Telling stories

What to do when you’ve got the bad client blues

Posted by southwrite on August 5, 2009

As a freelancer you’ve already – or will – have to get rid of a client. Face it, some relationships don’t work out. When there’s a  mismatch between freelancer and client, you need to end it. Of course, as we all know, it’s much more complicated than it sounds.

One of my first freelance ventures was ghosting a column for a chiropractor. He was a nice guy, fun to work with, had good ideas, and gave me considerable leeway in writing. He also paid in the low two digits. Eventually my rates went up – way up. I realized he wasn’t going up with me so – with some regret – I eased out of the relationship.

Moving from a good client to a better one is a positive thing, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes we have to confront bad clients – the kind who can make your life and career miserable. Yet many of us put up with them even when we know we shouldn’t. Maybe you’re experiencing a bad client who:

• Never responds to (repeated) e-mails.
• Holds a project for weeks and then wants extensive revisions done now!
• Uses you to “think out loud” making and discarding designs because they can’t imagine how something will look.
• “Loses” invoices and other documents as you waste time sending them over and over again.
• Always gets “held up” and is late or cancels meetings.

The people who buy your articles, photos, and graphic designs should pay your fee as negotiated, treat you as a professional and work with you in a reasonable manner that gets the job done.

If that’s the kind of client you want, you have to work to keep the good ones and get rid of the bad. So here’s a New Rule for freelances: if you have a bad client and you know they won’t change sever the relationship and move on.

Recognizing a bad client is one thing, but getting rid of them can be something else. Maybe you can relate to my experience.

After ghosting two books with wonderful clients I was approached by a new author for a motivational book. It sounded right up my alley and I was eager to experience the joys of book writing again.

In my haste  to get the job, I accepted less than I originally wanted and then agreed to spread it out over a number of months. I thought, ‘I can continue doing my other work and generate the level of income I need each month.’

Then the problems really began. Instead of conducting interviews by phone the client insisted we meet face-to-face at his office. That required a two hour (uncompensated) round trip. Frequently, I showed up to find the office door locked because he was “held up.”

The sessions themselves were unpleasant. Almost from the beginning he expressed extreme displeasure with what I had written and said  things like “I don’t know if this is going to work out. I can always end this deal.” He repeated these lines over and over again during every meeting.

Then there were the interruptions. He made phone calls during which I could hear him yelling at the person on the other end of the line. 

Not only was the deal becoming a money loser for me, but I was unhappy with our professional relationship. Fortunately, I had inserted a clause in the contract that allowed either of us to end it after one month with no penalty. When I told him I was done, he underwent a remarkable change of demeanor and tried to talk me into staying on. He pleaded that I had misunderstood his comments!

That was when I made another mistake. No, I didn’t relent, but agreed to help him find someone to take over the book. The job went to a talented author with a couple of books for motivations speakers under her belt. If anyone could finish this project, it had to be her.

As you might have guessed, it didn’t work out that way. She fell victim to the same patterns of poor client behavior which grew worse with time. As of this writing the book is still in limbo. She’s frustrated and I’m…how can I say it? I’m glad I’m not in her shoes, but feeling a little guilty none the less.

So, one more New Rule: never palm off a bad client on your friends.

One Response to “What to do when you’ve got the bad client blues”

  1. […] too long ago, fellow writer, blogger, and Twitter pal Randy Southerland wrote a post about how to recognize when a particular client isn’t… well… worth it.  And, by “it,” I […]

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