It happens to nearly every freelance writer at some point. You have a client, and you want to get rid of them.
They don’t pay enough, or their people aren’t appreciative, or their deadlines are too crazy, or all three. Maybe things started out great, but now the situation has changed. You find yourself putting off their work and maybe not doing the best work you possibly could on their account.
The bottom line: This client has got to go.
Making the decision to drop a client is a positive step. It signifies that you value your time and your career, and are only going to associate with clients that treat you right. It’s an empowering moment, really, when you have the insight that you want to drop a client.
But it can also feel very scary. Maybe you fear the economic uncertainty, or you just hate confrontations.
This topic has been on my mind lately because I recently dropped two steady clients. Here is how I decided these clients needed to be pruned off my roster, and how I handled the situation.
Choosing which clients to drop
In looking at my 2010 earnings, I identified two clients that needed to be cut from my list. I felt strongly that if I dropped these two clients, I would be able to replace them with better clients. I also needed to free up more time to work on this blog.
One client had been a great, steady account for a couple of years, with a nice editor who loved my work and gave me usually two articles a month. The articles appeared on very popular Web sites and gave me some great visibility. But the sad fact was their pay rate was lower than anyone else on my roster, and I didn’t find I got a lot of referrals from the stories. (One of my metrics of whether a client’s work is worth it is whether their clips generate referral business.) I asked for a raise for 2011 and they said they couldn’t do it.
The other was a steady gig with much good about it — a wonderful editor, a cool virtual chat room with all the other excellent reporters, a major brand behind it, huge website traffic, and a chance to learn tons about blogging. But it also had significant negatives, including a crushing monthly workload that had to be met or pay was zero. And its per-blog-post rate was my absolute lowest. It also did not generate referrals, and would have required significant additional time to build income — time I don’t have.
Often, we cling to existing freelance writing clients because it’s comfortable. We know what’s expected of us. It’s a known quantity. It feels secure.
But the reality is that if we don’t keep improving our client list, our income won’t grow. I eventually realized it was time for me to make some changes, which you want to do before the quality of what you’re delivering starts to go downhill.
Once you’ve decided a client is getting the ax, the trick is to do it in the best possible way. Here are my tips for managing the process of saying goodbye to a client:
- Line up your replacement client first. This isn’t always possible, but ideally, you don’t want to see any interruption in income. Try to keep control of the situation. Bide your time and do your assignments until the moment you’re ready to ditch them in favor of a better client. If you let your attitude or work quality deteriorate, the client may give you the ax first. Then you’re scrambling to find a replacement, and in your haste may latch onto another substandard client.
- Give notice. Don’t leave your client in the lurch. If you know you have a contract coming up for renewal, let them know several weeks ahead that you don’t want to renew. With more sporadic clients, it may simply be a question of turning down several assignments in a row by saying you’re too busy, then finally saying, “I think I’m not going to have time to do anything for you going forward.” If you write for mills, of course, it’s simply a matter of not visiting that dashboard again.
- Give referrals. A classy way to leave a gig is by giving the editor a couple names of writers who might replace you. This is where you can be a hero to your writer network, since there’s always someone who’s at a different point in their writing career, where your loser client might be a great client for a friend. I was happy to be able to refer a writer to one of the clients I dropped who was a perfect fit and got an assignment right away.
- Be professional. Even if you thought this client was a raging lunatic whose unreasonable demands drove you to the edge of madness, keep your cool. Remember, editors move around, publications change, and content budgets increase sometimes.
- Leave the door open. The ideal is to leave on a positive note, with the idea that if things changed, you might work for them again in future. This keeps you in the driver’s seat, with the possibility of coming back to the client later. It also means more likelihood this client retains good feelings about you and might refer you if they hear about other gigs.
My dream with the second client I dropped was to get more casual, better-paying occasional freelance gigs from them instead of being part of their monthly grind. I was classy, gave lots of notice, made sure my editor knew how much I valued working with him…and mentioned that I was available for any special projects. Presto: Since exiting my regular gig, I’ve gotten several fun, easy blog assignments and made a total of $1,300, with the potential for more work to come.
Sending a snarky farewell email or slamming out your editor’s door may feel good for a moment, but it burns a bridge. Better to keep all your options open for the future.
Have you dropped a writing gig lately? If so, how did you go about it? Leave a comment and let us know.
Photo via stock.xchng user Makau