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Maybe you’ve heard me tell this story, maybe not. I have hinted of it before and even touched upon it in guest blog posts on other sites and even here on Franticmommy.
Whether you have or have not heard this story before, here it is again. Why? Because if you are working as an independent contractor in any capacity you need to know this info and learn this lesson. Period.
Whether you are a blogger, a virtual assistant, a speaker or a coach, your clients are your lifeblood. They keep your business humming, inspire you to get out of bed in the morning and are the reason you went into business for yourself in the first place. As much as we’d all like the business world to hum along smoothly, there are times when our Beloved Clients throw a monkey wrench into our plans that leaves us reeling and muttering things like “Holy CrapPile, Batman!”
I know this to be true because it happened to me.
I was in Year Three of my blogging/freelance/virtual assistant business and though it had been amazing to that point, the month of September of 2013 was one I would prefer to never repeat again.
That fateful month all those years ago were full of “teachable moments” that I continue to remember as I enter almost a decade of business ownership and being a virtual assistant.
It was a time period that will forever be referred to as The Month the Sh*t Hit the Fan.
There I was, tripping the light fantastic, movin’ and groovin’ and working hard to keep my tidy pool of clients satisfied and optimized. To say my plate was full would have been accurate, so full that I’d let my own business presence slide. I had become so busy taking care of OPB (Other People’s Businesses) that my own website and social media had started looking like a ghost town. But that turned out to be the least of my worries.
The red flags started when Client A; someone I had worked with for almost two years (who was also my second largest client) who began to flake out on me. The situation soon went from bad to worse when promises did not match actions and promises of payment stopped coming and were replaced by a complete communication shut-down and deafening silence. For the first time in my freelance career, I found myself issuing a letter to a valued client stating that all work would cease until past due invoices were paid.
My mom had always told me that “bad news comes in threes” and sure enough, Kick-in-the-Pants #2 was on the way. Days later, another client popped into my inbox with a, “Sorry, I don’t need you anymore, I’m drastically downsizing my business” email. Despite having a clause in my contract stating clients need to give a 30-day notice, Client Number Two suddenly went bub-bye.
Just as I was struggling to get my head around this latest development, the Trifecta of CrapLuck came in the form of a phone call, not the good kind either. Another client had been in a fatal accident and the staff, understandably shaken, put all work for them on hold. In a blink of an eye, a good chunk of my client base was GONE.
To say it was a Code Brown Moment would be an understatement.
For someone like me who is a “one-woman show,” this could have been financially devastating. But the good news is that I survived.
The Flake-Out customer never paid, the “I’m Downsizing” client still resurfaces occasionally and the office of the client who passed away reactivated a few months later. Not the perfect scenario, but not as bad as it could have been, to say the least. Did I learn a valuable lesson from this disastrous month? Heck yes. Chances are you will not be faced a slew of Clients who Screw You Over, Die or Just Plain Go Away in the same month like me, but if you do, you dang well better be prepared after reading the following advice:
Retaining Freelance Clients
- Never Stop Prospecting: The day you get all comfy-cozy with your client base is the day you lose a third of them in the blink of an eye. Be the shark who never stops swimming, i.e. prospecting and connecting.
- Know when to stop work, slam on the brakes and ask for payment: I am the first to admit that I am Minnesota Nice, but just know the squeaky wheel gets the grease-sometimes. If you think simply barking up your late-paying client’s arse will get you results, think again. Nothing is more debilitating than sensing that Non-Paying Client is sitting in another state, thousands of miles away, thumbing his/her nose at your bill and lining the cat litter box with it. Know when to pull the plug and seek legal help. If you are dealing with an owned amount under $500, cut bait, write it off and consider it an expensive and valuable lesson learned. Which brings me to point #3:
- Get payment upfront no matter how lovely your client is: Trust me on this one. I should almost write a thank you letter to Client A thanking her.him.it for making me tougher. Meaner. More likely to stand up for me. An expensive lesson, but a good one.
- Treat your Clients like GOLD–Because they are: Never take your clients/customers for granted and always let them know you appreciate them. I thank my clients in an email every time then send money or pay an invoice. I promise you, this goes a long way with them.
- Help them with what they need: I heard a saying once many years ago: Don’t make your customers go elsewhere for services you could be providing them. If a client knows and values you, make yourself invaluable. Over the years I have had many clients ask for help with services, projects, or tasks that were not in my wheelhouse, I would let know them that followed by, “But I’m willing to learn.” That has always…always been followed by their reply of, “Great, let me show you.”
The most important piece of advice I have saved for last and that is that your gut rarely lies. I call it my internal Shady Character Detector and if a client’s actions or words seem fishy, they probably are. Never forget that this is your business and you need to run it on your own terms. For those clients who do screw you over, disappear or die just know that, when one door closes, another opens.
And that new door is just about always a better door anyway.
More Resources to Help You Along Your Side Hustle Journey
MOM BOSSING: The Freedom to Create the Business You Love is a book filled with personal stories, resources, support, wisdom, and encouragement from a solopreneur who has been in the trenches as a mom boss. This step-by-step guide shares the truth, fears, tears, and cheers of being a mom who is building a business empire on her own terms. If you are looking for a new career for the “second half of life,” venturing into direct sales, rocking a home business, or dreaming of leaving a dead-end job, this book provides the building blocks needed to move forward with a healthy dose of humor authenticity. In many ways, this book could also sport the tagline of Building a LIFE on Your Own Terms.
I was lucky to have Becky Flansburg join us at Multicultural Children’s Book Day when we first began our nonprofit. She was the “head elf” which meant she did everything from project management to help us get sponsorships. In the early years, we weren’t able to keep her busy for more than a few months a year and even that was very part-time. Becky’s contribution to the team helped us grow our nonprofit, and, in turn, we were able to keep her busier. Now, as a “mom boss,” Becky is sharing her journey and her wisdom for moms who want to try solopreneurship. It’s particularly helpful for anyone who wants to become a VA (Virtual Assistant).~author and mompreneur, Mia Wenjen
Also available on IndieBound.com.
FREElance FREEdom: Creating the Work-From-Home Life You Crave
Have you ever dreamed of working from home on your own terms instead of being confined to a corporate cubicle or windowless office? Have you ever dreamed of earning a steady and honest income while still having plenty of time for friends and family?
Lucky for you, it is all very possible. It’s a life that I have successfully been living for over 7 years…and I can’t imagine supporting my family (and following my dreams!) any other way.
Within the pages of this robust 90-page e-book and resource guide is the motherlode of excellent information about working from home (on your own terms) all rolled into a handy read-at-your-own pace guidebook.
Whether you are looking to pursue a career as a freelance writer, virtual assistant, graphic designer (and more) this Resource Guide will provide the insight, tools, guides, advice, and strategies that can apply to any freelance business. If you want the very basics of getting started without the benefit of support and coaching, this eBook is for you.
For anyone looking to start their freelance career, or up their game, this book is the perfect place to start. Jam-packed with actionable items and details about even handling unruly clients, well-meaning visitors, and kids while working from home – this book has it all! Highly recommended!~author and mompreneur, Carissa Andrews
For those who are contemplating the freelance lifestyle but need a guidebook with baby steps, this is your manifesto! Becky Flansburg shares her tips for balancing a freelance career with a family including the nuts and bolts such as the online tools she uses for networking and running her business. Becky is a gentle and realistic cheerleader for anyone who wants to work at home as a solopreneur.~Mia Wenjen
FREElance FREEdom is Available on Kindle
Also available on IndieBound.com.
Available in Paperback on Amazon: mybook.to/FREElanceFREEdompprbk
You hit the nail on the head with this one Rebecca! This happened while a VA owner was on vacation: Client was on prepaid account and kept asking for changes and demanding way more while the VA owner was on vacation and ran up the total hours even though she was warned she was racking up hours. She only paid part of the invoice after being a terror for 2 weeks! I have now put in place a retainer policy for new clients and have a dollar amount that I stop working at if an invoice goes unpaid.
Rebecca Flansburg says
It really stings when we get hosed by a client…the good news is that typically it’s a lesson we only learn ONCE! thanks for stopping by my friend!
Thank you for such an important post. I’m beginning to do contract work and having to learn to negotiate. It’s always helpful to hear the stories of others who have “learned the lesson.”
I’m sorry all that happened to you within such a short span of time.
I got screwed over a few times when I was freelancing, so I’ve had to learn those same lessons.
It was never fun to confront a client about a late payment — certainly didn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside — but that’s what needed to be done sometimes. Because, as nice as warm & fuzzy feelings are, they are not a paycheck.
Serena @ Simple Holistic Girl says
This is so very true. No matter how long one has been in business one should always act like it’s the first year. I think it keeps us humble and motivated. Comfortable can be trouble. Great advice!
Rebecca Flansburg says
Thanks for stopping by, Serena. LOVE your blog!
I love your give-it-to-me straight attitude! I too have a tendency to be too nice, and that often kicks me from behind! I need to learn being nice is fantastic, but there are some people out there who thrive on taking advantage of the nice. In my other job, I used to make special arrangements to meet others. I have stopped doing that because I found myself making special arrangements and others taking advantage of them. My last painful reminder came when I made special arrangements and they showed up 45 minutes late and said, “I didn’t ask you to do this, you know…” Well, they don’t need to ask again, that is for sure, because I already have my answer. Glad we ran into one another. Have a beautiful day!
Rebecca Flansburg says
Hi Elizabeth! Thanks for stopping by. I really, really really try had to give people the benefit of the doubt and work with them when I can. BUT, I also know to listen to my gut more and stand up for myself too. It makes for a happier me as well 🙂