by Christie Halmick
The perfect gig: a startup website. I would be the sole writer/editor. The gig would last for at least a few months, maybe more if the site really took off.
The perfect client (Dan*): a successful entrepreneur. Prone to: constant emails, daily deadline and site goal/audience changes, whining, 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. happy time, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. woe-is-me time, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., “I just love your work so much, man!” time.
Rinse and repeat for weeks.
I confess. I fired Dan. I’ll fire other clients. I don’t feel bad.
Working with Dan forced me to look for better clients. It made room for a really lovely client who pays more and doesn’t have quite so many issues. It made me a better negotiator and less of a wimp.
So, how did I fire Dan?
It wasn’t easy.
First, I talked to Dan about all my concerns. He agreed to be more focused and to not call me at 2 a.m. That worked for a while. Then the real Dan came back and I knew I would be leaving the relationship.
I found more work (my new, sane client) to replace the work I’d lose by letting Dan go. Then, I called Dan and broke the news.
“Hi, Dan. This is just not working out for me. (YOU MAKE ME CRAZY!) The project scope changes everyday. It’s making it impossible for me to finish anything. At this rate the site will never go live. I’ve packaged up all the work I’ve done so far. I’ll send that over to you and let’s just call it even. (Bye, bye car payment.) Thanks so much for giving me a shot at the project.”
So, that was that …
But Dan was used to getting his way. He made promises, he whined, he negotiated, and he showed me the money: double my current rate.
Boy, I’m a greedy sucker. I took the dirty money. I knuckled down. I answered emails at 1 a.m. and soothed his paranoia at 5 a.m. The work got done. I got my money. I told Dan, “Goodbye (forever).”
Six months later …
“Hi there, I have a fabulous idea for a new site. This one’s really going to fly. I never did launch the other site, but this one’s going to be different. I’ve cleaned up my act. I have a whole outline for the site and deadlines in place. I’ve got advertisers already lined up. I just need my best writer on this one and I’ll be set. It will be great!”
I’m sure you can see where this is going.
Call me a glutton for punishment, but it was all about money. I could see a beach vacation financed by the end of this website. I just had to hang on, deal with Dan, and get the work done. But he really hadn’t changed and I need to grow some beach balls.
“Sorry, Dan. No more. We’re done. It’s over. I tried my best to work with you. I won’t work with constantly changing demands and deadlines. I know you’ve tried to be more organized this time around. I respect you for doing that, but it’s time for me to move on.” I was serious, firm, no nonsense.
Dan didn’t whine, or offer to raise my pay. He said, “Thank you.”
Note: Dan and I didn’t have a written contract. That seems silly to me, now, but I was young and stupider then. My current client agreements include an escape clause. This specifies what happens to the project work and payments if either of the parties has to (or wants to) leave the project at any time.
Have you ever fired a client? Has a client ever fired you? Do you have an escape clause in your contracts? Please confess.
*Names changed to protect the guilty and clueless.