Last month’s post, Are You Dating Your Client?, covered the stages of commitment from flirting to marriage. But the road to long-term freelance bliss is paved with clients who aren’t quite right, because, to paraphrase Greg Behrendt and his famous dating book, “they’re just not that into you.”
Maybe their boss is on their back about cutting costs. Or perhaps they’re not really sure what they need. Either way, it’s not you, it’s them. And if you don’t carefully manage him or break up with Mr. Wrong, then there’s a real possibility that you’ll end up with a broken heart. Or at least, shattered confidence and the sick feeling that you’ve just wasted your time.
Here’s our field guide to identifying and coping with these types of clients:
The Penny Pincher
If I were on a date and a guy busted out a coupon, well, be still, my bargain-loving heart! But I know I’m in the minority. Just as many women prefer men who wine and dine them a bit without stressing about the bill or trying to cut corners, many freelancers (myself included) prefer to work with clients who aren’t always trying to get more work for less money. You can spot the Penny Pincher when he uses phrases like, “our last freelancer charged half as much” or “are you sure you can’t do it just this once?”
You get what you pay for, as they say, so with this brand of client, it helps to remind them of the value you’ll bring to the project. If they fail to recognize and respect that value, continually trying to negotiate a rock-bottom price or squeeze a few freebies out of you, then it may be time to part ways. Someone suggested using this statement: “I understand if professional freelance rates aren’t in your budget now, but please let me know if that changes.”
The Big Talker
Like the guy who tries to woo you with by bragging about his fancy degree, his high-powered job, or swanky bachelor pad (which, coincidentally, you have never seen), big-talking clients feed you stories about their incredible business opportunity or their startup website that is going to make you a millionaire.
They may be trying to manipulate you, or maybe they truly buy into the hype they’re feeding you. Either way, if something sets off your BS meter, then be wary. Make it clear that you’re not willing to work for stock options or a percentage of future revenue (unless for some reason, you are willing). In the words of Jerry Maguire, “show me the money.” And get it in writing.
The Control Freak
Controlling boyfriends might try to choose your clothes, your entrée at a restaurant, even your friends. Controlling clients want to know why you took a whole two hours to return their phone or why you chose Helvetica instead of Arial font. Oftentimes they treat you as if you were an indentured servant employee, rather than a freelancer who’s working with several other clients. Repeated phone calls and emails are often a tell tale sign that you’ve met a Control Freak.
Sometimes you can gently remind them that while they certainly know their business inside and out, you know design or marketing or XML, and that’s why they hired you. If you feel comfortably using humor rather than a a more direct, cards-on-the-table approach, that can help diffuse the situation. You can also let them when you’re available for phone calls or email or screen their calls and emails the rest of the time. But hey, if the money’s good enough, maybe you won’t care. That’s why some freelancers add a PITA fee when dealing with difficult clients (they’ll build this into their project fee, rather than listing it on the invoice!).
The Disappearing Act
One day he’s showering you with praise, the next he’s giving you the cold shoulder. Clients (and boyfriends) have lots of reasons for going MIA, but Murphy’s Law of Freelancing states that they will do so at the least opportune moment for you, like when you’re on deadline and a crucial question pops up. Then they’ll inexplicably emerge months later as if nothing has happened.
The occasional disappearing act may be something you can learn to live with if you’re otherwise happy. But if it’s seriously jeopardizing the relationship, then you have to let the client know that in order to meet their needs, you’ll need some help from them. You could also schedule check-in points where you know you’ll be able to reach them with questions. If you sense that your contact is over-burdened, you might gently inquire if there’s a better way to reach them (maybe they’re overwhelmed with email but don’t mind a short phone call) or a colleague who might make a more suitable point of contact, since they’re so busy.
You’ve talked on the phone at length, submitted a custom quote, even met with him for a consultation, but the Commitmentphobe still won’t take the next logical step and commit to a relationship with you. He may resemble the Disappearing Act or the Control Freak with his mixed signals or his insistance on one more meeting to make sure everything is perfect before you “go all the way.”
Sadly, some Commitmentphobes have no intention of settling down, even with a nice freelancer like you. See, they’ve figured out that they can pump you for free information, so why buy the milk if they already know they can get it for free? (Wow – that was a lot of relationship metaphors in one paragraph!). If you find yourself in that situation, then you need to set boundaries. Limit free consultations to 30 minutes, then let them know that you’re happy to keep talking and you’ll invoice them for any additional time.
Have you met any of these “types”? Or are there others I’ve missed? Do tell?