I realized I hadn’t heard from a freelance writer acquaintance of mine in a while. Part of the fault was mine.
I hadn’t checked in either, partly because I was a bit jealous of the large, well paying client he had landed. He essentially had contracted for a more than full-time job even though he was able to do it at home and, in theory, have additional clients.
When I finally called this is what I found out:
In the first 90 days, he quit marketing his writing business because the new gig was pretty intense.
By the time 120 days had passed all his smaller clients had drifted off. In truth, he told me, he was relieved because The Big Client was taking so much time, but the pay was excellent.
I’d been vaguely aware of these happenings and it was, I’m ashamed to admit, a full 6 months later that I finally called.
You can guess what had happened. At around eight months the Big Client let him go, siting business problems. He’d fallen victim to what I sometimes call the One Client Syndrome. Essentially he’d given the one client exclusive call on his time.
He hadn’t called me for all the reasons we don’t when things fall apart and he’s been scrambling to put his business back together again.
How to avoid the one-client syndrome
I pretty run a 75 percent or less rule. That is, I won’t let any single client use more than 75 percent of my time, at least not for more than 60 or at the very most, 90 days.
I charge flat fees rather than by the hour or some other periodic measurement. That flat fee may come in monthly payments, but it’s fixed.
I’ve always thought a flat fee is fairer to both parties. I don’t get penalized for getting faster as I learn the client’s business, and the client knows exactly what to expect. While my contracts will often spell out some sort of time commitment, I don’t guarantee a number of hours or days. I’m a freelancer and how I get the work done really isn’t any of the clients business, at least not in specific detail.
Flat fees allow me to have more than one client. Having multiple clients protects my income because they won’t all quit at once. Or the projects won’t all end at the same time.
Having control of my time also allows me to continue marketing my business. Lori Widmer is absolutely right – some kind of marketing must be done every single business day. (She’s written a great book on this subject, Marketing 365: Daily Strategies. If you don’t have it yet, buy it now. And no, that’s NOT an affiliate link.)
The big paying client is so tempting!
Look, I learned this lesson in much the way my writer friend is learning it. Way back when a lucrative contract canceled after a while and I was scrambling. You can learn from our mistakes.
What I’ve discovered is I can often turn the proposed high pay into a situation that works for both of us. Sometimes that will be a flat fee paid monthly; sometimes it will be a frank discussion about my unwillingness to give any client an exclusive on my time.
I’ve even learned to turn clients down who won’t hire me in a way that works for both of us.
Sure, it’s scary to turn down high pay, but the few times I’ve had to do that to maintain my own standards I’ve been glad I did.
Most clients are pretty reasonable if you tell them, gently, what you need. Those that aren’t can find someone else.
How do you keep a good mix of clients going?