Freelancers and Perspective

If you read the blog, you’ve seen several articles on perspective. (Here’s one using a fence,  one with a Homer Simpson tree,  the ugly dog mindset, and one using landscaping). Most people think perspective is an artist app, or maybe a New Age-y way of looking at life. But for a freelancer, knowing how to work with perspective can be the difference between saving and losing a client relationship.

Do your math. Is the client worth keeping?Case A: Ms. Freelancer is a trainer. She has several clients, and Client A wants to lock the training days in place for the company’s budget. In July, at the beginning of the fiscal year, Client A and Ms. Freelancer agree to 5 training days through December. In October, two days before the training date, Ms. Freelancer calls Client A to confirm the upcoming training hours and ask for final registration numbers. Client A is flustered, having forgotten. There are only three people registered. Client A cancels the class and apologizes. Ms. Freelancer is left with no class, no pay, and not enough time to replace the work. Client A says, “Enjoy the unexpected day off.

Problem: To Client A, the only consequence is embarrassment. To Ms. Freelancer, the problem is both financial and supplies–she’s spent now-unpaid time preparing the class and money on class materials which now need to be stored for the next time.

Perspective: Ms. Freelancer makes money only on days she works. Client A gets paid every two weeks, no matter how much or little she works. She has no idea that she has caused financial problems for Ms. Freelancer. An unscheduled day off looks very different for each of these people. For Client A, it looks like a day of fun. For Ms. Freelancer, it could easily mean a bill-paying problem. Maybe even a grocery-restriction problem.

A contract is a negotiable document before it's signed.

Case B: Ms. Freelancer has saved dates for Client A, and lost one of them. Client B calls and asks for a training, which must be held on a date already promised to Client A. Ms. Freelancer worries that Client A may cancel another class and begins to wonder if it wouldn’t be smart to cancel Client A’s class and take Client B’s.

Problem: To Ms. Freelancer, having been burned, lining up another client might seem like a good idea. To Client A, it means a break in trust, and possibly a cancellation of the rest of the job.

Perspective: To Ms. Freelancer, having once been burned, it might look like a good idea to take on Client B. To Client A, it will look like a break in trust and contract. To Client B, cancellation will look like an unreliable freelancer at work. (Or not at work.)

Solutions: In both cases, it’s a matter of client education. A good idea is to add a kill fee into the contract. If the class is canceled less than a week in advance, the client pays a fee to the freelancer. Often, however, the client will refuse this. That’s how it is for most contracts–both parties want to have the upper hand. This is a time to negotiate. Before that, it’s good to explain to a client how life works for a freelancer. Don’t fall into the “I can’t buy groceries” trap. Showing neediness to a client is like having an overly-needy friend–you immediately want to push away, knowing that no matter what you do, it won’t be enough.

Better to say, “When you cancel, you are breaking the contract. When you do it with one-day notice, I have no way of replacing the training day, and I lose money. The purpose of our contract is to assure you that your group will be trained, and assure me that I will be paid. If you want to change the contract, we can talk about it. But canceling a day I have reserved for you needs to be covered financially.”

While that sounds tough, freelancers need to be clear. The client doesn’t have your perspective and can’t be expected to. When explained objectively, there is a better chance for good results. The other important part of perspective discussions, is to show the same situation if the client got the fuzzy end of the lollipop–if you canceled with one day’s notice.

Of course, one discussion won’t fit all sizes. Your experiences will vary. A client who is sloppy and cancels routinely is one that you need to drop. And that might require a shift in your perspective–a lousy client isn’t a client, it’s a financial liability.

Quinn McDonald is a trainer, writer, and author.