biz ladiesLife & Business

Biz Ladies: How Nice is Too Nice

by Stephanie

Today’s Biz Ladies post comes to us from Kim Kuhteubl, an award-winning producer, writer and visibility strategist.  She works with interior designers, makers and hosts in the lifestyle space, building bold brands and creating awesome client, media and licensing opportunities.  Today Kim tackles the sticky topic of being”too nice” and when it can get in the way of running your business effectively and efficiently. Thanks, Kim, for sharing your insight with us! —Stephanie

Read the full post after the jump…
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Kim Kuhteubl

We got a lot of rain a couple of weeks ago in LA and a fellow solopreneur ran into trouble with her new assistant because of it.  Seems the gal called in early one morning to ask if she could come in late, after the rain stopped.

Thankfully my contact said no and sat the gal down when she arrived to talk expectations.  Still, she felt guilty and worried she was too hard on her.  After all, the employee was a friend’s cousin, just 23 and my contact wanted to be a role model and supportive leader.  Besides, the gal did her work, even though she really hated LA and had already asked if she could work remotely, knowing my contact needed someone local; all this after only three months on the job.

Boundaries People

Remember, support staff is hired to do just that:  support you.  So even though being friendly with your team is important, they’re not you’re friends (especially if you just hired them).  You don’t pay your friends.  You run a business, no matter how micro.  You manage the costs – fiscal and emotional – so you’ve got to be able to confidently set boundaries about what you’re paying for.

Boundaries, literally the marked limit of the playing area, let other people know how you’re playing the game of life; what you’re available for.  They also keep you powerfully aligned with your vision.  They make sure that you take care of you.

Boundaries also set the tone for how you want buyers to treat you.  Do you have a loyal following that gives good word-of-mouth about the products you create?  Are they willing to pay you for what they’re worth or do they only shop when they’re on sale?  Have you set your prices to do more than break even, or are you even paying yourself at all?  Because creative people usually just want to share what their inner artist is expressing in their work, they forget that they can receive a premium for it.  If I want a piece of art by Basquiat, that’s what I want and I’m willing to pay for it.

If you’ve found yourself saying…

…I should…

…I don’t want to but X needs my help…

…It only took me a couple of minutes to make, I can’t charge that much…

…If I raise my prices in this economy, nobody will buy it…

…I don’t want people to think I’m a bitch…

…I want to be nice…

…you’re likely crossing an internal boundary, one that you haven’t voiced.

Same goes if you feel guilty for saying no, or find yourself apologizing to people for taking a stand for what you believe in.  Ask yourself, what the cost of staying invisible will be?  Putting a value on your services and time creates an expectation that others will as well and the amount they’re willing to pay you is directly related to how much you value your time, your work and yourself.

Focus On What You Want

If you need to be nice, you need to reframe what it means.  According to Merriam-Webster, nice is someone or something exacting in requirements or standards.  Nice huh?  Define yourself that way, as someone whose has a nice or well-executed – another meaning – vision, then put powerful boundaries in place to help you keep on track.

When you keep your focus on what you want, not what you don’t want, and when your vision and the plan you’ve got in place to make it real is clear, taking care of yourself and your business gets very easy. Remember, in case of a flight emergency, there is a reason why you have to put on your own oxygen mask first.

P.S. Note:  Taking a stand for yourself doesn’t always make you popular with the people on the receiving end of your no, but guess what?  They’ll get over it.


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  • When I took over from my predecessor, my staff (of two) were pretty frightened of her. I felt I could set up a more ‘equal’ working relationship with them, But guess what? It hasn’t worked – especially for me! I really appreciate this post: thanks for the good advice and permission ‘to be the boss’. I now know I needed to hear this.

  • She really did this young girl a favor. I really feel some young people don’t have the work ethic many older people grew up with. Too many have just had it too easy and have never been in the position to NEED a job! I personally cant imagine asking for this do to rain ! Welcome to the real world! There are many people who would be willing to take her place who need work and will give 100 %.

  • Wonderful advice. I work with design students quite a bit and being a solid role model is the best non-verbal advice you can give. To be honest they will “like” you more if they have a greater respect for you. The same holds true for anyone you work with employees, colleagues, clients etc.

  • I recently had to tell someone I was moving from doing free work (why I did so much, I’ll never know!) to paid, and it didn’t go so well. But it was what had to be done!

  • So many creative people have a hard time charging the going rate for their services. We need to affirm each other and agree that our time and talents are actually worth paying for. Charge a reasonable rate and know that people will pay it. Not all, but you don’t want everyone for a client either. Be as choosy choosing clients as clients are choosing a service provider. If you don’t believe you are worth the price, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate the service or product and figure out why…cause a girl’s gotta make a living.

  • @Denise – It sounds like you have a great work ethic and would be a fantastic mentor to a young woman in need of some guidance. However, I think the assistant in the example perhaps just needed some direction to more fully understand her role. It sounds like more of a miscommunication and maybe not a reflection on her work values or those of her generation.

  • Then there’s the Middle English definition of nice, if you need impetus to pull back –
    “Origin of NICE – Middle English, foolish, wanton, from Anglo-French, silly, simple, from Latin nescius ignorant, from nescire not to know — more at nescience First Known Use: 14th century” (which had me wondering if it was used sarcastically and flipped meaning). Remember that respect must always outweigh nice; everything in life should not be equal.

  • Great, useful advice. Thank you. I have recently hired someone I know part-time and this was a great reminder that what might be obvious to me might not be obvious to her. I need to lay out my expectations regardless if it is a little uncomfortable. I think we will both be better off for it. Thanks!

  • I think this is a really important post. If ‘nice’ is the word people are using to describe me when there are so many other descriptive words out there… I’m doing something wrong. I had to learn (and am still learning) that ‘nice’ doesn’t get you anywhere -especially in business. It’s business – not personal. Setting expectations early is another good point in this article.

  • Great post and yes, sometimes we all need to put our big girl panties on set expectations, intentions and hold respect for ourselves, because no one else is going to do it for us.

  • Fantastic article! I keep telling my creative friends this and they never believe me!
    Tjanks for sharing!

  • oh goodness, I totally needed to read this today! Just had to put my foot down and was feeling like such a terrible, mean person – but it’s okay!
    Thanks so much for tackling this and sharing :)

  • Love this! Definitely something for me to consider as I begin to think about the time that I’ll need an assistant!