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Freelancers often think that they have to take anything and everything that’s offered to them. It comes down to a mindset of scarcity – “There’s only so many paying clients, and a seemingly unlimited pool of freelancers. If a client wants to pay me, how can I say no?”
Lets start by separating fact from fiction.
- Myth: There’s only so many paying clients. The number of potential clients is unlimited. If you can find a problem, a client will pay for you to provide a solution. The bigger the problem, the more they’ll pay to have it solved.
- Fact: There’s an unlimited pool of freelancers. That’s true – there are millions of freelancers out there. If you learn to reach out to clients correctly though (see here), then you’ll no longer be price-competing with other freelancers.
- Myth: If a client wants to pay me, how can I say no? Once you lose the scarcity mindset and understand that there are opportunities everywhere, you realize that you don’t need to be stuck doing work you don’t like or aren’t particularly good at, and you definitely don’t need to be working for clients you can’t stand.
What Makes a Bad Client?
There are a couple of different clients that, at this stage, I just won’t deal with:
- Bad attitude: Rude or condescending.
- Price obsessed: Fixated on getting everything as fast and cheap as possible.
- Lack of understanding: Has no idea of what he’s asking for or what’s involved. Not interested in learning.
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It’s not just a case that these clients are difficult to work with. This type of client will consistently be a headache – arguing over invoices and late payment, criticizing the work delivered, and always trying to hustle that extra bit beyond what you agreed. Really – it’s not worth it.
What Makes a Bad Project?
Not only do you want to avoid bad clients, but you also want to avoid bad projects. So what makes a bad project?
- One that you just don’t want to do (no reason necessary!)
- One that you find morally objectionable. In my case, I’m not interested in dealing with gambling, drugs, porn, violence/hatred/discrimination, get rich quick/MLM, or scammy/spammy type projects. Again – no reason necessary, I just won’t accept that type of work.
- One that’s outside your area of interest. If it pays really well, and it’s in an area you want to get involved in, make an exception. Otherwise, you end up diluting your time, energy and focus.
Taking on projects that you’re not qualified for can be a tricky one. In general, it’s easy to say, “just avoid it.” But it’s how a lot of us get started (me included) or move into new areas. One of my earliest freelance gigs was a PHP programming project. I’d never written a line of PHP code before! I did however understand the client’s requirements and was confident I could deliver. I worked late nights to learn, practice and test, and delivered him a fully functioning project.
Turning Down Work
Weigh up the pros and cons, get a good feel for the client and the project, and if you’re still unsure, sleep on it. If you don’t want to take the work on, just be polite but assertive. There’s a wide range of reasons you can give, but my favorite is, “I don’t feel that the project is a good fit for my skillset.” Can’t argue with that, right?
Firing A Bad Client
Sometimes, you’ve just had enough. Whether it’s payment problems, a bad attitude or a style of working together that’s just not working out for you, you have as much right to fire your client as he has to fire you.
The only caveat is that if you’re in any contractual agreement, there may be financial or legal repercussions from just walking away. In that case, if it’s easy enough to finish the job – just do it. If it’s not and you really want out, you probably want to speak to an attorney to understand your obligations and liabilities.
When it comes to firing a client, you’ve got a couple of different choices depending on your working relationship. As always, be pleasant, polite and assertive.
If you’re working on a purely casual/ad-hoc arrangement where the client will send you over work and you’ll do it as soon as you can, it’s pretty easy to quit. “Hey Mr Client, Thanks for sending this over. Unfortunately I’m pretty booked up at the moment and won’t be able to get to this project. Can I suggest you try posting your project on a freelancing job board? All the best in future – The Freelancer”.
You’ve been firm and clear, and I find that the “all the best in future” at the end signifies quite clearly that you don’t expect to be working together again.
If you’re working on more of an ongoing basis, you might try something like, “Hey Mr Client, Unfortunately various things have come up, and I’m not going to be able to take on any more work on this project from next Tuesday. Can I suggest looking for another capable freelancer on a job board? Thanks again, and all the best in future – The Freelancer”
Tip: Be smart! If you’re walking away from your client because of payment problems, you probably don’t want to fire them while leaving a large amount outstanding if you can avoid it. There’s a good chance your client will then find it easier not to pay you. In this case, try and get as much if not all of your outstanding balance paid, and then politely let him know that you won’t be working for him anymore.