I think we’ve all been there…
That moment when you dread checking your email because you just know there’s going to be an email from that client you hate…
I don’t know about y’all, but I got into freelancing because I didn’t want to hate what I do every day.
I remember being a scared college student with graduation looming, wondering how in the h-e-double-hockey-sticks I was going to make myself climb out of bed every morning to go to a job teaching English or working at a dying newspaper.
(Not that there’s anything wrong with being a teacher or reporter or even working an office job… it just isn’t for me!)
I still cringe to think how close I came to just giving up on the writing thing, and being one of those people who always says they are going to write the next great American novel someday.
Instead, I took the leap and became a freelancer.
It hasn’t been without its ups and downs, but man, it is so nice to be able to enjoy what I do…
Except when I don’t.
No job is ever 100% awesome, and freelancing is no exception.
If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will. Every once in a while, we all get clients that make us hate what we’re doing. So today, I wanted to write a post all about bad clients and how to fire them without having to worry that you won’t find replacement work.
What is a “Bad” Client?
In general, bad clients fall into three categories.
First, there are bad clients who are bad because they don’t treat you right. Maybe they pay late or too little. Maybe they belittle you for that one typo in a 50-page document. Maybe they are always trying to get you to add more work for free. You get the picture.
Then there are bad clients who treat you well, but the work is mind-numbing. You’re writing about something you don’t believe in, or you’re covering a super boring topic, or the work is tedious. In other words, you just don’t feel passionate or fulfilled with the work.
The third type of bad client also might treat you well, but they don’t have any money. They are similar to the second type in that they aren’t terrible people, and you might even enjoy the topic, at least somewhat. But… they are bad clients because they just can’t afford to pay you a decent wage. This has definitely happened to me. It’s nothing personal, most of the time. It’s business.
Let me give you advice that is somewhat unpopular:
All three types of bad clients need to go.
I’ve stayed with each type of client way too long, justifying it to myself for one reason or another.
“I’ll just stay one more month. The pay is too good to leave, even though my work is suffering because the topic is so horrendous.”
“I love this gig too much to leave. I’m sure they’ll catch up on payments soon! They said the check was in the mail…”
“I know they are impossible to please, but it’s too hard to find more clients. I can take the harsh criticism and bad temper until something better comes my way.”
“Maybe if I stick around, the company will make more money and be able to give me a raise…”
“I’m just burnt out. If I take a long weekend, I’ll come back to the gig refreshed, and it won’t feel like I’m dying inside every time I having a deadline coming up.”
It’s kind of like being in a crappy relationship. You know when things are going south. You can feel the end drawing near. But life is uncertain, and being single is scary. Staying put, even though you aren’t happy, is easier.
Here’s why I think that is a bad idea…
Yes, I do agree that you have to put up with a little crap sometimes. If you’re a total diva, freelancing is probably not for you. Everyone’s gotta eat.
But if you stay in a comfortable situation with a bad client, you’re going to miss out on much better opportunities.
Every great opportunity that has built my career happened because I was actively looking for work. Sometimes, I had just lost a client. Other times I had recently fired a client. But either way, it was that gap in steady work that allowed me to open myself to new opportunities.
At the same time, I’ve missed out because I was too busy with a bad client to see an opportunity coming my way. I remember one time in particular, I was really bogged down with a client who was great in some ways but who didn’t value me enough to pay me what I deserved when he even remembered to send the check at all.
This really interesting client emailed me, but I passed her onto a writer friend who was looking for work instead. I was just too scared to leave my comfortable position where at least I knew I liked the work, even if the pay was questionable at best.
My friend got the gig and went on to build an amazing career with this client and her company. They still work together, and I can’t help but be jealous when I see the professional relationship they’ve built. That could have been me!
How to Let Go and Fire Your Clients
Ripping the band-aid is the best way to go. I used to try to slowly end my relationship with clients, but this doesn’t do you any favors (and I’ll tell you why in a moment). You need to end things professionally, but quickly.
Throw yourself in the deep end and swim!
Now, I do always recommend having at least 3 clients at any given time. It’s not good to have all of your eggs in a single basket. If that’s your situation, firing a client before you have another job lined up might not be the best option, unless you have enough money in your savings account to see you through a little dry spell. It does take some time to replace clients.
But if you just sorta-kinda-maybe “fire” a client by taking a little less work than you have in the past or being kind of wishy-washy about upcoming deadlines, you’re going to find yourself unmotivated to find new work, AND you won’t be able to turn that fired client into a new gig as easily.
When you fire your client completely, you open yourself up to making a little magic! You are able to turn that fired client into a new freelance opportunity that you absolutely love!
How to Turn a Fired Client into a New Gig
Okay, stay with me for a moment because I’m going to get a little woo-woo here! I’m not someone who is super into stuff like visualization, but I do believe that most people have the ability to make cool stuff happen when they are under pressure.
In other words, if you hang onto a bad client because you’re afraid to let go, you won’t have that extra “oomph” you need to really find the client of your dreams.
Comfort can hold us back.
So by ripping the band-aid and getting rid of bad clients, we push ourselves. The lack of safety net can be scary, but it can also make us resourceful.
It’s all about mindset.
Okay, now that the woo-woo part is over, let me tell you the practical part.
When you get rid of your old clients, you can openly advertise that you’re on the market. If you’ve done a good job for your past client, you can showcase that work to get your new clients.
Play your cards right, and your old clients will even help you get new ones!
Now, truly awful clients aren’t going to be helpful, but if you leave things on good terms with a client who just can’t meet your rates, provide enough work, or give you interesting topics… they will be your biggest fans, even when you leave.
See, they probably saw it coming.
The “good” kind of bad client understands that you are better than their job, and they want to see you succeed in the future. So, they’re going to tell your friends about you.
Do not be shy about asking for a testimonial. As long as you left things on good terms, most clients will give you an enthusiastic paragraph telling other people about how it has been to work with you. (If the client isn’t comfortable with giving you a testimonial for your website, maybe they would be willing to write one on your LinkedIn page if you leave a review in return about how great it was to work with them.)
A testimonial might not help you right away, but unexpected opportunities have a way of finding great writers eventually. I remember one time when I left a job on great terms with my manager (they just couldn’t pay me what I deserved, and there were signs the company was going to shut down). Over two years later, out of the blue, I got an amazing opportunity because that manager had remembered me and recommended me to a friend.
It just goes to show… when you do an amazing job, people will remember you. It’s the best feeling in the world to have to spend very little time finding jobs because they just come your way due to client recommendations.
This can happen for you!
So, if you have a bad client right now, I want to encourage you to devise your exit plan. Don’t just stick a toe in the water. Take the plunge. Quit that gig you can’t stand and use that momentum to land some new gigs. You can do it!
Looking for a new gig? Make sure to join my Paid to Write 101 Facebook group, where we share job opportunities daily.