How + Why I Let Go of My Biggest (and Most Demanding) Client

ilise-new-headshot-bug-1-11If you’ve ever wanted to fire a difficult (or abusive) client but weren’t sure how, the story of Jill Anderson, creative freelancer and web designer for designers, might help….

The relationships we have with our clients are one of the most important aspects of our creative business. Our clients’ happiness becomes our number one priority. The bigger and more lucrative a client becomes, the more we want to please them to ensure that the revenue keeps flowing in. Right?

But what if your work structure and desires for your work-life balance change? What if your vision for how you want to spend your day conflicts with the expectations of your clients?

That is exactly what happened to me and why I decided it was time to let go of my number one client.

I started freelancing full time in January 2007. At that time I had picked up a client—let’s call her Jane—for catalog and promotional design for her small business. For a couple years, I produced catalogs every 6 months, along with various promotional materials.

Jane’s business was growing at rapid speed, and I was trying my best to keep up with her fast-paced way of operating. Jane liked to say that she and her staff “worked best under pressure and flourished in that last minute moment.” They felt they did their best work under the gun. So, projects would come up and it was do-or-die to meet their tight ‘I need this tomorrow’ deadlines. (Sound familiar?)

I wanted so very badly to make them happy and meet all their demands, so I found myself, more times than not, staying up late or putting off my other clients’ projects.

When I started focusing more and more of my time on web design, I picked up Jane’s website design and maintenance as well. I was this one person shop handling all of this thriving business’s print and web design needs!

From 2010 to 2012, I averaged $30K of work a year for Jane. But, with the hours I was putting in, my hourly rate was suffering. I had started out charging less than industry standards when I first starting working with Jane. Even though I raised my rates periodically, I still had a hard time charging as much as I did to my other clients because of my long standing relationship with Jane.

However, that wasn’t what really did me in.

My husband and I welcomed our son, Quinn, in November of Jill Anderson and son2009, and I just couldn’t burn the midnight oil any more.

Evenings and weekends became precious family time for me, since my son went to daycare. I also wanted a 9-5pm workday, Monday through Friday. My hours of greatest productivity switched to the mornings when the sun was up instead of the wee hours of the morning.

The straw that really broke the camel’s back actually happened at the Creative Freelancer Conference in Chicago in June of 2011. That Friday their semi-annual catalog was going to print. I gave them plenty of warning weeks and days ahead of time that I was going out of town and would be unavailable. It fell on deaf ears, though, because I had to stay up til 4am that Saturday doing last minute revisions. I missed the Saturday morning CFC sessions so I could catch up on sleep!

I decided then and there that it was time to let go of the print work I was doing for them. I just couldn’t handle everything and be the one-person shop I was happy being.

It was time to put a stop to the madness.

I started working with consultant, Kay White, of wayforwardsolutions.com (I designed her website!). Kay shows experienced, professional women how to be heard and understood and how to express the value of what they do. That’s exactly what I needed help with, and together, we crafted a letter  so I could make clear my expectations and take control of my working relationship with Jane.

It was so helpful to be able to clearly state my goals while working to maintain a positive and upbeat attitude. I presented the letter and it was received very well. Things started to flow better and, for a while, all was lovely. Then, Jane crept back into her old habits with last minute projects and requests to work on the weekends.

Enough was enough. I told Jane I couldn’t support her anymore and it was time to find a new web designer. We had a transition period over a couple of months, and then I was done. I said I’d be available for one-off projects if they fit in with my schedule, and I have helped with a couple of those.

Recently, Jane’s assistant emailed me with a small project that needed to be completed the next day. You know, one of those, ‘It’ll only take a minute projects.’ Unfortunately for Jane, I couldn’t get to it until the following week, and I felt so good being able to tell her that.

The even better news is that the $30K I lost in income from Jane, I’ve gained it back (and then some!) with quality work from clients who respect my time and talents.

In the past year, since working with Ilise Benun of Marketing Mentor, I’ve had a 17% increase in revenue (access the free case study here).

The moral of the story, if you’re not happy and a client doesn’t fit anymore, let them go. Even if they are your biggest client, there are plenty of more fish in the sea.

Anyone else struggle with this?

One thought on “How + Why I Let Go of My Biggest (and Most Demanding) Client

  1. OJMC

    Thank you! I am really struggling with this. I have a client, “Company X,” who I’ve worked with for several years and they are a bread and butter client, however the two people who I primarily worked with at the company left, and the new person is fine, but doesn’t give me clear direction, and is very busy herself so working with her/Company X has become slightly less enjoyable. Add to this that BOTH of the people who left Company X have brought me into both of their new companies so my workload has tripled, and since I wasn’t sure what was going to happen with their workload and the old company, I didn’t want to severe ties with anyone. So basically since April/May of this year (it’s now October), I have had 30-40% more work than I can feasibly handle, and have been working day and night to get everyone’s stuff done on time, all the while losing my sanity and submitting work that is below my standard of quality. For a while I had a friend who was between jobs helping me, and her work was at my level, but then she got a job and ever since then I’m back in this hell of too much work and not enough time. My health and sanity are starting to suffer. I want so badly to let go of Company X because something has to give, and since I can’t find reliable help to absorb the extra work, then I have to come up with an alternative, and the best I can come up with now is letting go of the work that I enjoy the least, however every self-employed person I know is encouraging me not to walk away from a client, though a few are behind me in letting go of Company X. Your article gave me some faith that I can do this, and that it will be okay in the end.

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