When One Client Becomes Your Job
Here’s the scenario: you give up your job to take up freelancing full time. First, you work in grinding drudgery for a while, until you land a sweet client who not only loves your work, but wants you to do more and more, until you find yourself dedicating 40 hours a week to just that one client. It feels great: stability, steady income, the same work week-after-week, all the things you left your job for…. or was it?
If you’re in this position, or see your schedule starting to line up with one major client, then it’s time to assess the pros and cons of dedicated freelance work.
When Your Client Becomes Your Job
It can be pretty satisfying to find a client who wants you to work for them full-time. I had a client who I worked with for more than a year, first of all doing part time hours every week, until soon I was working forty hours minimum — with no room for other clients. For a while, this was great. I loved the stability of it, loved knowing how much money I would be bringing in every week, and also loved the team that I worked with.
But it reached a point when I realized that I had lost sight of the reasons that I started freelancing, such as:
- Being my own boss – while I made my own hours I still had someone to answer to. Part of freelancing is the freedom that comes from having to answer to no one but yourself. When your client becomes your boss you’re back to having someone tell you what to do.
- Building my own business – I went into freelancing to develop my own writing business. While having a stable client gave me a great platform to do this, it also meant that I was putting all of my energy into developing his business, instead of my own.
- Working with diverse clients – part of the joy of freelancing is working with so many different people, making connections, developing contacts. When you settle with one client you’ve given up playing the field.
But, that’s not to say its all bad. There are a few of up-sides for dedicating all of your time to one client.
We all know what it feels like to be worried about where the money is going to come from this month. Having a client who has steady work for you every month and pays all of their invoices on time gets rid of that worry. It also helps that you are getting the same income every month. You know how much to put aside for tax, you can save for that holiday or car, and you can budget.
Being Part of a Team
Freelancing can be a lonely business, especially if you’re in a job that requires you be at home in front of the computer all day. If you’re working with lots of different clients it can be hard to build up any meaningful relationships with colleagues, which can increase the feeling of isolation. Working for a client who manages a big team can help you develop friendships, just like you would in any workplace.
No Job Security
So everything is going well with your client, but then one day he or she takes a disliking to you. Maybe you screwed up a website launch, maybe you just missed a typo in some content, or maybe your client is just having a bad day. They decide they’ve had enough of you, and that’s it, you’re gone.
You have no protection, job rights, nothing. You don’t even get one week’s notice. And worse than that, you’ve been working for this client for more than a year and you don’t have any other clients lined up. Sticking with just one client might feel like it gives you stability, but you’re actually less secure than if you had a whole bunch of clients.
No Employment Benefits
There are many things that you give up to become freelancers – it might be a health plan, or a pension, paid holidays, or just the simple matter of someone else taking care of your accounts.
When you work freelance for just one client, you lose many of the benefits of freelancing without gaining the fringe benefits that come with being an employed person. When you factor all of the additional costs (accountancy, web host, printing, stationary, or whatever) you may realize that you could actually be earning more by working a permanent job, rather than permalancing.
Where Are You Going?
At a certain point you wonder where you are going with this. Your client is thriving, but you’re left wondering where you can go within the organization. Maybe there’s nowhere for you to go, and while you’ve been building up someone else’s business your own has been left behind.
Eventually things come to an end. Maybe you want to work on your own business, or maybe your client has kicked you to the curb. How should you leave things?
Whether it’s because of money, you’ve been poached by another client, or you have other projects you want to work on, be up-front about your reasons for leaving. Leave your client on good terms. You may want a reference in the future, or you may decide that working for just one client was for you after all.
In the end, you’ve got to figure out the reasons you became a freelancer in the first place. If you’re working for just one client, and you think about that hard, you may just realize that you’ve become an employee again, without any of the benefits of being employed.