Brave Because You Have to Be

Today, I fired a client. A client I’ve had for almost six years. A client who gave me a break a long time ago. It took me half a year to decide it was the right move.

Image Credit: Freelance Switch via

Image Credit: Freelance Switch via

Why was it the right move? Because I wasn’t getting paid what I was worth. But that wasn’t enough to quit. Because I had to drive an extra 60 miles for each class, and didn’t get paid mileage. But that, too, wasn’t enough. Because there was always one extra thing I had to do, achieve, or prove–all without extra pay.

The final dust mote that collapsed the relationship was the new contract. As a contract employee (freelancer), I do not receive benefits, and I was asked to sign away my copyright for any class I created or workbook I wrote.  They were to belong to the client, and I was not going to get a development fee, either. That may be fine for full-time employees, but it’s not fair or right for freelancers. But if I signed the contract, I would say it was all right for me. And it was not.

So, I took a deep breath, and said I needed to keep the copyright to all my work. The reply was a short laugh, and I was told that “industry standard” was that the client kept all my work, essentially without paying me for development.

So I resigned, or, in a nicer way, fired the client. They’ve given me steady work, and I have done it all to the best of my ability. Gotten solid evaluations. Was happy for many of the jobs.

But like a wife who still loves the husband who beats her, I did not want to leave the relationship. What if nothing else showed up? What if. . . and I stopped myself there. It didn’t matter if nothing showed up. It didn’t matter if a thousand wonderful projects showed up. I was firing the client because it was not all right not to keep the copyright to my own work. That was all. Everything else was details.

It feels odd, even scary to stand up for yourself. But no one else will. And as long as others keep signing those contracts, the client will be able to claim “industry standard.” But I don’t have to accept. It’s only industry standard if I agree.

So here I am, feeling a bit fearful, but very certain that I did the right thing.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and course developer who puts her best work out, and is proud of it.


56 thoughts on “Brave Because You Have to Be

  1. I’m so glad I now subscribe to your articles rather than just trying to remember to read them! I dug around to find this article, because I had a conversation with a friend last week about the very same thing–firing a client.(The person had never heard of that–but they liked it!) :^)

    Your situation (and your gratitude, which held you back from acting) is similar to mentor relationship that’s drawing to an end. We feel gratitude for what’s been given us. Both parties win.

    But at some point, the nature of the relationship changes. We begin to give up more than we’re given, and it feels hard to walk away, because of the gratitude we feel for what’s already been given. (Too many tenses here, I know!)

    But just as in a mentor relationship, that’s the way the gratitude should flow. We don’t turn around and “mentor” a mentor (not that this dynamic ever works anyway), and we don’t “support” an employer–they pay us money, yes, but that’s because our work makes money for THEM. When a mentor relationship ends (well or badly), we repay the universe by mentoring someone ELSE. We pay it forward. Otherwise we can clog the toilet. (Sorry, that just popped up.)

    Your customer was grateful as long as your needs served their needs. And when that stopped, for whatever reason, you knew you had to leave, because of the imbalance. I love all the support you were given in that decision!

    • Without the good ideas and support I get on this blog, I’d be a sloth, hanging from a tree. But you are right. Sometimes clients, mentors, and the people they work with outgrow each other. And you are SO wise about the gratitude part. I am always wanting to do the bigger gratitude show. It doesn’t always work.
      Oh, and thanks for subscribing. I never know when someone does–and I am always deeply grateful.

  2. Good Morning –

    ABSOLUTELY you did the right and courageous thing to fire your client.

    Now just wait and see what comes along next!

    Happy last 2 weeks of May!

  3. Congratulations, Quinn, for listening to your inner hero and rejecting the increasing nonsense from this client! It’s even scarier than firing a friend who is abusing your friendship and it took some real courage to do it. I’m so proud of you!

    • Thanks, Bo. After five years, there was no “thanks for your work,” or “We’ll miss you,” just “Don’t forget to bring back all the materials you have that are ours.” It made it even sadder. But once the inner critic stops feasting on it, I’ll know I did the right thing.

  4. Good for you Quinn! Easy to say since I’m not the one buying your groceries, but since your amazing fans would have gone to great lenths to give you a light, I doubt that you will starve. Life, it’s complicated, I’m proud of you. Don’t be afraid of the dark.

  5. You go, girl! definitely you did the right thing. sometimes is is hard to take a deep breath and just DO it!! a pox on their ‘industry standards’. that’s why I never teach my silk painting techniques at stores

    • Well, I was the one who gave reasons I couldn’t work for them anymore–I wanted to retain my copyright and I wanted to be paid fairly for my time. Standing up for yourself is always much harder (at least for me) than it should be, when money is involved.

  6. You did do the right thing. My father, who is now deceased, was an independent professional photographer at a time when these issues were just coming to light, and he fought hard to maintain the rights to his work. He was not particularly successful as an independent business owner because he met a lot of resistance regarding intellectual property. He did win a lawsuit that went on for years, and would not deal with clients who did not give him ownership of his work. He was a trailblazer, but the laws are still so murky, especially when it comes to electronic intellectual property or work done for hire.

  7. I wouldn’t have renewed their contract either . . . well done you! Sometimes I choose to be a wheelbarrow and go where I’m pushed if it’s likely to be interesting for enjoyable but in this case? Definitely NOT! Who was the Inner Hero speaking in your ear, supporting your values?

    • I love the image of “being a wheelbarrow,” which is so apt for the life of a freelancer. It’s a wonderful image. I have an alter-ego who helps me with developing a spine, and separates being kind from being weak (it takes a lot of strength to stand up for yourself). Her name is Iron Crow. She’s clever and tough, and occasionally slaps me upside the head with a wing and says, “look at the big picture here!” Which was one of shocking being-used. There is also the accountant Inner Hero who is sensible and says, “there is no financial gain here, if you are giving away your work.” But while she is correct, I hate listening to her.

      • I knew there would be a hero there cheering you on and I love the name Inner Crow although at first I read Crone . . . same difference? I’m working with a little girl at the moment and I asked who is the hero inside her that helps her stand stron when she sees unfairness . . . there was no hesitation . . . Super X (her own name!) Fantastic eh?

        • It’s wonderful when we know what we are capable of. My alter ego is Iron (not Inner) Crow–that amazing metal that would make a bird too heavy to fly, and yet she does. At least in my imagination.

  8. I had this happen to me, too. It was a University employee that told me that what I was teaching (communication) was now “theirs” and I couldn’t teach it anywhere else. What??!!! I don’t think so.

    You did the right thing.

  9. If we don’t stand up for ourselves then who will. The negatives may dance but the dance will be short. Our work creates a visual of who we are and then we put it out there for others to be enriched. It is time for new opportunities and your availability is a gift to those who want to create something fresh in their business space.

  10. You are going to be fine, Quinn. Just fine. The “industry standard” does not grant copyright to your client unless, as you said, you are full time, salaried employee. (I’m not a lawyer, but I DO know something about copyright law.) Further, part of what you teach and inspire in this blog is that we, your readers, should honor our own worth. Like all mentors, you may have lost sight of the fact that your lessons apply to you, too.
    You ARE going to fine.

  11. Brave of you. Here’s hoping a client offering a better deal shows up soon. I do not deal well with bullies–but I usually slink away to brood, or stay but go to ground, hoping the bad guy will go away or suddenly become reasonble. Steady on!

    • Something else will show up. Because I’m not going to let myself be abused. I felt vindicated when I fired the client and they did not say, “We will miss you” or even “thank you for years of excellent service, which your evals. showed,” but only, “Make sure you return the materials we lent you by the end of the week.” And I did.

  12. I want to commend you for doing what is right. No way should they have the rights to your work. Betty Foote

    • Yep, that’s the deadly phrase. And Arizona is a Right to Work state, which has a lovely name, but not because anyone has a right to work. I’m smarter than I used to be, and I”m not giving up what’s mine.

  13. Ok. You did the right thing. No looking back. No regrets. Something wonderful, interesting, wildly creative, and worthy of you and your talents is on the horizon. Perhaps a thank you note to your inner hero is in order…just sayin…

  14. You absolutely did the right thing! There are so many people out there who when seeing a great thing will take credit for what you did. It is scary to stand up for yourself. If you would like to read more about this subject, I would recommend a great book “If you want to walk on water you have to get out of the boat ” by Ortberg. Amazon has it or Barnes and Noble. I recommend it! Sallie

  15. Bravo for standing up to a bully & valuing yourself! The Universe has something better in store for you.

  16. Quinn, this time may be unsettling, but remember the Universe abhors a vacuum! Soon opportunities more fulfilling, more in-line with your needs will fill that void.
    I have followed your blog for some time and I admire your honesty on a whole host of topics and personal vulnerabilities.
    Again you have shown us that if we don’t honor and value ourselves and our work – how can we expect others to?
    Thank you, Quinn for your strength and your personal ethics of “walking the talk”.
    Blessings to you, my friend!

  17. We have ot of those industry standards in technology too. Like:
    floppy disks
    inscrutable command lines
    640K of memory
    noisy fans
    2-hour battery life

    “Industry standard” is usually just an excuse.

  18. I applaud you for standing up for yourself, and sending a message on behalf of those who aren’t quite so brave.

  19. You did the right thing Quinn! Be true to your own Inner voice( also saying this to myself at the same time LOL) that kind of people are not understanding anything about being an artist and are only very business minded! In time they will learn their lessons ……Give yourself a pat on the back for not letting your fear take control!

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