We notice when you don’t do as you say.

Nobody’s perfect. This isn’t news to any of us (ever since the first time mom forgot to pack your lunch, or that awesome guy forgot your birthday even though you told him the day before). I have preached about self-care and time-management quite a lot, and you know what? I still have days where I beat myself up in my head and days where I do nothing but dick around on Facebook and Twitter and Netflix.

So, when I start talking about people not practicing what they preach, I want to make it clear that I know nobody practices what they preach 110% of the time.

But, when you’re…

  • a consultant or coach who helps people live their dreams and make a living doing what they love who balks at paying your contractors or employees a fair, livable wage
  • a life coach all about self-care who expects your team members to be at your beck & call 24/7, with a two hour turnaround time
  • a coach who specializes in unfucking money relationships but constantly haggles on prices with service providers and is always driving for a better (i.e., cheaper) deal

(Covering my ass note: none of these scenarios are based on people I’m currently working with; rather, they’re slightly exaggerated amalgamations of past experiences of myself & my acquaintances, created for the sake of examples.) 

You’re crossing into “do as I say, not as I do” territory. You might not even realize you’re doing it. Or, you might think it’s acceptable for (insert justification here). Or, you might just think that nobody will find out about it and that makes it okay.

Here’s the facts:

  • Treating other people like shit is never okay, even if you don’t realize how unrealistic your expectations are.
  • Asking people to work for free or wildly unreliable amounts of money (examples include: a very low base pay plus a very low incentive percentage, working for exposure, or “The pay isn’t great now, but it will be soon, I promise! So just work your ass off in the meantime, ‘kay?”) is also not okay. We’ve all done things like that (working for exposure or working without guaranteed income) for our own businesses, but asking another business owner to do it with the benefits almost solely coming to your business, possibly at the expense of their own business? Pretty asinine.
  • Speaking as someone often working “behind the scenes”: we do notice, and we tell others. If you’re a total nightmare to work with, people will find out. 

Most importantly, this behavior isn’t ethical, full stop. I’d like to believe that long term, it’ll bite you on the ass (less in a mystical karma-y way, and more in a “nobody will want to work with you or be associated with you because you’re douchetastic” way), but after some of the behavior I’ve witnessed people getting away with, I’m not sure’s actually true.

If you’ve got a large audience and a business that’s already successful, there will always be people willing to put up with your bullshit in return for a mystical pot of gold (whether that’s exposure, experience, or referrals). That might be cynical on my part, though I do think that eventually it’ll bite you on the ass in some form or another – I’ve seen too many epic cosmic comeuppances to believe otherwise.

In the end, it comes down to: Is this how you want to be treated? And is it congruous with what you’re actively telling other people to do?

If your answers are “no” and “no”, take a step back & take a hard look at what you’re doing.

Of course, there’s exceptions to every rule.

In general, I’d say there’s a very few, very select situations where it’s okay not do as you say:

When the arrangement is temporary.

And I mean very temporary, not “you’re going to work under these conditions until some as-of-yet-undetermined point in the future when I’ll hand you the keys to the kingdom”. Temporary like, “Let’s do a two week trial period with these conditions and a review/assessment after that.”

When everyone is incredibly clear on the situation.

The above is a perfect example of this. If you say “temporary” and you’re thinking a few months, but the person you’re working with is thinking 2-3 weeks, you’re going to run into some issues & resentment, clearly. If you’re talking about delayed payment, they need to know exactly how long the delay is and exactly how much the payment will be. If everyone involved  is super-duper clear on the situation & still feels not only okay but clean + happy with it, that’s generally a green light.

Someone comes to you.

This requires discretion because people can put themselves through some truly terrible shit in the name of getting exposure. I wholeheartedly believe that even though it’s self-inflicted, if someone comes to you with a proposal that is obviously unfair to them and could actually do them and their business a disservice, it’s your job as an ethical + awesome person to say no. However, when it works out, it can be really beautiful (see the example from Amanda in this post, of her approaching one of her favorite authors & asking to redo her site).

You don’t have to ask.

This, though it can turn toxic, is the best situation of all. When I’m working with clients who always pay on time, who are easy to deal with, who are generally kick-ass people, I don’t have a problem answering the occasional weekend email or working on something after office hours. At least part of this is because I have very clear work boundaries (specific office hours, no working or client email on the weekends, one day a week blocked out for my own business development) – which, by the way, have taken me a lot of practice to get in place and maintain – so I know when something goes against those boundaries and I can consciously choose to do it anyways, instead of just feeling vaguely obligated.

But part of this is that I work with great people who know what the exceptions to the rules are and really appreciate it when I put in extra work without being asked. And part of them being such awesome clients is that they can appreciate this extra work without coming to expect it. If you can get in that sweet spot, you’re about a kajillion times more likely to have happy service providers, creating better work and generally contributing to an awesome behind the scenes vibe at your business.

That’s how “do as I say, not as I do” can cause some hardcore suckage for behind the scenes peeps, and those are the situations in which I think it’s okay to bend the rules a bit. Anything you’d like to add? I’d love to hear it – chime in below. 

This post was part of the Word Carnival – the best little fairway on the ‘net, written for small business owners, by small biz owners! Check out the other Carnies for this month’s topic here. Especially relevant is Illana’s post, which served as inspiration for this post. 


  1. I love that this is your chiming in on the “Don’t be a dick in biznez” conversation that we started not long ago. Drives me crazy when I start to work with someone and it turns out they’re totally bananas, even though they’re projecting this outward appearance of “Oh, I’m a calming yogi and spiritual adviser.”

    There’s only been a handful times when I’ve actually worked with someone who says they’re calm and patient… and they actually are.

    Moral of the story: don’t be an asshole to your people. Y’know what feels better? Being kind and compassionate and understanding. When you’re a brilliant ball of awesome, your people will always be brilliant in return. So much better than, “WORK HARD OR DIE.”


    • I think “brilliant ball of awesome” is my new favorite phrase too! Thanks for chiming in Amanda, I always love hearing your perspective. <3


    • OMG YES THIS: Drives me crazy when I start to work with someone and it turns out they’re totally bananas, even though they’re projecting this outward appearance of “Oh, I’m a calming yogi and spiritual adviser.”

      AND YES THIS TOO: a life coach all about self-care who expects your team members to be at your beck & call 24/7, with a two hour turnaround time

      CLEARLY I have been on the receiving end of this kind of stuff, being a web developer aka service provider!!


  2. You hit the nail on the head! Too often coaches & other online business specialists act in ways that are out if integrity with their message, and more importantly their values.

    How’s that happen? It’s not intentional. In the mad dash to be successful we forget ourselves and focus on where we’re going, not the choices we make to get there or the impact in others.

    LOVE the you decided to speak up & be heard. Can’t wait to share this post!

    Dina Eisenberg
    Conversation Strategist


    • Thank you Dina! I think you’re right that it’s not often intentional when people do things like this; I don’t really think that’s an excuse but I can see how it happens. We need more reminders to take our eyes off the prize & make sure that the path we’re taking to the prize is the right one.


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  4. So much to love about this post! As you said, nobody practices what they preach all the time so it’s good to hold space for our humanity. But that doesn’t apply when it’s clearly a pattern.

    Walking the talk isn’t about being perfect, but if you are going to be a schmuck clean it up as fast as you can rather than hiding behind your status and reputation, or before long you may not have them anymore!


    • “if you are going to be a schmuck clean it up as fast as you can rather than hiding behind your status and reputation, or before long you may not have them anymore!” EXACTLY!


  5. Maybe it’s my staunch Presbyterian upbringing, Michelle, or maybe it’s that I place a high value on sleep or possibly it’s the Pollyanna in me …

    But how in God’s name do these jerks sleep at night?!! Or look themselves in the mirror?!

    I’m not a gal who usually rants on and for what it’s worth, I do my best to steer clear of controversy. That kind of stuff feels “icky”, ya know?

    However, it really gets my goat and infuriates me when people behave as if they don’t possess a conscience. Or blatantly take advantage of others. Or “discount” others by asking for dirt-cheap, poverty-level rates from vendors … while tacking on ludicrous price tags to their own products or services. There’s a tad of discrepancy there, wouldn’t ya say? 🙁

    Wonderful post and wonderful message!


    • I agree, Melanie – sometimes the discrepancy is a little much to handle. People can justify some pretty shocking things, but I hope that when people are being THAT incongruous eventually they will realize it & make amends.


  6. Well said! It may sound cynical, but I have a hard time believing that people don’t know they are taking advantage of others. Whether they are conscious of it or not, I do believe that ultimately they will pay the price.


    • I agree, Janet, on both counts. I would *like* to believe that more often than not, these things come down to misunderstandings, or someone just not being self-aware enough to notice their behavior and correct it, but I think at least 50% of the time they’re actively justifying it to themselves even though they know it’s wrong. Like several others here have pointed out, it’s not rocket science – don’t be a jerk.


  7. It doesn’t take long to see who’s playing fair and who’s being “douchetastic.” What amazes me is that people don’t think the rest of us talk about this stuff. I hope it’s just folks not paying attention rather than doing all this evil on purpose. There should some kind of red flag system we could set up to help warn other unsuspecting newbies and keep the solopreneur world safe to fight another day. Great post, Michelle!


    • I also hope it’s just people not paying attention as opposed to actual malicious intent, but unfortunately, you just never know. Thanks, Tea, glad you liked the post 🙂


  8. You can’t see me, but I’m sitting on the couch doing the “FUCK YEAH!” dance for you and this post right now. It’s maddening, seeing these behaviors and then seeing the bad actors pontificate all over teh interwebs about how important it is to do the exact fucking OPPOSITE and THEN get all kinds of praise and love from the unsuspecting masses for saying it. UGH. And a virtual high five to you, Lady M.


  9. I’ve gotten burned by clients who don’t pay :/ really douche-y and then he completely ignored me and now apparently doesn’t have a facebook. and we used to be ‘friends’. ugh!!


  10. So beautifully (and no minced words here, which of course I love!) said, Michelle.. Living in congruence, in business or otherwise. and really it’s all the same.. is the hardest thing to do, our biggest challenge, but the only way for us to feel free, to live without addictions, to hold our head high.. and all the rest of it.. It’s a moment by moment challenge.. Love to you- Lisa


  11. Wow, I love the no BS approach here! Yes very important indeed.
    Do as I say not as I do, just doesn’t work & it messes up the energy too.
    A timely reminder for many!


  12. Love your no nonsense approach to this. Don’t be perfect, be kind comes to mind. My takeaway from this is ‘treat others how you wish to be treated’.
    Feels light and right.
    Thank you.


  13. I absolutely agree that if you’re gonna talk the talk you gotta walk the walk otherwise you’re just a phoney. I agree, that if you’re not authentic sooner or later that’s going to come around and bit you in the ass. I always try to lead by example and listen to my own advice. I find when I’m working with clients that the messages that come through are just as much for me as for them. So cool.


  14. Amen. My hubby always says there’s no such thing as karma. But I believe what you put out in the world comes back to you in some way and I want to be on the good end of karma.


    • Fo’sho, Christie. It always works out in the end…but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to be a douche in the meantime!


  15. Preach Michelle! My favorite was this, “a consultant or coach who helps people live their dreams and make a living doing what they love who balks at paying your contractors or employees a fair, livable wage”

    Yes! Yes! Yes!

    I’m amazed at how often this happens. While I won’t let people take me for a ride, I know what the time and talent of those who provide me resources are worth. I happily pay for them to take certain burdens off my shoulders. In fact I’ve been known to lecture people SELLING me services that they need to charge more.


    • Hey Nicole – good on you for being one of the rare people who will say “dude, you are totally undercharging, you need to up your rates!” and for knowing what services are worth. I bet you’re an awesome client to have 🙂


  16. I pretty much always take the “do as I say, not as I do” thing and flip it on its head.

    The A-listers that I DO follow, I follow to see what they’re doing…not what they’re saying.

    I’m not sure that being a life coach and hiring an assistant is necessarily hypocritical. Certain lifestyles aren’t for everyone. And some people are more than happy to take those assistant jobs.

    But again, do as they do, not as they say :).


    • Oh, I don’t think that being a life coach & hiring an assistant is hypocritical AT ALL. I think that being a life coach who talks about self-care but expects your team members to have no life and always be waiting at the computer for emails/working around the clock (including after-hours & weekends) is pretty hypocritical, though! 😉


  17. I think it comes down to this- lots of people offer the things they themselves struggle with.

    The coach who teaches about healing your money issues has experienced money issues. I’d like to think they have healed themselves enough to be able to actually “walk their talk” but sometimes that is not the case.

    Just like I talk about flying your freak flag and not reigning yourself in to keep other people happy…..because I’ve been there…totally hiding who I am because I didn’t think I’d be accepted. Every now and then I find that energy present in me….but luckily I’m familiar enough with it that I can catch it and not let it get in my way so I can go back to being a “brilliant ball of awesome”.


    • Right, I think that’s true. And like I said, I definitely know nobody is perfect 100% of the time! I also think there’s a difference though between internal & external – like if you’re feeling a little bit of money shame inside, then that’s one thing, but to take out your money issues on your team members/contractors when you’re talking about having a healthy relationship with money and etc., I think that crosses a line. Know what I mean? At that point, it’s all about owning your fuckups and doing what you can to make them right.


  18. I found myself laughing slash grimacing all the way though this post. So much of it was just way too familiar.

    It got me thinking: When did running a services business translate into “I can treat you as I like because I am the customer and I pay the bucks”?

    Respect and partnership were so much part of the deal once, a given even. So what changed this? I know we can all put in place the parameters such as you have Michelle to ensure that we are treated well and appropriately, but why should that be necessary?

    It begs a bigger question for which I don’t have the answers, but something fundamental has changed in the way people behave in business, small business anyhow.

    And why increasingly, creating strong communities like this one are so important. Thanks for the reflection, great post.


    • Oh, I’m familiar with the laugh/grimace and that’s pretty much what I was going for with this post 😉 Glad you liked it. I’m not sure I have any answers as far as business today vs. business then…I’ve only been working for myself for four years. So, my short length of experience might make me biased, but I do feel like people tend to romanticize the past…there have, unfortunately, always been hucksters and people willing to be two-faced. The internet might just make it easier for them to hide.


  19. I lovelovelove how you tell it like it is. This is so true, and I’ve caught myself practicing OTHER than what I preach about health and fitness — yikes! (But I also preach forgiving yourself and hopping back on that wagon, which I also do.) I think it’s great that you included the conditions under which it’s ok to not do as you say, and you nailed it with them — especially making sure everyone is crystal-clear and happy with the arrangement.


  20. Yeah, I definitely have a problem with those “clearly defined boundaries”.

    I don’t do it right, by any means. I’m always working. A lot of that has to do with a lack of focus and a killer ability to postpone anything I don’t feel like doing.

    I’ve started working towards going Sarah J. Bray’s “Z-Type” personality, where if I can say “OK, I’m going to apply at least 15 minutes but no more than 2 hours on this project” – I can at least be 2 hours worth of productive. It helps!

    Anyway, great ideas here 🙂


  21. Whoa, Michelle, you totally beat the dicktastic out of these folks! Sounds like maybe you’ve had a run in or two with a few unscrupulous folks. It does make you wish you could shout at everyone looking for services and warn them, but sometimes people have to make their own mistakes. And yeah, wouldn’t it be nice if those crummy people lost business! Part of the problem is that there are plenty of people who still want to believe in the magic business fairy and the 3-step plan to success and the secret to six-figure incomes. And as long as people like that exist, there will be others who will sell them to kool aid.

    These are all fantastic points for ethical business and I especially appreciate the one about making sure everyone is clear on the situation. Disjointed expectations are the cause of a whole lotta woes that could be prevented. Next time someone gets on my bad side I’m totally sending them to this post!


    • Yeah, I have had a few run ins with these types of people! How could you tell? 😉 Thanks Carol, glad you liked the post!


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