8. Confrontation

and/or: Resigning the Account

There are a myriad of reasons why good accounts go bad. I am tempted to list some of them (this could be a juicy newsletter topic!), but it ultimately doesn’t matter. Maybe they changed, maybe you changed. Who can say? The trick is in recognizing when things are no longer working, and understanding that you — as an in-demand freelancer — have other options.

Recognizing that there’s a problem
Some problems are obvious. For instance, when a client stops paying your invoices. Deciding to resign those accounts is easy. The not-so-easy ones tend to sneak up on you. One year an account is clicking along just great, then things slowly begin to change. Inefficiencies creep into the client side, the quality of the assignments become uneven, approvals take longer, some projects are never completed, there are unnecessary meetings, the number of “emergencies” increase. Before you know it, you’re working a lot of nights and weekends and producing work that you’re not proud of. Because you may have a long, successful history with this client, it’s possible to be well into a not-so-good relationship before you realize things have gone so far astray.

Further, if you are busy working with a bad client, your work with other clients may suffer. Your freelance business is in jeopardy because you haven’t time to solicit new accounts, and you may not be available when a good client offers a desirable project.

Can the situation be fixed?
And are you the one to do it? The situation described above is generally found at larger companies. Smaller companies can’t afford to operate this way for any length of time. The problem is too costly, too easy to spot, and can often be corrected by replacing one or two people. In large companies, however, poorly run departments can survive for decades.

Before you hit “eject,” take a close look at the personalities and politics. Are the problems obvious or murky? Is your client even aware that problems exist? It is difficult to rock the boat, especially with a client who is still paying well, but it’s time to call a meeting. Arm yourself with the following information:

1) A brief description of how it used to be, with examples.

2) A brief comparison of how it is now, with examples.

3) Your position. This could range from a weak plea for improvement, or setting a 60 day probation/reevaluation period, or your announcement that you will no longer accept new work from them and that you will finish out your current projects and resign the account.

Ouch. Not pleasant. But when you find yourself with the client from hell, it is often your best choice. Just managing the stress associated with a bad client consumes an enormous amount of time. Once the deed is done, you will be surprised at the relief you feel and how much time you suddenly have.

Sweet freedom! This may mean it’s back to the phone for a bit, but you’re good — and there are many clients out there who can use your services. All it takes is a little consistent effort to find them, cultivate them, and make them yours.

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