If you work on freelancing, consulting, multi-level-marketing (MLM) or really any kind of sector in which your livelihood depends on finding new clients interested in your wares, chances are you spend a lot of time thinking about the art of winning new clients.
Strategies for landing new clients has been dissected, analyzed and refined endlessly. You only need to look at carefully curated sites like The Economic Secretariat to gain a sense of how many powerful MLMs are out there finding creative new ways to build a healthy client base.
But winning clients is only part of the picture if you want to build a sustainable business model. Sometimes you’ll need to bite the proverbial bullet and let a client go — yes, even if it hurts your back pocket.
Here’s six of my personal red flags. If any of these happen regularly, I was a freelancer shaped hole in my client’s virtual office wall.
1. Reluctant to Pay or General “Attitude” About Money
Let’s get the big, obvious, nasty one out the way first: Money.
In my experience, this is by far the most common issue a client-facing business is going to have to contend with.
It might start with a bit of grumbling about your invoice. You know the drill: “Wow, that much this week? Are you able to offer a discount for this much work?” Or it could be a little more passive aggressive than that. Maybe you’ll start getting emails where your client casually drops how expensive your services are and how your being on their payroll is undermining their profits.
My advice (after being a patsy for this nonsense one too many times) is to explain your approach to setting your fee once, and once only. If reluctance or attitude about paying you for your honest day’s work persists, plan your exit from that client relationship. It’ll only get worse.
This one is a big problem for freelancers, but I’m sure similar versions of it exist for any kind of consultant or service provider paid to solve problems. At some point or another you’ll encounter the (and yes, I’m going to capitalize this one) Unreasonable Client.
“Hey can you write this article to make people feel sad, but do it an an upbeat way?”
“Um… I like that purple bit there. Keep it purple. But can you also make it look green?”
Writing as a moderately jaded mid-forty year old who’s never played Fortnite, the depressing fact is this: A lot of people think they know exactly what they want, but they don’t. They’re actually deeply confused about what they want, and the solution they’ve found is to pay someone to reconcile their existential ambivalence. Or put simply, they’ll want the impossible.
If these impossible scenarios happen over and over, just get out of there. You can’t fix their problem because that would require fixing them. And unless you’re a shrink, that’s above your pay grade.
The other big red flag which falls under the “unreasonable” category is deadlines. Every now and then emergency deadlines will happen. Don’t sweat that stuff. But if every other week you feel like your whole schedule is being derailed by a client’s sudden urgent need for something right now, fire them. Yes, even if they pay really well.
Deadline unreasonableness is poison to designing a manageable work week. Take the money hit, cut your losses and exit, stage left.
3. Your Approach or Recommendations are Repeatedly Being Rejected
This is a quick ’n simple one. If your client continually dislikes your approach, or if they continually second guess your suggestions, you’re dealing with a lack of chemistry and possibly a lack of trust.
When this happens to me, I don’t leave immediately. I give it a good month to see if we can find a workable middle ground. But if you see no improvement after a few encounters, it’s probably time to seek greener pastures.
4. Mind Games
First off, this here book should be compulsory reading for any client-facing gun for hire.
It sucks, but the world is full of people who habitually operate by playing mind games. So what kind of tomfoolery are we talking about here?
They may have a pattern of offering a cycle of praise and harsh criticism to keep you feeling as though you’re walking on eggshells. They may have “moody” days where they jump down your throat and take their stresses out on you. Or it can even stray into out-and-out bunny-boiler territory where your client feels entitled to psychoanalyze your mood or state of mind through your work.
These are all signs you’re dealing with a certified, card-carrying oaf. No money is worth it. Dust your sandals, saddle up your donkey and get the heckers out of Dodge.
5. Bad Ethics
This is a highly personal one, and I kind of hesitate to put it in here. But when I think over my career with clients, I’ve ended enough professional relationships over ethical considerations that it warrants at least a mention.
We all have our own personal line it feels grubby to cross. My personal triggers are promoting products which actively harm someone’s health or financial well-being, or being asked to produce content which I know is pseudoscience or which exploits superstitious people.
Whatever your personal ethical line is, know what it is and fire a customer if they repeatedly ask you to cross it. To paraphrase Albert Camus, the father of Absurdism, “a person without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world.”
Do yourself a favor. Be one of the good guys. It feels nice.
6. You’re Just Not Happy
How you feel is part of all this too. Being unhappy with a work situation can kind of creep up on you until you suddenly realize you dread sitting down in front of your computer to work for a particular client.
If you just feel down, depressed or generally unhappy when you’re dealing with a client, pay attention to that emotion. Life is too short to ignore chronic, ongoing unhappiness with a given situation, especially if you have the rare luxury of being able to simply avoid said situation altogether.
If you’re unhappy working for a client, finish up and find people you enjoy working for.
It’s sometimes hard to remember that saying “no” is sometimes just as important as saying “yes.” That applies to life generally, but it’s especially applicable in your career. If you can be mindful about when it’s time to fire a client, chances are you’ll be happier and more prosperous as a result. So get out there and get your “no” on!