Sometimes it’s just not worth it.

The Pareto principle determines that 20% of your work generates 80% of your income. That 20% of your clients cause 80% of your problems, that 20% of your efforts results in 80% of your results. It’s all about determining which camp everything falls into.

Which brings me round to today’s post, when is it time to drop a client and walk away. In today’s market dropping a client is a pretty painful position to be in, but that is what sometimes you have to do to save your sanity, your work day, and possibly your business.

  1. They pester you, it’s pretty rare that you are going to only have one client, and they seem to think they are the only person you are working for. Phone calls and texts at all hours, skype conversations that go on for hours. Emails asking for updates one after another after another. These things take time to respond to and listen to, if you are working per hour, put that in the budget and make it clear that you will be charging for this time as well. If they don’t either agree, or back off then consider is the hassle worth the fee.
  2. They keep changing things. It may be dressed as a realignment of their vision, an adjustment of their motivations, a dawning realisation of their true path, or, one of my personal alarm buttons, a vision that came to them in a dream. The other worrying one is, “I just wanted to make a small change or two” followed to a list 20 points long. Changes are fine at the start of the project, but not three-quarters of the way through.
  3. They add things, first they want a series of exam questions, then the questions need to be alligned to the 11 plus exams, then they need a moral edge to the questions, they need to have a lesson, then they need the questions to include inspiring quotes. Each is easy enough, but try and write an 11 plus exam question within the national curriculum with a moral purpose and an inspiring quote. Suddenly you’re taking 20 times as long as you’d budgeted.
  4. The right-hand doesn’t seem to be talking to the left. So there are a hundred occasions where you will be working for more than one person, but they should be singing from roughly the same song sheet. At best it will take longer as the two of them make changed back and forth, at worst you come to the end and find that because you’ve not completed the job to both of their specifications they won’t pay.
  5. You start submitting substandard work. Sometimes the job takes longer because of problems including those above, sometimes the client wears you down to the point you can’t face it, either way if you are giving them poor work walk away.
  6. You see their name on your phone screen, an email arrives from them, or even just looking at their work makes you want to scream cry or run away. Some clients are just stressful. Too stressful. It’s okay to cut your losses and turn your back on them.

It totally depends on your industry as to what are the flags for this sort of client, but for content and research my red flags are…

  • They have huge plans, this isn’t just a website, book, game, or blog. This is the start of a multi-million-pound enterprise. They have backers who can put up millions at the drop of a hat, they just need to get this one product or site up and running.
  • Their stories are huge, their budget tiny.
  • They love the sound of their own voices. I have had clients for the entire period I’ve been a writer and I have never spoken to them on the phone. Our conversations are limited to a set of clear instructions, a few clarification questions, the odd joke and basic housekeeping, and invoices. All held via message or email. I’m not saying that is everyones way of working, and I’ve got no issues with talking via the phone, but when the budget is in the hundreds and they spend hours telling me about how they will soon be the industry leader, and I can come along for the ride. Today I can invoice them for £50, but in a few months I can add 3 or even 4 zeros to that number.
  • It seems too good to be true. I have a whole range of client who ask one blog a week from me. To you wonderful people you have my gratitude and loyalty, you my wonderful clients pay my bills, you make sure I can afford to take my dog to the vets, you put food on the table and keep the roof over my head. Yes each one of you with your £7.50 a week. Every week. When someone offers £20 for the same amount of work alarm bells go off in my head.

This post isn’t about me blowing off steam about some rubbish clients, well it is a bit, I’ve just dropped one that reduced me to tears and ended up making me feel like I’m in the wrong business. This is a post about solidarity to my fellow business owners. It’s okay to fail, it’s fine to say no to further work. It’s perfectly acceptable to send the work back and recommend someone else. You are selling a service not your soul and certainly not your sanity. Sometimes clients ask too much, and it’s perfectly okay to say no and mean it.


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