Clients, like relationships, are not always a good fit.
When you’re just starting out in the business world, or even if you come from a 9-to-5 and are switching to the business-owner route, it’s hard to figure out what projects you want to do and which ones will only turn into a bigger headache. (Also can we be honest, no 9-to-5 is a 9-to-5. It’s more like 7-to-7 and BOY is that life-draining.)
After writing professionally for 10 years now, every project has taught me who I love to work with and who I don’t.
My system isn’t perfect, it relies a lot on gut instinct. There are a few things I want to talk about before we dive into the clients themselves. (And you should always focus on yourself before blaming any client for anything.)
1. How is your personal money?
Let’s get the real topic out of the way first, how are you doing financially? If you need the money, your mind will be too clouded to actually think about if a client is right for you or not. I’ve been there, and I totally understand just doing a project for the money.
I’d never sit here and advocate for people to turn down work when they need to pay bills.
The only thing I’d mention is to make sure you’re still hustling and looking for clients while you work with that client in case it turns into a bad situation. This has been one of the biggest problems throughout my copywriting career: investing SO much in a client or project that I neglect to keep hunting for work.
Always. Keep. Looking.
2. Are you low-balling your own value?
Sometimes if you value your own work at too low of a price, you’ll get terrible clients no matter what. You’ll resent them for paying you so little even though YOU SET THE PRICE.
Sure, you might realize you completely misjudged the scope of a project, and you’ll have to decide if that’s something you want to bring up with the client or just eat the cost because you were wrong.
When it comes to the actual clients and projects, there are a few ways you can approach it until you figure it out.
1. Get every detail possible about the project.
Don’t be afraid to ask really specific questions. I’ve had a ton of clients come to me and say they just need “a little copy written” which turns into 40 pages needed.
If they’re not sure, ask them what they imagined the final project looks like. Have them send you examples from the world. If you’re a web designer or graphic designer, have them send you examples they want their final project to resemble.
Clients don’t always have the words or experience to describe what they want, and they shouldn’t. You’re the expert. You should have the guidelines to help them and you should ask the right questions.
2. Analyze their language.
Do they seem super uptight? Some people describe these clients as “Type A”, but I’d argue they’re a few steps further than that. I’m Type A. I love planners, organizations, set times, and I do not go with the flow. Unless the flow is rum. Or coffee. But outside of that, no flow.
The type of people I’m talking about are one step further. They’re obsessive and demanding. They start their emails with URGENT although no one is dying and there is no fire.
If you can handle these types of people, that’s great. If you like your work to be a little more peaceful (because after all that’s why we all left the business world. If I wanted a boss to ride my ass I would have stayed in the business world), then these people are not worth it.
3. Stalk them on social media.
I’m not above this in any way, shape, or form. See who they are as a person. See what they care about. People might view this as a no-no, but whatever people put on public profiles is fair game. Plus, if every employer across the world can look you up online before they decide to hire you, that is fair for everyone.
If you’re still not sure, the best thing to do is set milestones along the way so you both can mutually walk away at any point during the project if you decide it’s not a right fit.
Create a small project and see how that goes.
Side note: GET AN UPFRONT PAYMENT FOR THE SMALL PROJECT.
You’re running a business, not a charity. For a long time I used to do small projects to figure out if someone is a good fit and then they’d go MIA. (Usually they went out of business within a few months and they really didn’t have any idea what they were doing.) However, I’d be pissed and I wasn’t about to chase them down for such a low fee. (But don’t tempt me my lawyer is always ready and waiting.)
Get paid upfront so you have the peace of mind to dedicate yourself to the project while keeping food in your house.
As for the project, there are a few ways you can narrow down if it's work you want to do or not
- Does it make you excited?
- Is it in a niche you understand? (If not, be sure to include payment for the amount of research you need to do)
- Do you have time to fit in this project?
- Do you know exactly what the client is looking for?
- Would it look good on your portfolio?
- Is talking with the client easy?
- Is the project easy or will it require you to reach outside your current comfort level?
All of these are important factors and with time you'll be able to determine what matters most to you.
When you find your favorite clients, hold onto them. Build relationships, keep working together, and most importantly ask them for referrals. (BUT be careful with this. Just because you love your client doesn’t mean you love the people they send your way, which in turn can create friction down the line.)
On the other hand, if a client is not a right fit, it's best to have that conversation upfront.
Sometimes a project won't fit into your schedule, sometimes it's in a niche you don't want to work on, sometimes you just don't get along. Just explain it's not something you want to work on and if possible, refer them to someone you trust who could possibly take it on. (Ask the person you're going to refer them to first!)
Projects that are a good fit will always help your career, and projects that don't rarely will.