Freelance 101 | Standing Your Ground With Painful Clients
You know how it is, we've all been there - a client that you've worked well with in the past, but as your business has grown, you've taken on more (higher paying) clients, and now ... you're kind of doing it out of a sense of loyalty.
You don't just want to tell them no, but you need to find a subtle, polite way of telling them that you're no longer working for buttons, and whichever way you do that, it could be awkward.
I recently had one such case; he'd been one of my early clients for a sideline project he was working on, but as we progressed, I was writing more stuff for his 'proper' business, which was business based.
To all intents and purposes, he was a high-flying businessman, he understood business, he advised other multi-million pound businesses how to be more efficient, save money ... he was a smart cookie.
Toward the end of last year, he asked me to write a couple of Case Studies for him, which was fine, but I knew he'd want them for cheap, yet still expect a professional study.
I wrote one, just to appease him really, and then never really got round to the next one - I had better jobs that I preferred and that actually paid me a living wage. To be fair, it was on a 'as and when you can' basis, so I wasn't letting him down.
He contacted me a month ago, asking if there was an update, he'd caught me at a quiet time so I thought I'd just do it so there's nothing outstanding. Simple enough.
Two weeks after that, he contacted me again, asking for another which was to be submitted for a national award - what he wanted wasn't going to be a five minute job.
I told him that I could do it, but that it would be expensive (around three times the price he paid for the last one), I wasn't sure it would be cost-effective for him.
He questioned the price to "redraft some text", it took me a further 30 minutes to write an email that it wasn't redrafting text, it was a case study, from scratch, using his information supplied (which was dreadful - hence why I said to start again).
And Then The Trouble Began
I offered him two prices - the first being somewhere near the original price to "copy & paste his text into a case study template" or "write from scratch". He grumbled, but opted for the more expensive option.
After writing the study, in which I found over £2m in cashable benefit for the company (that his case study had missed), he said that it was no more "punchy" than his original, and I needed to make amendments.
I strongly disagreed and told him so. However, I knew that he'd be wanting to make edits because that's his nature, he liked to show me who's boss.
I made the amendments, sent it across and then ... nothing.
No response to my numerous emails, or text message, it seemed that Big Boss Man was trying to stiff me. (for me, ignoring me is the worst behaviour, and will push me to stepping up the pressure)
So I did just that. I called him.
To say that he was surprised was an understatement, you could clearly hear the shock in his voice (this was the first time in around three years of working together that we'd spoken), apparently, he'd been "busy, it was a 24-h thing".
"So we'll get this resolved today then?"
An invoice had been issued, I asked for payment, and was told that he was a "Gentleman" and that I should just be patient. He also mentioned an email that I'd sent out to a number of businesses, offering an SEO service for their business - he referred to it as "your begging email".
And it that was that phrase, along with his attitude toward my services that pushed the next step. He needed to be shown that despite being a high-flying businessman, you can still teach an old dog new tricks.
And this was a trick he wasn't going to forget.
The actual cost of the invoice wasn't that high (which I'd discounted by 10% as a gesture of goodwill), so it was never really about the money, but that was the pressure I needed.
After having three polite requests for the money, I threatened him with legal action and a late penalty fee on the invoice, still no payment, so I amended the invoice for late payment, re-sent it, along with a letter that basically said pay this by COB today, or I'll take you to court.
I expected a fight, he was a procurement consultant, he knew about this stuff.
It just seems that I know more, especially when it comes to pressure, copyright legislation, and my rights.
He tried to pay the invoice without the penalty, but I'd already invested over two hours just chasing him, and I'd given him fair warning of the fee, so that just wasn't going to fly.
A bit more wrangling back & forth, I made it clear that despite it only being £40 (the legal allowance on an invoice less than £999.99), I would still see him in court.
He paid up.
What Did We Learn?
So here's the thing, I'd already made up my mind that we wouldn't be doing any further work together (an important skill to have as a freelancer in any discipline - knowing when to sack a client).
I wasn't worried about losing his business.
Despite claiming that I was basically crap at my job, he returned again, again, and again as a customer, and he was trying to fight for ownership of the work I'd supplied - if it was SO bad, why would that be?
Attitudes can have a large impact on the way things go; I was calm & professional throughout our correspondence, despite the cheap shots designed to rile me.
Self-belief is all-important when you don't have a team to have your back, pick you up, defend you ... share half of the crap when it goes wrong.
Knowing when to stand your ground is a skill that needs to be learnt, don't be bullied or coerced by the Big Bad Boss.