As 2019 wound down, copywriter Kristen Hicks spoke to Freelance Austin members about how to start the new year on a strong note: Break up with clients who are toxic or just aren’t a good fit.
Keep The Right People On Your Client List
Kristen gave us practical advice on why it’s important to keep our client list full of people who energize us and our work. But doing this requires letting go of the clients who don’t serve us best. She said:
“It opens room in your schedule for better clients. We’re not like product-based businesses where the more you sell the better. We have limited time and energy to give to our work. By keeping the right clients, we’ll have more energy to give to our good clients and to our own business.”
Also, Kristen said that when we resent a client, we’re more likely to be unprofessional and they’re more likely to bring negative energy out of us. The result? Stress. Now there’s something freelancers definitely don’t need any more of.
Client Compatibility Issues
To figure out which clients suit you best, Kristen suggested defining the type of work we like doing most.
Next, write out a description of our ideal client, including their personality type and business. This will help us stay focused on the type of clients we accept.
Finally, create an anti-persona that includes clients who were really bad for you. Kristen says, “When you put the anti-persona in writing, you make it more real and you’re more likely to follow the break-up rules that you set out for yourself.”
Kristen pointed out two types of clients to break up with:
1) Toxic clients – These are energy vampires. Their bad energy interferes with the work we do with good clients. That’s because toxic clients make us upset or angry. They can ruin our whole day!
2) Clients Who Aren’t a Good Fit – These are nice people but the work they want just isn’t what we want to do, or we may have scheduling conflicts, or maybe they’re not able to pay our new rate.
When Not to Break Up with a Client
If you’re not sure if a client is break-up material, you need to get clarity. Ask yourself, “Can I fix this problem?” Maybe better communication on your end to help the client understand what is in the scope of your work and what isn’t would resolve the issue. If so, have a conversation and avoid breaking up.
Or maybe you’ve had a client for several years but you’ve recently raised your rates. Now you’re in a powerful position to request an increase in pay. Before you walk away, have an earnest conversation about how much you love the relationship but you really need to charge more.
What if I can’t afford to break up with my client?
If you feel that you can’t afford to break up with your client, Kristen says to: 1) Schedule a break-up date; 2) Focus on your marketing plan; and 3) Increase your networking.
Schedule a Break-Up Date
Sometimes we need the money, but we know the relationship is bad. In this case, we need to put a plan in place to end it within three months. Kristen says, “Putting an end date on the calendar helps you make a psychological shift so that you won’t feel stuck anymore.”
Focus On Your Marketing Plan
Kristen also suggested that we create a clear marketing plan with deadlines for your own business. She said, “Don’t prioritize client deadlines at the expense of your own business. Give your own marketing the same priority as you give your clients.”
Increase Your Networking
Finally, Kristen says to increase your networking. “87% of freelancers get their jobs from other freelancers, and in Austin there are so many professional groups.” The advice is to get out of your pjs and start working the room.
How to Break Up With a Client
Once you’ve decided to break up with a client, you need to figure out the best way to communicate the message. Kristen recommends using email, so that you’ll both have a clear record in writing as to what you’ve said.
However, if you think the person may feel slighted if you don’t make a phone call, then write out a script in advance beforehand. Either way you choose to communicate, you’ll want to follow these tips:
- Keep your tone professional (even if the client doesn’t).
- Don’t feel that you have to get too specific about the reason.
- Give advance notice—at least two weeks to a month—although if it’s affecting your mental health then you may need to cut off the relationship immediately.
- Let your soon-to-be-ex client know your final day or last assignment.
- And for nontoxic clients only, provide a referral to another freelancer.
While breaking up with a client may be temporarily uncomfortable, in the long-run it can save your business and your mind. Learn more about Kristen’s break-up strategies in 5 Good Reasons to End a Client Relationship (and How to Do It).
So if a particular client came to mind as you were reading this post, take action to make 2020 the most productive, joyful year for you and your freelancing business!
Kristen Hicks is a freelance content marketing writer. She specializes in writing blog posts for B2B tech companies. She has been freelancing for 8 years. You can find her at Austin-copywriter.com or @atxcopywriter
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