Study Says 87% of Small Businesses Lose Out on Income Due to ‘Friendly’ Clients

Published 30th Oct 2023 by Morgan Willmott

A new study by Yell reveals more than 85% of UK businesses could be losing out on almost £80 per appointment with ‘friendly’ clients, as a result of not charging for additional time spent . The research, which surveyed small business owners from across the UK, also reveals that 75% find it hard to set boundaries with their clients, with 98% replying to business queries during their personal time. Shockingly, of those who’ve attempted to set boundaries with their clients, 59% have been met with negative responses.

For small business owners, the line between personal and professional is much harder to define than for most employees, and new research by Yell has revealed that a staggering number of business owners are potentially losing out on hundreds of pounds a week as a result. The study surveyed over 250 small business owners in the UK (up to 50 employees). 

With 75% of small business owners stating they find it hard to set boundaries with their clients, it’s clear that many have difficulty when it comes to drawing the line. The nature of small businesses means they will often engage with the same customers on a regular basis and go on to develop closer relationships with them than the average high street brand would. According to the survey, 86% of business owners work with clients that have become friends or already were friends, though these numbers rise to more than 94% for those in the beauty sector, and 90% in the trades.  

82% of business owners admit that they take more time with ‘friendly’ clients, spending an extra 25 minutes on average with each of them compared to their usual work time. Though working with someone you consider a friend may seem like a perk, the reality suggests that financially this may not be the case at all.  

Over Three Quarters of Small Businesses Lose Money on Appointments That Overrun 

85% of business owners do not charge for this additional time which results in a considerable amount of unpaid working hours. This is not ideal at a time when the cost-of-living crisis has made things increasingly difficult for the self-employed - the extra 25 minutes could amount to an average loss of £78 per appointment (based on the average hourly charge of £188.44 revealed by the study). This is a particular concern in the likes of the beauty industry, known for its high frequency of appointments and long-term clients.  

Megan, a Beauty Influencer and self-employed Nail Technician comments: “My services are often a ‘treat’ for clients who will have finished their working day which can mean they take time restraints less seriously and don’t mind the appointment lasting longer than it should. For them it might just be 20 more minutes, but they don’t see how this can impact my working day. After two years of being self-employed, getting customers to see this side of the extra time spent has been one of the hardest things to navigate.” 

Outside of lost earnings, the blurring of personal and professional has also been proven to take a toll on business owners’ free time. 98% of those surveyed admitted to replying to business queries within their personal time, with this number sitting at a staggering 100% for those in the beauty and trades sectors. This is likely down to many small business owners finding it hard to tackle the issue, or having been put off from a bad experience when previously trying to enforce time boundaries or payment terms. 59% say they’ve received negative responses from customers when trying to do so. 

How Can Business Owners Set Boundaries With All Customers? 

Despite these difficulties, Sarah O’Rafferty at Yell has detailed four things that business owners can start doing to set boundaries more effectively. Therefore, they can get paid the fees they should and keep their free time free. 

Communication is key

“A lot of business owners can immediately be on the back foot when an appointment is overrunning because they haven’t already communicated any extra costs that will be incurred to the customer. Having to try to get this extra fee paid after the time has been spent is where a lot of these negative responses can come from as customers could feel ‘cornered’ into paying more, or that they haven’t agreed to the additional spend.

"If you feel your session might overrun, or are mindful that previous sessions have done so with that particular client, it's always best to communicate about any additional fees, or that you are simply unable to spend the time due to other commitments, before this happens. This way, both yourself and your customer will be in agreement, and there’s no grey area, no matter how close your relationship is.”

Visualise these boundaries

“It’s one thing having the conversation and being in agreement, but there are ways you can make this even clearer. Detailing any policies on your website, and directing all new or existing customers to these and any changes in them, will go a long way. You can then refer to these during appointments to continue to set the boundary.  

"Having these policies on a website or even social media bios can be particularly useful for customers that contact you out of your working hours. Clearly listing these manages expectations of when you will and won’t respond. There’s a reason large companies have their customer service opening hours clearly displayed wherever you can find contact details for them. It should be no different for your business, no matter how big or small you are.”

Truly separate work from your personal life

“On that note, it isn’t completely up to your customers to read your website, your policies and when you are available to answer phone calls or reply to messages - you need to manage your time too. When starting up, many business owners opt to use the same phone number and e-mail address for ease. However, ignoring calls or messages when they’re right there in front of you is easier said than done. By simply setting up a business e-mail, and purchasing a low-cost work phone that you can switch off once the working day is done, will go a long way to solving this problem and setting those much-needed boundaries.”

The power of saying ‘no’

“Finally, a big skill to learn in any businesses is being able to say no. There can be a tendency to want to agree to everything, please everyone and take every job on but it simply isn’t possible. Remembering that you’re the boss and that you make the rules is key. Politely declining a request or making it clear up front that an appointment needs to finish at a particular time will help to manage expectations with your customers and, in the long run, help them to respect you and your business more.”

Read next: Four Business Boosting Tips for Hair Stylists of the Future

Yell partnered with Censuswide to survey 251 UK small business (up to 50 employees) owners that offer services to customers. The survey covered a range of questions about the boundaries that they have with their customers, and how ‘friendly’ clients affect this. Responses were analysed nationally, as well as by industry sector and number of employees.Survey conducted in October 2023.   

Morgan Willmott

Morgan Willmott

Published 30th Oct 2023

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