Why repeatedly bending over backwards for a client can actually hurt your relationship

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Do you have that one client (okay, maybe three?!) that’s habitually totally unorganized and needing something big last week?

  • The one that asks for an entire PowerPoint presentation for tomorrow’s 8am meeting? (Just 20 slides, I swear! 85 slides later…)
  • Or that calls on Friday at 4:30pm to request a “quick” icon set for Monday morning’s software upgrade?

I’m talking about the client that always exhibits this behavior, not the client with one rare instance when they dropped the ball. For example, the client I’m thinking of proposed three of these big super-rush projects to me within one month!

While on the surface it looks like a win-win if you can pull them off, for me, it’s a big conundrum.

Here’s why:

Sidenote: Once you finish, read how 4 freelancers built recurring revenue models that changed their business. You'll love it.

On one hand…

…the money’s great. And I mean really great.

Super-rush projects like these have earned me $1000+ in one day.

For truly pulling off a miracle – a big project crammed into one day and half the night where you only get up to pee when you’re squirming, you should be raking in the dough.

So unless your current projects (or personal life) don’t afford you any wiggle room or the project is impossible to complete, it’s really hard to say no to that kind of cash.

Secondly…

…it’s what your client wants. They need need NEED this project done like yesterday, and you’re in a position to save the day.

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Your client will absolutely love you forever and sing your praises to everyone they know, right?

But then reality hits…

…when the bill comes.

It doesn’t matter to them that you were up at 2am making revisions, or that the entire project was started and completed within 18 hours. All of the working details are ancient history even if you sent the bill within a week of handing over the deliverables.

All your client sees is the final project and the price tag attached (this is especially true if you’re not working with the boss who approves the payment).

And let’s be honest, it’s not your best work. It’s passable, good even, but not ground-breaking.

(Really, how could it be? You crammed 2 weeks’ worth of creativity and process into 12 consecutive hours.)

So now your client feels like they’re paying top dollar for average work, particularly if they decide to pay you to improve upon it later.

Many more projects like this and they’re likely to view you as the always-available mediocre consultant suitable for minor jobs while they recruit a “top-notch” professional for the fun and exciting important projects.

And then…

…your client comes to expect your total availability. Rush becomes reality.

And then it’s not “Can you do this?” but “I need you to do this.”

Slowly your equality erodes until you’re viewed not as a professional contractor, but rather an out-of-office employee that is expected to perform when called upon.

So when the day comes that you don’t accept their super-rush project, your client believes they can bully you into taking it.

  • First they throw a fit, often threatening to take their business elsewhere.
  • Then they appeal to your emotions, attempting to guilt you into the project.
  • Finally, they apologize and beg.

Then you start avoiding their calls, because you know what they want and you either don’t want to or can’t deal with it.

Finally, you lose (or fire) the client.

So here’s what I do:

While a couple of wickedly long, totally exhausting, and amazingly profitable days are pretty fantastic once the money rolls in, very rarely can we sustain client relationships like these long-term.

For that reason, I don’t let super-rush projects become a habit.

That’s right, I say no. I turn down that $800+ day, and I do it as soon as I see the habit beginning to form.

Remember the client that asked for three big rush projects in one month? I turned down one of them. In truth, I simply couldn’t fit it in my schedule, but I turned it down on principle just as much as on scheduling.

It’s hard to do, I know.

But guess what?

That super-rush big project still needed to be done the following week, and I got to work on it at a normal pace (for a normal price*). No stress. No sleepless nights. No pushing other project deadlines around.

Since I turned that rush project down, my client has only asked for one other rush project amongst a handful of normal projects.

And occasional rush projects I can handle.

*Not sure how much to charge? Check out our How Much Should I Charge? ebook!

Thoughts?

What do you think? Am I crazy? Stupid? Genius? Share your ideas, questions, and tips for handling these situations in the comments.

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About April Greer

April is the Director of Projects at Reliable PSD, a design-to-code company for designers, by designers. She’s the glue keeping everything together, organized, and right on time, and giving everyone a fantastic experience while she does it.

 

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Comments

  1. Amen to this. I am not a rookie but let’s call me a newbie, I have been working as a freelancer for 2 years now, and this last one (2014) I made maybe all the possible mistakes a freelancer can possibly make (I hope), but even though I feel I have been mistreated, took advantage of and get well paid at the same time, I know for sure that I LEARN a lot of this naïve mistakes for not to call them stupid. But comments like this open new problems that might occur and perspectives that at least for me, probably can save me a lot of time, and hassles and probably clients. Thank you for this.

    • Mandre,

      It’s great that you’re learning from your mistakes! Progress!

      Here at Millo, one of our goals is to help you learn from others’ mistakes (a lot of times our own!) to build a business you love.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Great stuff here. Clients, just like children, need to know the boundaries. Set those boundaries and stick to them. It works out better for everyone. The client now has a respect for the boundaries established and can act on those boundaries. BOOM

    Thanks for the read.

    Parrish

    • Hi Parrish,

      Boundaries are a big deal. As a freelancer, there’s no one else but you to stand up for your business, so you have to make sure no one is taking advantage of it. If you can ward off problems before even having to deal with them, even better!

      Thanks for sharing!

  3. Funny to read this just a few moments after I had to tell one my clients if he doesn’t give me his deliverables by the end of the week, I’m ending the project and sending my invoice. Not quite the same as having a client with rush projects, but this guy has told me 4 times now that he’d send me his final notes on his website by x date so I can finish it up. 4 times x date has come and gone with nothing from him. No apology nothing. I have to call him every time to check up. Every time he misses a commitment I can feel his lack of respect for me growing so I put my foot down. If he doesn’t give me his notes by the end of this week, I’m calling the project done and sending the bill. Definitely the worst client I’ve had to deal with in a long time, hopefully he finally comes through. Thanks for the great advice April!!

    • Eddie,

      Ugh, been there. I put a clause in my contract that states 4 weeks of client inactivity results in the project becoming inactive and me billing them for work completed above and beyond the initial deposit. Most of the time, receiving a bill for an incomplete project is the nudge that gets them to finish it up.

      Good luck!

      April

  4. Not stupid at all. In fact, a great advice.

    I think most of us would do the same. It is okay to do the rushed projects once in a while, but when it becomes a frequent thing, it gets on my nerves.

    It’s not just about me, but also my team. It affects their morale.

    I am honest with my clients. I tell them straight that rushing the project is not our thing. We can do it once in a while, but not every time they want.

    Some of them were kind enough to understand, while some were not.

  5. Great graphic and fabulous article! The money IS hard to turn down, but as someone who has learned the hard way, I appreciate you sharing the advice and reminding me to “stick to my guns.”