It’s a difficult shift in mindset to make. Can you really be better off without a client who is willing to give you money? When your business is just starting out or it’s not growing as fast as you would like, saying ‘No” is a hard place to be.
In my freelance career I would say “Yes” to any job. No matter how big or small. No matter how long it would take or how much I would get paid. No matter how much other work I had at the time. Why? Because I wanted to be the person who they would ask in the future. Many times, that worked out and I got repeat business. At other times, I got people who wanted me to do more work for the same pay. Or more work for less pay. Or more work on a faster, last-minute deadline. Or more work that they hadn’t thought out very well, so I got no guidance and didn’t give them what they wanted, then had to go back and fix it . . . on my own time. By saying yes to everything, in their mind I became the person who would, well, say yes to everything. I got taken advantage of.
I eventually learned that it is not only OK to say “No,” but that it is the responsible thing to do. Here’s why.
A client who takes up all of your mental time and energy leaves you nothing left for the other clients. The less demanding clients deserve your best attention to, and you can’t give it to them if you’re mopping up after one client all the time.
Saying “No” to a low-paying client frees up your schedule to say “Yes” to a higher paying one. It’s hard to believe that turning down money leads to more money, but it does. If you spend 5 hours a week on one client paying you $50 an hour, that’s $250. Yes, that’s a lot. But if you find 3 clients willing to pay you $100, you’re already $50 ahead. Take that 5 hours you would have spent working for the low-paying client and send out emails, make phone calls, beef up your website, or other efforts to improve your business attractiveness and find better paying clients.
Should you fire a client?
I’m not suggesting you fire a client just because the relationship is temporarily difficult or they have given you a job that is more demanding than usual. All client relationships will have their ups and downs. A relationship that starts out difficult can often be smoothed over. What I’m suggesting here is ongoing patterns of behavior in your client relationship where it’s just not worth the effort to continue.
Here’s when to know you probably should let that client go.
- They don’t heed your recommendations.
If the client doesn’t follow your recommendations, it’s likely a red flag. They hired you as the expert, so if they don’t believe that you know what’s best, why work together?
- They don’t respect your boundaries.
You ask that you not get urgent tasks after 6pm, but they still text you or email you wanting answers before they go to bed at night. That’s a sign of disrespect that is going to make it hard for you to do an effective job for them.
- Your hourly rate doesn’t meet your limits.
After all the work is done, the time you spent on them and the amount of money you receive in return just doesn’t add up. I have said yes to jobs in the past where I got a set amount, like $500. After tracking my hours, I realized I was approaching minimum wage for the work I did! Even if I asked for more and got it, the amount of time I put into these projects took me away from my family and other higher-paying jobs for almost a month each year. I said no to those jobs in the future, and it was not hard to make up that income. Even if I lost the $500, I was happier.
You just can’t work with a client who is going to fall off the map when you’re waiting for information and guidance. You’ll be stressed out and not make progress.
You see the email or phone call from this client and your stomach starts to groan. It’s just not worth it.
It’s ok to let it go.