Many of us, perhaps most of us, moved to freelancing from a “no” as much as from a “yes.” While we were attracted by what we believed (perhaps a bit naively) a freelancer’s life would be like, we were also saying “no” to a whole bunch of things that annoyed us about working in a larger organization. We figured we would say “no” to idiot bosses, endless meetings, mountains of paperwork, the need to look busy, dressing up, pretending to agree with stupid ideas, and so much more.
Of course, a couple of funny things happened on the way to the freelance life:
- We discovered that most of these annoyances were still part of making a living through self-employment, and
- We forgot all about that little word “no.”
Most of what you can do about #1 requires reversing #2. The most successful freelancers, the ones who are really happy in their work and life, are the ones who know how to say “no,” and often.
While it’s best to weed out bad clients before a contract is signed and the project begins, often times it doesn’t happen that way. I recently shed the weight, stress and hassle of a “bad client”, so I want to share that experience and five warning signs of a client you should avoid at all costs.
So how do you identify a bad client?
1. Your client asks for several face-to-face meetings or lengthy conference calls before the project begins.
Initial meetings with clients are like job interviews — it should only take one or two meetings for both you and the client to decide to work together and start the project. I met once with my ex-client before we signed an agreement, but… after several meetings over the course of six months, the project was going nowhere and the client was spinning her wheels. The face-to-face meetings were not only time consuming — they were a waste of time. The client used the meetings to talk herself through what she wanted to do. After six months and no payment, the project was going nowhere. That should have been my clue to cut and run.
On my way home from a conference recently, I sat next to a blonde woman in her mid-40’s wearing matching Prada shoes and bag. From the looks of her, a successful businesswoman.
I couldn’t help peeking over her shoulder and saw that she was composing email messages in Outlook. I assumed she had just attended a meeting and was diligently doing her follow up. The problem was that every single message she wrote was the same — and really boring, in my opinion.
“Dear Blank, it was a pleasure to meet you at the meeting this weekend and I hope we can meet again soon.”
That was it. No reference to who she is or what they talked about or what ideas she has had since they met or what they could do together in the future.
Anyone who knows me (or has heard my networking presentations) knows that I am a follow up freak. But I’d say it’s better not to follow up than to write the type of generic follow up messages this woman was about to send out. Continue Reading
Client relationships are perhaps the most important aspect of your business. Clients pay your bills, refer you to other potential clients, open up opportunities, and help your business grow. Your success in both the present and the future is directly tied to the amount of love and loyalty you get from your clients. So learn to treat these relationships with care, and consider these 5 ways to build amazing client karma:
1) Add Project Value (Even On Your Own Dollar)
Rarely do clients have the budget for you to get their project as “perfect” as it can be. Sometimes, they have to cut back on design elements, content, or back-end functionality. With that in mind, be willing to give a certain amount of extra value even after their budget ends. It doesn’t have to be a great amount, or even for every project, but allow yourself an hour or two beyond the project cutoff to get it just right. Most clients will notice and you’ll set yourself apart from the typical freelancer who doesn’t work one second past the budget.
2) Take Interest in Their Success (Without the Upsell)
Beware of the attitude that pits “your business” against “their business,” because simple economics shows that as their business grows, yours should as well. So if you have skills or know people that would boost your client’s project beyond what you’re contracted for, try helping them out. Furthermore, take time to understand what they’re trying to do and follow up on their success, seeing what you can do to help. Because let’s be honest — there will always be someone who can do parts of your job for less money. The problem is that such people only give the bare minimum. Build “caring consultancy” into your projects and your clients will see you as more of a partner than a contractor.
3) Thank Them (With More Than an Email)
Many freelancers feel that their clients have more complaints than compliments. However, this lack of appreciation goes both ways. I’ve spoken to many clients who wonder if their contractors hate them, and thus, such clients are more reticent to bring up tentative plans or potential ideas with these contractors. Instead, thank your clients with periodic thank-you cards (the written kind) and occasional gifts (and make sure the gifts are actually something cool — belt buckles and tee shirts, not mugs and pens). If your clients know that you appreciate them and the business they send, they’ll be more likely to think about you for new projects. People like helping out others who show them appreciation. Continue Reading
Is taking care of your customers and clients something that just happens in your freelancing business? Or do you actively set about making sure you keep your clients as happy as possible?
One of the buzz concepts of the management consulting world a few years ago was the “client lifecycle”.
The concept of a client lifecycle is something that any freelancer can apply to their business and benefit from. In a nutshell, it comprises of the phases that each of your clients go through whilst they work with you, starting from the moment they first become aware of you and what you do.
The benefit of understanding this for your freelance business is that you can design and control what happens in each of those phases. This means that not only are you proactively determining what happens in your business and managing it, you are also focusing on and building your business around one the most important components of your business: your clients.
Here is what a client lifecycle looks like…
When you work freelance, reputation is everything, and I don’t mean just yours. It’s important that you also take into consideration, the reputation of the clients you take on.
It’s entirely possible to find what may seem like a dream client: a start-up blog network specializing in your niche, a design firm claiming ties to internationally known brands or many other situations that seem ideal. Problem is, hidden behind the hyperbole of their job ads, can lie a shady reputation. Unreliability when it comes to payments, unpleasantness to work with, or just negative associations with their company.
A wise move is to do some background checks on your clients, the way an employer might on potential employees. Continue Reading
There’s nothing like thanking someone to make them want to be nice to you. It’s positive feedback, just like Pavlov would have used and works on anyone and everyone, including your clients. Saying thank you for their work, time and effort, during the holiday season is a great way to leave a good impression on them to ensure you are remembered when it comes time to hire someone in the new year.
And not only will it leave a good mark, but saying thank you is a great opportunity for giving your clients notice about when you’ll be closed for business, any specials you might have and when you’ll be back at work. With 2007 fast fading into the rear view mirror, it’s time to think about ways you can say thank you to your clients. Here are seven innovative ideas you might like to try:
1. Buy a Sheep … on Their Behalf
Do something good for the world on your client’s behalf and purchase something from Oxfam’s Unwrapped service. You can pay to have a poor farmer’s land irrigated, buy books for school children or invest in a fair trade coffee coop. Last year Cyan and I bought cows on behalf of our clients and named them after major projects we’d worked on. It was amusing, heart warming and something that gets your clients talking and mentioning your name at every christmas and new year party they go to. Continue Reading
The customer is always right, right? Wrong. Clients can make insistent requests that would actually be detrimental to their business or intention. This usually happens if the client is inexperienced or misinformed in your field of work. Sometimes the cause is simply bad taste. Most of us have probably encountered more than our share of these clients. You can recognize this type of client easily, especially when they’re telling you the following things:
“Can we put frames and flashing images on my website? I like the way they look.”
“Maybe if you use red, orange, and purple on my logo it’d look more harmonious and professional.”
“I want my business press release to start with a poem my 5 year old son wrote.”
Sounds familiar, right? Due to the destructive nature of these requests, I’ve learned to call these types of clients “Self-Destructing Clients”. They want us to deliver the best results, but their requests are preventing their own success. My experience with these clients taught me so many lessons that I now know how to nip the problem in the bud, fix existing problems, and communicate better. Hopefully, you can learn from my own experiences rather than going through that difficult road yourself.
It’s a hot topic: Should freelancers use a contract? And if so, how do you go about creating one?
By now, you have probably gotten the idea that if you want to be in serious business as a freelancer, you’ve got to get things in writing. So, where do you start? How do you face the legalese demons? Relax and read on—I promise it’s not that hard if you keep an open mind. Remember, half the things we do in our businesses (for me, accounting and marketing) aren’t things we necessarily like. This is probably one of them for you. But it’s also a vital step in ensuring a professional business that runs smoothly.
First, decide what you need out of a contract. The basic contract includes information on your pay rate, payment timeline and a deadline for the project to be submitted. If you look at my contract, I have a clause in there about being able to use work on my Web portfolio because that was important to me. Whatever else you want to stipulate, it’s good to make a list highlighting the points you need covered.
Now it’s time to create the document. This will not be enjoyable or easy in most cases, but it’s a must. My contract is a good place to start, but you may want to scour the Internet and look at other freelancers’ sites to get an idea of what common agreements say. It’s okay if the copy–paster in you wants to come out here, but don’t solely rely on that to originate a document. You want the agreement to be customized to suit the specific needs of your business.
Ok, confession time — I like to write. I guess that can be a good thing, but often it can also be bad. Why? Because I tend to write too much when something short would have worked just as well.
At one time, I became known for the length of my emails. I was sort of proud of it at the time, thinking my rhetoric and wit were appreciated by all. But then I realized I was pretty much just wasting everyone’s time.
Being wordy can waste your valuable time and it can also frustrate your readers and clients by wasting their time as well. So, if you tend toward wordiness like I do, why not challenge yourself to streamline your communications, or your proposals, or whatever else you’re writing.
I know it’s hard. After all, I’ve got a lot of brilliant thoughts in my head right now that I’d like to add to this article. But, I think the point has been made.
There’s nothing worse than having to admit that you’re wrong. Even when you’ve made the tiniest of errors. But I’ve found that being a freelancer makes the smallest mistake blow into huge proportions. Because when you show vulnerability—in my case, not carefully proofreading—you wonder if that will get you canned. Because, let’s face it: Sometimes it is easy for client to let you go when you’re “just a contractor.”
Case in point, I have a client that expects me to be a perfectionist. With tight deadlines and a full-time load of work, I keep this client around simply because I make good money with them. Lately, though, I’ve found that they can’t accept I’m human. I make an occasional mistake—they rub my face in it. In this case, I’m a good writer, but I don’t always proofread well. Plus, I could do a better job if the deadlines weren’t so tight, but that’s also the nature of this particular job.
I got to thinking this week about a client that has been hanging on by a thread. Dangling, if you will.
This client seems to dangle because, as one of my steady jobs, my hours have steadily decreased over the past six months. Still, they insist there will be more hours. They also admit they’ve changed some internal processes and don’t need me to put in as many hours.
On many occasions, I have thought about dropping the client. Sometimes to beg for hours is a drag, and I can spend more time submitting an invoice than I do on actual work for them. Still, I’ve hung on–just like they have to me.