10 Signs You Should Drop a Client Like a Bad Habit
One of the keys to freelance happiness is working with great clients — people you can trust, who you enjoy working with, who are encouraging and motivating and brilliant. Excellence inspires excellence.
On the other hand, having horrible clients is a sure way to make you miserable. They’ll lower your job satisfaction, lower the quality of your work, and in general do very little to improve your career (and more likely, will actually hurt it). None of that is good news for a freelancer.
Our problem, however, is that we tend to stick with a client if we’ve been working with them for awhile, simply because it’s safer, and it’s more difficult (not to mention a little scary) to find new clients. So we stay with bad clients for longer than we should.
Break out of that rut. If you’re staying with clients just because they’re long-time clients, take a look at the following list and consider whether it’s time to look for new pastures. Quick note: I’d recommend that you look for new clients before dropping the old ones, just so that you’ll have enough income coming in.
1. Too critical. While honest feedback can be very valuable, some clients go beyond honesty and just complain too much. They’re never happy, and they make you feel bad about your work. You don’t need that. Working for positive clients is much more satisfying and motivating.
2. Slow payers. Does it take a month or more for a client to pay after you send them your invoice? In this electronic age, payment is as simple as a few clicks in PayPal. It shouldn’t take more than a couple weeks to make a payment, at any rate.
3. Constant new requests. There’s no question that most jobs will require some requests that weren’t made up front … that’s unavoidable in many cases. However, when a client requests round after round of revisions, with new requests each time, he’s more trouble than he’s worth.
4. Too much work for the pay. I’ve done jobs where the pay is low — I’m sure we all have. But for a low-paying job, you shouldn’t expect a huge amount of work. Incredibly, I kept a certain client for almost two years doing low pay work ($45 for a job that took 2-3 hours) only because it was high volume and I needed the money. Eventually I realized that for the amount they were paying me, if the job took more than 30 minutes, it wasn’t worth it. They were asking for too much work for the amount of pay they were giving me.
5. Not enough communication. I’m not a particularly chatty person, so when I client keeps communications short and sweet, that’s how I like it. But there still needs to be enough communication to get the job done right. If the client doesn’t communicate clearly or sufficiently at the start of the job, and give you the proper feedback during and after the job, there is sure to be problems later.
6. No follow-through. Most client-freelancer relationships are two-way streets — sure, the freelancer is hired to do a job, but most of the time, there are things that the client must do as well for the job to be done … and if the client doesn’t do what he’s supposed to do, it can be very frustrating for the freelancer. A client who says he’s going to do something, but then is too busy or too forgetful to follow through with it, can cause headaches for the freelancer. Or perhaps a client doesn’t return phone calls or emails — not a good sign either. Too much of this means it’s time to drop that client.
7. Too disorganized. Related to No. 6. We can all be disorganized, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But when the client’s disorganization causes problems for the freelancer, that’s not good. I had an editor who was constantly calling me at the last minute with articles that were due the next day … articles I could have been working on for a week if she had been more organized. She also took a long time to respond to my emails, was constantly forgetting about things I asked her, and had no advanced planning. Now, if she wants to operate that way, that’s completely up to her … but I decided not to let her disorganization be my problem. I dropped her.
8. Makes too many mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. That’s understandable. But when your client introduces errors into your work, and constantly makes the work become of slipshod quality, that makes you look bad. You have a reputation to uphold.
9. Gossips or makes things personal. Unfortunately, this happens. Clients should be professional, but sometimes aren’t. They talk behind your back, or talk about other people to you, or try to become too personal when things should be professional. It’s OK to be friendly, but gossip and the like are completely unprofessional, and while there’s a tendency to overlook this stuff, in my experience such things can turn around and bite you if you’re not careful.
10. Too emotional or unbalanced. Related to No. 9. Let’s be honest: we’re all emotional from time to time. We’re human, and emotions are a part of life. But in a client-freelancer relationship, emotions can’t get in the way of professionalism. If the client is an emotional rollercoaster, and especially if those emotions (anger, depression, hysterics, etc.) interfere with your work or with your relationship with the client, that’s not a good situation for you. One person I worked with, years back, came into the office with a baseball bat and slammed it on a desk (cracking the glass on the desk’s surface) because he was mad at another person I worked with. I was a few feet from this display of athleticism, and I stupidly tried to get between the two men to stop any injury. That kind of thing is just bad news. Stay away from such unbalanced people, and your job will be much easier.