“My client gets me to do all of the Joe jobs that no one else there wants. It’s way beneath my skillset.”
“My client told me my new rate is offensive.”
“My client is demanding more changes – unpaid.”
These are actual things freelancers have told me about long-time clients.
Do you relate to any of these?
If you do, here’s a bit of tough love. You don’t have a client. You have a boss.
Why do good freelancer/client relationships go bad?
This is the worst side of freelancing. The side where you have all the challenges of being an employee without any of the benefits (vacation time, sick days, health care benefits).
At some point, many long-time clients step over the line and ask for something that positions you more as an employee than as a freelancer.
It’s how you respond that paves the way for your future relationship.
If you say “yes” the first time, it gets harder and harder to say no on subsequent occasions.
Meanwhile, your client becomes more and more comfortable asking for questionable things.
To quote Taylor Jenkins Reid in her book Daisy Jones and The Six:
You have these lines that you won’t cross. And then you cross them. You’ve taken a big, black, bold line and you’ve made it a little bit gray. And now, every time you cross it again, it just gets grayer and grayer until one day you look around and you think, there was a line here once.”
The reason freelancers agree to unreasonable demands is out of fear. But if you’re scared of losing your client if you stand up for yourself, it will happen again and again. Eventually, you’ll be wondering where this relationship went awry.
The key to avoiding this situation is to set some productive boundaries in place the first time that happens. Provide a new quote for that unpaid work they’re asking for. Politely decline work that is not part of your offering if you don’t want to do it.
Yes, people should just treat you with respect because it’s the right thing to do. But you can’t rely on that outcome. Even decent people will eventually start testing you and crossing the lines, if you let them. It’s an unfortunate part of human nature.
The quality of your client relationships is almost entirely within your control. Treating your client with respect includes finding a professional way of letting them know when they’re crossing a line.
Here’s my favourite post about setting boundaries as a freelancer.
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This post: why do good freelancer/client relationships go bad?