So last week, I wrote about how to communicate with problematic clients.
Problematic can mean many things, ranging from fickle about settling on one idea to straight up committing fraud.
This week I’ll be sharing why I chose to stay with problematic clients, how to find your way to better opportunities, and a helpful checklist.
As a freelancer, you can often feel like you are on your own, leaving the best of us on the back foot. So how can you protect yourself and your creativity in challenging situations? Let’s unpack my story.
Why did I choose to stay?
Short answer: I didn’t have anyone else lined up.
I think about progress as a spiral because I never find myself in the same place twice. In this instance, my spiral is also a monkey bar. It curves upwards and has poles, each client and work opportunity representing a pole for me to hold on to, so I can make my way to the top. I think of these work opportunities as poles instead of stairs because I get to test my creativity every time, and when I’m ready to let go, there’s another pole with a new test waiting for me. You could say I hang by it 😉
And hang, I did.
Because the work from the Problematic Client (PC) took up most of the month and because they paid the most significant chunk of my income, I decided not to look for new clients. This, my dear reader, was my first mistake.
Remember the spiral monkey bar I was talking about? Yeah. I didn’t allow myself the time or space to identify and solidify the next pole, the one I could confidently swing to.
What did I notice in this challenging situation?
There are two things every project requires:
A clearly defined scope (including a detailed brief, allowance for freelancer creativity, and the number of iterations, the timeline)
An agreed-upon definition of “done”.
A clearly defined scope gives freelancers a boundary. It tells us what the project does and does not cover and allows us to complete the work according to a plan. My second mistake with the PC was repeatedly accepting project work without a clearly defined scope (even when I requested it). And when both parties agree on what counts as “done,” it gives the freelancer an idea of how much time to give the project and keeps us accountable. The scope for the client is a reminder that they requested specific goals to be met according to a specified timeline.
And in this situation with the PC, these two were missing. For example, when I was hired for writing and design work in the PC’s company, I was informed that various types of documentation needed my touch. However, writing and editing projects were given to me the day before they were due, or the scope kept changing because the client couldn’t decide the best way forward. While some people within the company tried to organise project work beforehand, the overall experience was disorganised and upset my entire weekly schedule.
Because I settled for a disorganised client, there were days when I was forced to deprioritise tasks for other clients. It left me feeling bitter, always behind schedule, and forever apologising. I hated it.
What did I do next?
I decided to create a scope of work for myself. And also got a few new clients. Both helped me feel settled about handling the PC. On the one hand, I could apply my boundaries to their project requirements and see how far I could get in a day. And on the other, the new clients meant I didn’t have to depend on the PC for all my income.
Viable work hours = scope of work:
First, know how many viable hours you have in your day. This is all the time you have that is fully work-focused. Personally, I feel like I have a lot of time in the day, but when it comes down to sitting and actually working on the project, I only have a maximum of about 2 to 3 hours per client per day.
8 viable work hours - (30 mins for emails and texts + 1 hour lunch break and house admin + 15 mins movement for every hour of sitting down + 1 hour daily TFQ brand marketing and development) = 4.5 hours in a day for completely focused work
Remember to include the time you invest in ideation, client meetings, and drafting as a part of your viable work hours.
Vulnerability can be a good thing
Clients sometimes seem incredibly hard to reach, and there’s no easy way to get to them without putting yourself out there. If no one knows what you do — or worse, why you do it — how can you expect them to flock to you for The Best Support?
Knowing why you do the work you do is worthwhile because it will inform your vulnerability in nuanced ways. For example, I knew I had to leave the PC immediately. So I engaged with the most inspiring and successful people in my network. I was honest about why I asked them for support and advice; that was both useful and empowering.
Personally and professionally, success means I get to work on projects that bring me joy, don’t make me feel yucky about making money, and build meaningful relationships with empathetic people. I asked my fellow freelancers and business owners which platforms to use to find new clients; what they did to improve their reliability and professional presence online, and how they got to where they are. Expressing my vulnerability to the right people became the key to freedom from the PC.
As much as the burden of providing information rests on the client, as a solopreneur, you still need to prepare well and ask the right questions to organise your work. Check out the Freelancer-facepalms-herself-for-not-checking-these-basic-things list:
The Freelancer Checklist:
Do you have a contract that protects and keeps you accountable to your client?
Do you have an official, clearly defined, and feasible timeframe and scope of work (the design or writing brief) to refer to?
Do you communicate your progress regularly via official emails?
Do you have all the information and authorisations you need to complete the project within the timeframe?
When you begin work, you should clearly understand what is expected from you as the service provider and when it is due. Remember to specify how many revisions are included within the fee and the additional costs if the client exceeds the limit. It’s also worth considering what you expect from the client too. Remember to include this in the contract.
While most clients are comfortable bearing responsibility for the information, fees, and other aspects affecting your work, some are not. And that’s why the bottom line, to keep everyone accountable, is to ensure you and the client are on the same page, especially when there is a breach of contract.
That's it for this week. Thank you for staying to the end. It's not the end of this series, but I'm putting a hold on it for now — or until a new PC rises from the ashes (pls god, no!).
If you're enjoying my blogs as light reading or as a helpful resource, please share your thoughts in the comments below 💛 To the regular readers, thank you for keeping up with TFQ 😉 See you next week!