Clients come and go. That's just the nature of the beast of freelance writing, and business in general. The client runs out of work, or runs out of money, or decides to switch gears with its business or marketing plan. But, there are times when you simply have to let a client go.
I don't mean turning down a client if he or she asks you to work for them again. I mean severing business ties, although politely and professionally. There are clients, no matter how green their money is and no matter how much they are willing to work with you, who simply aren't worth the time and effort.
I understand that it's a difficult notion to face. No one likes to say "no," especially when it's a "no" to paying work and valuable experience. But, if you have that gut feeling that the business relationship just isn't right, find an appropriate time to cut off relations, once and for all. Here are a few instances to help solidify that gut feeling, if you're on the fence about a client or two.
- Outside Your Niche or Expertise - I had a blogging gig that lasted about six months. It was for a social network for scientists and researchers called iAMscientist. The blog involved topics such as science news and science recruiting, you know, things relevant to that community. I agreed to the gig in the first place because the network was one of my first clients, and I really needed to get my feet off the ground. But, I terminated the gig because even after six months, the blogging never got any easier. I don't have any degree or background in the hard sciences. It was tough from week to week to come up with ideas, since there were topics that I didn't have the skill set to write about and very few in this area that I did. So, I quit to open up that time to gigs for which I was better suited.
- Disappearing Acts - I've had a few clients who promised me ongoing, regular work, assigned me a few things, and then disappeared for weeks. No work. No responses to any emails or phone calls. Nothing. After a while, I stop chasing. Why waste my time chasing when I can spend that time working with clients that actually have the time of day to respond to my emails and calls, or who trust me enough to assign responsibilities so I can work without their tutelage? After all, when you finally do hear from those magician clients, they expect you to pick up the same workload that you could afford six weeks ago. Umm... things change in six weeks. I still have to make money and pay my bills. Do they really expect you to be waiting around for them? After two disappearing acts, I call it quits, because I certainly won't wait around.
- The Point of Contact - Drop these clients as quickly as possible. These are the clients that appoint someone as a point of contact for them. I don't mean someone who's representative of a company or a department. I mean when Joe is the point of contact for Sally, and Sally is the true representative of the company or department. In my experience, Joe doesn't quite know what Sally wants, has little decision making power himself over the project, and often has to defer to Sally anyway for just about everything. Essentially, Joe is a middleman, and a poor one at best. These sorts of clients waste time and create headaches for a return that just isn't worth it.
- Pay is Too Low - Not that I only care about the money, but as freelancers we're businesspeople who need to think about the bottom line. I just terminated business with a client because the publication slashed its article rates in HALF. The full price was already a little lower than what I would like, but it provided a chance to develop a niche that I wasn't developing elsewhere. But, the new rate would put me below minimum wage for the amount of time it takes to do one article. If I can make more money working at McDonald's for the same amount of time, then it's simply not worth it anymore.
- Credit Where Credit is Due - Get the feeling that your client is treating you like trained monkey instead of a paid professional with ideas and expertise? Yeah, I've gotten that feeling too. This client leaves little room for your questions and input. He or she simply tells you what to do, with the expectation that you won't do anything more than that. I have a client like this (who's also a #2 by the way), who steps on the gas pedal during our Skype conversations and doesn't let up til he's done and is ready to get off the call. He doesn't ask what I think about things of if I have any ideas on the project. He rambles about his ideas, asks every now and then if I'm following along and that's it. Since he's a #2, I'm chucking him the next time he disappears. If I'm not going to be given the chance to be invested in the project by actually contributing, instead of just following orders, then I won't be invested. I'll find someone else who wants me to be invested.
It's not fun to terminate business with a client, especially if the client may not see it coming. It may be particularly hard to find a good moment to do it, and to develop an explanation that's more polite and professional than "you're a horrible client and I just don't want to deal with you no more." But, there are times when it has to be done. It's better for you in the long run, and it's probably better for the client too.