Breaking Out Of The Bad Client Cycle

Working with bad clients puts your business in a vicious cycle. You start out meeting with a client that sets off your Spidey sense a little. You need to pay rent this month, so you agree to the work against your better judgement. You end up working with a client that belittles you, doesn’t trust, you and is unwilling or unable to pay you what your worth.

Because of all the time and energy they pilfer from your business, recovery is difficult. To work with better clients, you need to build a better business, and that means investing time and money in yourself.

When you are just starting out, you’ll work with some less than ideal clients. That doesn’t mean they have a right to abuse you mentally, emotionally, or financially. It means while you are a smaller business with fewer resources, you may work with people in similar positions. But how can you climb the client ladder?

No One Can Promote You But You

Doing good work for these clients does not guarantee you career advancement. You are running a freelance business; there is no boss above you to reward good behavior. If you want to work on larger projects for more money, and be treated more like a partner and less like a contractor, you have to make that happen.

1.Build a Process You Have Confidence In

It’s scary for clients to hire you. If you are working with a client that does not hire people with your skills often, then they probably don’t know how to vet you, handle payment, or kick off a project. You should be bringing the process to the table, not them. You should have documented procedures for responding, qualifying, and handling leads that don’t meet your qualifications whenever you make contact. If someone does qualify, then you need to have procedures for getting contracts signed and starting the project.

The benefits of having a system in place are twofold:

First, it shows the client you are a professional. When you act like a diva freelancer, people want to hire you more. It shows that you know what you are doing, and you care about your business. Clients that appreciate that level of rigor are more likely to respond in a timely fashion and keep up with their end of responsibilities.

Secondly, it reduces the cognitive load on you whenever a new lead comes in. Once you have a process, you can spend less time making the same decisions over and over, and instead, put it towards more billable work, or optimizing these processes. Processes increase your revenue.

2.Credibility in Your Work

Imposter syndrome is a common affliction amongst freelancers. You may feel a bit disingenuous, and worry that the client might be “on to you” when you are trying to punch above your weight.  The best way to overcome the fear is to get results for your clients and start documenting them. Four years into running my own business and I still feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. However, I know that I was once able to redesign a site and 5x email signups, or help launch a startup that got featured in the New York Times. And I’m not shy about talking about those projects. There are no shortcuts. It takes a lot of studies, hard work, trial, and error.

Confidence is internal. Credibility is external. Every win in your career is one more brick in the wall, especially when you show your work. The more you can deliver results and prove it, the easier it gets.

3. Repeatable Lead Generation

Getting work via referral or word of mouth is great. It can feel like the universe is smiling directly at you when you get an email from a lead in mid-dry spell because a friend or previous client sent them your way.

However, this method of getting clients is unpredictable and unreliable. You need an outlet where you can apply hustle.

When clients aren’t coming to your door, you need to go out on the hunt. You could capture leads by setting inbound marketing traps baited with valuable advice and quick wins, or go out on safari with a cold-email shotgun. Either way, you need to work on building habits and systems that allow you to pursue and successfully generate qualified leads.

The more leads you have in your pipeline, the more picky you get to be.

4. An Abundance Mindset

A scarcity mindset is the default approach we have to clients. We treat every opportunity that walks in the door like it could be our last. It’s especially true if you grew up in a less than well-off household where frugal instincts are a survival mechanism. To break this habit, you need to take a wider view and realize how much opportunity is out there.

How many clients do you need to work with to be successful this year?  There are far more people in your target market than you can serve. A repeatable lead generation process will show you that there are more opportunities than you could ever take on. That means you have a choice. You can build your client base deliberately. That’s an abundance mindset.

 5.Money in The Bank

The worst feeling is when you are talking to an unqualified lead, and knowing you need the money. You have to survive, and that means taking on a bad project. You can’t shirk your responsibilities to yourself or your family because a client wasn’t “good enough”.

A lack of cash reserves leads to making poor long-term decisions for your business. How much easier is it to tell a bad lead no when you have three months of expenses in your bank account?

There are a few ways to approach the money part of the equation. The first is to get an idea of ‘enough’ and start budgeting. Put yourself on a salary. Once you have an idea of your salary, you can calculate total business costs: your salary + expenses + taxes. Every dollar you make over that amount each month should go into a buffer. Once you know you aren’t required to say yes to every opportunity that comes to your door, saying no becomes much easier.

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