever get taken advantage of for my generosity? Well yes. I have given people the benefit of the doubt and provided services without getting paid, and then had the client not pay. Recently I worked two hours for a client after she had paid me for one, and then she charged back the payment on her credit card. I do what I can to prevent these situations from happening; I require payment up front and always aim to deliver above and beyond expectations. And for my valued clients especially, I find ways to make them feel appreciated and cared for.

In exchange, every once in a while I am gifted with a short-term benefit as well as a long-term one. But it’s the long-term benefits that matter: Referrals from happy clients, repeat customers, and my integrity intact. These are the results I truly care about, and that will sustain my business for years to come.


  1. Bravo to you Brenda –

    My mother would call this the golden rule – treat others as you’d like to be treated yourself. I try to live it every day as well, and it will pay off in the nature and quality of your relationships long-term.

  2. Inspirational post, Brenda! You give some invaluable insight into building long-term sustainable relationships. I love when say “taking care of people is a muscle I am constantly working to build” because I can totally relate.

      • Michael (and of course to the beloved author, Brenda) – ‘the muscle’ metaphor really resonated with me too while appreciating such an ‘authentic’ prose that clearly allowed us a glimpse into the heart of “The Essay Expert”…thank you for the gift of this message, Brenda!

        So many quotes, befitting of you have come to my mind since you have bestowed your gifts and talents for our family’s gain and benefit – one of those I just recently shared with you – and yet, I can’t help but be reminded of another great author who countless thousands acknowledge “the great debt they owe Og Mandino for the miracle his words have wrought in their lives”…those would be my words for you Brenda to describe what the ‘pen to your hand’ has done in the lives of our family!

        Og Mandino, best selling author of ‘The Greatest Salesman in the World’, ‘University of Success’, ‘The Greatest Secret in the World’ and ‘A Better Way to Live’, must know you and wanted to convey your character – through instruction to others – when he wrote:

        “Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.”

        Thank you Brenda for all the tireless, creative and extraneous efforts that I know you come no where near being compensated for – nor have built into your service fees – that ensure ‘our lives will never be the same again’…figuratively and “literally”!

        May the road rise to meet you, may the wind be ever at your back…

        Lisa A. Bissonette

  3. I love it! Thank you Brenda for writing this article. I see more and more gratitude all around me, and I think it’s wonderful! What you describe in your article is what we believe in BNI, “Givers Gain”. When you give to others, you will receive back tenfold. I’m on day 24 of my gratitude challenge powered by SendOutCards. Today, I’m grateful for you, your integrity and friendship. Thank you.

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