Breaking Freelance Rule #3: The Client is Always Right

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It all started when I fired my semi-lucrative content mill client…

Back when I was still writing for content mills like Textbroker and Constant Content, I had several clients “follow” me out of those mills and assign me private work. One of these clients had me write mill content for him that linked to his websites. For each published article, I not only made $10  from the content mill but an additional $40 from him. It was a pretty sweet deal!

However, as I gained more experience in the “real world” of copywriting and blogging, I liked these assignments less and less. For starters, although each article paid me a sweet $50, the content did squat to advance my name and credibility. It’s not as if I could reference the published content mill posts as real clips and show them to editors and publishers who were considering hiring me. And I sorely lacked real clips.

In the end, as much as I winced from losing out on $50 for easily produced content, I said goodbye to my client and wished him good luck in his future endeavors. Then I moved on, and most importantly up, with my freelance career.

“Operation Clean Sweep” can help you too

Do you currently have clients who 1) eat up too much of your time and don’t compensate you for it, 2) require updates and/or re-writes and/or redesigns every hour on the hour or 3) insult/berate/belittle/underpay/don’t pay you and are generally just a pain in the butt (i.e., PITA)?

Then it’s time to initiate what I like to call “Operation Clean Sweep”.

You can start Operation Clean Sweep by first raising your rates and, for the PITAs in your life, tacking on an additional 10% PITA tax. By making that move, you will probably lose a few clients- but the ones that hang on will make up for your monetary losses from the ones that have left. And you will probably have just cut your workload by half.

Alternately, you could apply the Pareto Principle to all of your freelance clients to find out which ones need to be fired. The Pareto Principle, applied to freelancing, states that roughly 80% of your workload is generated by 20% of your clients. Meanwhile, 20% of your clients provide 80% of your pay. Are these two groups the same or different? If you can determine which clients make up 80% of your workload yet only 20% of your pay, then it would be most wise of you to fire those clients.

Other good reasons to fire your clients

It’s not always money and/or workload that determines which clients need to go. As mentioned in my personal example above, there may be career-related reasons why you can no longer work with a given client. Here are some other reasons:

1. The client is crazy.

Most of us would say that, if A equals B and B equals C, then A must be equal to C. Now, what if your client keeps saying there’s a D in there that makes this logic problem wrong? Sure, I’m all down for new ways of viewing reality. However, unless there’s a physics formula included that proves this alternate reality, I might just consider the client to be crazy.

On a real world level, your client may think that generating salacious rumors about a competitor, reporting inconclusive data, or offending big name customers is a great way to generate publicity and/or sales. You, meanwhile, think otherwise. Just remember that, when that disaster of a sales campaign or whatever hits the fan, your name will be attached to it. Whatever reputation your client earns, you earn it too.

2. The client is engaged in unethical/illegal activity.

Whether it be black hat SEO, conflict of interest, libel or just spying on that entrepreneur down the block, you know that what you’re doing for your client isn’t exactly kosher. You also know that, if your activities ever became public knowledge, future clients would steer clear of you as if you were a pile of dog poo. Sure, the money you’re getting from this shady client might be good- but is it worth risking your career?

3. The client isn’t helping you advance in your career.

Maybe you’re tired of C++ programming and are trying to gain some experience in Java, but all your clients are into C++. Maybe you’d like to take a chance on blogging but your client just loves your white papers. In such cases, it’s hard to let go of perfectly good and even well-paying clients. What can you do?

First of all, don’t be afraid to (tactfully) express your feelings to your client. For all you know, your client might be itching to give you just the type of work you’re looking for. Maybe this client had Java or blogging on her mind all along but figured you were not interested in work outside of your field of expertise.

However, what if this ideal situation doesn’t materialize?

Much like when you were employed, don’t rock the boat until you find some back-up clients who are willing to work with you on your new venture. Once you have enough alternative work lined up, sit down (or Skype/call) with your client and tell him that you need to explore other avenues. Do this at least two weeks or even several months in advance, much as you would with a “real world” employer, so your client is not suddenly left without a freelancer to depend on.

Furthermore, recommend a fellow freelancer (whom you really trust and respect) to your soon-to-be ex-client so he’s not left high and dry. It never hurts to extend some professional courtesy- and to secure some work for another freelancer.

4. The client is burning you out.

Work might be great, payments might always come in on time, and your client is the type of person you could see having a drink with on a Saturday night- but the workload monotony/subject matter is causing you to burn out. Or maybe you’re just finally out of good ideas.

It’s time to have “that talk” with your client. Yeah, you know the one… the “It’s not you, it’s me” talk.

In many cases, work burnout is a sign that you both need to move on. Alternately, you may wish to shift your work focus with your client and have her hire someone else to take over your old tasks. Getting burned out need not mean saying goodbye- but it certainly means you need to communicate with your client before the quality of your work suffers.

Hit them with your best shot- fire away!

In this lackluster economy, it may seem like complete insanity to fire good and well-paying clients. However, just remember that, if you were ever employed before you became a freelancer, you already had to “fire” one entity in your life: your old employer. Recall that feeling of liberation and why you went “insane” back then. And also remember the best part about being a freelancer- you are a free agent, and free to work with whomever you please.

Photo credit by Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

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