Today I want to talk about a habit that I developed years ago when I first started to really grow my business. It’s a habit I still have today, although I have tweaked it a little bit.
Why You Need to Let Some Clients Go
I have long been an advocate of letting clients go. I have always let my clients go when they were difficult to deal with or when the projects were too small or when they didn’t pay enough or they didn’t pay on time.
I have always ended relationships with clients because of those types of issues, but I have shifted my mindset because my business has grown so much in the last several months and especially over the last couple of years. Essentially from my 2016 numbers, I am set to more than double my income from that year which is still a 40% boost over what I made in 2017.
Because of that, I always have to be adjusting my habits and the clients that I work with to make sure that I am doing things that are truly the right fit for me.
Does the Work Light You Up?
I have always made my decision about letting clients go based on money or just general workability, but what about those clients who are easy to work with, they pay on time, they pay decently, but the work just doesn’t light you up?
I have had a client like this for two years — they pay on time, it’s been very clear what the payment structure was. They pay me by check so I don’t pay any other fees. They are pretty easy to deal with, although over the last couple of months, they have started to add more and more requirements about what needs to be submitted with each piece. All those bells and whistles are adding five to ten minutes per piece, but they won’t budge on the price.
For the longest time, I kept this client because I have had them for two years. I know exactly what they are looking for. The work isn’t that difficult and it’s not like they were hard to deal with even with the pushback about these new bells and whistles they wanted.
But I started to realize something recently. My assignments for them are always due on Fridays and I always procrastinate. I never start working on them until Wednesday or Thursday because I just don’t want to do it. I am not excited about the work. It aggravates me that they are asking for all these bells and whistles.
The work just didn’t excite me, but I couldn’t make that jump internally about letting the client go because they met my other requirements. They paid me on time. Overall, they were easy to deal with. But I just didn’t like doing the work and it had become increasingly boring, the last several rounds of work that they had me do.
Of course, I was putting it off, so I wasn’t enjoying doing it. When I finally did sit down to do the work, I was just aggravated the whole time. I was like; let’s just get this done as quickly as possible, in comparison to some of my other clients where I sit down to do the other work and I am thrilled to do it.
I have had clients for four years, three years, two years, and it’s hard to continue coming up with ideas for those clients in some of those cases, but I still enjoy the material so much or working with the client so much that I would never consider ending the contract unless something drastic changed.
This was like the middle of the road client — I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it, but the multi-six figure freelance mindset asks: am I happy doing the work?
I encourage you to ask yourself this as you grow your client business. Ninety-five percent of you who are starting your business or just really beginning to grow it are focused on monetary outcomes — and there is nothing wrong with that.
You want to hit 5k per month, 10k per month, and beyond, but the habits that got you to this point are not the same habits and mindsets that are going to get you to the next level.
If you read Jen Sincero’s work, she often talks about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, and for about the past four months I have been uncomfortable. I have taken on new projects that have caused me to stretch my skill set. I have started working on my PhD dissertation again. I have really cut back the hours I work in my freelance business to work on some other goals that do light me up a lot more than some of these projects.
So I knew I had to let a couple of clients go and to be very selective about who I work with. I told you about the test project where I turned down any future work because it just didn’t make me happy. I reflected back on how I felt when I made that decision. Doing this work for this client doesn’t make me happy, either at all or it’s changed over the time. I have gotten sick of doing it. I am just not interested in it anymore. That is a good reason to end the contract. Not only am I unhappy, but I am not serving the client at the highest level that they are paying for and they deserve, when I am no longer excited about the project.
I wavered about it — I mean, I thought about letting this client go for two weeks before I finally wrote the email and ended it. I gave them the option of me doing the blogs that were due the next week or not and they said they did want me to do them, and they were fine with it.
But for me immediately, sending that email, I felt a sense of relief. Just like when I chose not to move forward with the test project.
New Level, New Devil
As you go in your freelance career, you are going to achieve new levels. There is a saying about this; new level, new devil. You are always going to experience challenges — challenges that you have never had before.
After you hit a certain point in your business and you achieve new things, you are going to have new challenges. So, the last several weeks; I have been tired, I haven’t been feeling as lit up about working on projects. I have procrastinated on a couple of projects which is very unlike me and a sure sign that I am either heading towards burn out or need to make a change.
Recognizing that desire to make a change, I went through and re-listed what I call my dream client list. I always keep track of how much money I have coming in every month from retainers, but this time I made a list right next to that of who I really wanted to work with. Who meets all my other requirements, but I also enjoy doing the work?
It represented a loss of $3000 a month in freelance income. When I thought about it, that extra $3000 wasn’t improving my life $3000 worth. It wasn’t bringing me $3000 worth of happiness. It wasn’t relieving pressure and stress. Instead, those projects that I had cut off the dream list were dragging me down and making me tired.
Big Picture Vision
Six-figure freelancers tend to think differently than freelancers who are just starting to build their business. They have a big picture vision and they are willing to take risks and gambles and change things in their businesses if it isn’t working. Even so, those same habits that got me to the six-figure point will not keep me at the sustained multi six-figure freelance point.
As my business has grown so much in the last couple of years, I am now being very mindful of who I choose to work with in an even more restrictive way.
In the past, I would have made sure that someone had a minimum project amount per month they were spending, make sure that they pay it on time and they were easy to deal with.
Now I am incorporating this other level of happiness; how much do I enjoy this work? How much do I enjoy interacting with this client? If there is any hesitation in there, in the response, they are not the right fit for me.
It can be really scary to let clients go, but I often tell the freelancers that I am coaching, who are trying to get to that six-figure mark, that knowing who you don’t want to work with is probably more powerful for growing your business than knowing who you do. It’s important to have an ideal client. It’s important to recognize when someone isn’t an ideal client and to let them go, and that means leaving money on the table.
Every time I make one of these decisions, I leave money on the table. Usually there is some instant payback from the universe; one of my existing clients ups the contract, I land some new contract.
Even if that doesn’t happen, like in this situation where I let this client go, I instantly feel the freedom in the decision and confirmation, essentially, that I made the right choice for me and my business and where it’s growing, not where it’s been.
Projects You Love = Success
Successful freelancers, those who have grown to the six and multi-six figure point, have an eye towards that next level that makes them happy in their business and it’s not always about money. Yes, I could have kept this client and had more money on my bottom-line revenue, but it wasn’t making me happy.
Once you have reached a certain point, financially, in your business, the question becomes about; is this allowing you to live the freelance lifestyle that you wanted?
Why did you start this business? It wasn’t to work 80 hours a week. It wasn’t to have crappy clients. It wasn’t to do work that was boring. If we wanted those things, we could go get a day job right now. You could go get a 9 to 5 job where you have a boss breathing down your neck and you have to deal with people that you may not like all day long, doing projects you don’t like. We tend to slip back into those old habits, unless you are really aware of your tendency to do that.
For me it’s a whole new thing to incorporate how happy I am doing the project. How much I enjoy writing the content and talking to that client, but it’s also freeing because I know in my gut, which has always been right, guiding me in business so far, that I have to make decisions like this to grow even bigger. If I continue doing what I am doing, I am going to get the same results I have always gotten, which aren’t bad results. They are great results, but it’s not where I want to go.
Reflect on this as you are building your business. When you are first starting out, it’s easy to think, I need to get three $1000 or $2000 retainers. I need the financial security of that to grow my business, to feel confident I can do this.
We have all been there, but as your business grows don’t get stuck in what essentially becomes like content mill work. You are doing the same things over and over again because it generates money. It doesn’t light you up. You are not giving the best results to your client. You are procrastinating. You get so annoyed if you even see that client’s name pop-up in your email inbox.
Don’t put yourself in that situation. You don’t have to. You have a very clear choice about what you can do with your business and we have to constantly check ourselves not to go down that path of making mistakes.
When that initially seems like leaving money on the table, reflect back on why you started this, why you love what you do. You have some bigger why. It could be your family. It could be the freedom to travel. It could be the flexibility of not having to work the same hours every single day and working with a variety of clients.
Whatever it is for you, reflect back on that as you grow your business. Most of the time when we are stuck at an income ceiling or a mindset level ceiling, it is because you are sticking with contracts or attracting in more of the same type of contracts that are not fulfilling you and lighting you up. You bring a whole other level of detail and attention to the table when you are working on client work that you are so passionate about. It shows in the end result. You get rave results from your clients.
I first noticed this several weeks ago. I have a client that I am doing some copywriting for and it’s an organization that markets to attorneys, so it’s really hard to have personality and to make it fun. But I really started thinking about what I could do that would blow their mind. I wrote a blog post, talking about branding lessons that they could learn from a really popular TV show and a snarky TV character. The client loved it. They raved about it for three days. Everyone on the marketing team reached out to me.
Because I cared so much about that client outcome and I enjoyed the work and I took on the challenge of wanting to do something above and beyond, it showed in the end result. It showed in what the client received and in how they felt about working with me.
Grow Your Mindset
As you grow, your mindset has to grow too. As your business gets bigger, you will spend more time on mindset versus activities like marketing. You will spend less time on client work, less time on marketing, and more time on mindset. It sounds counterintuitive. You’d think, if I want to make more money, I have to work more, right? Wrong. It’s the exact opposite.
Adjusting that mindset and constantly retooling my business, letting clients go, bringing on clients, testing out clients, deciding when to move forward with them versus not has made a huge difference; not in just hitting a particular income level but in sustaining that.
Everybody can say, oh I had a 10k month, and I had a 15k month. The hard part is in sustaining that. I have been able to sustain my new income level over the last nine or ten months now because of my commitment to doing those same mindset practices.
Now I pay attention to when I have hit another ceiling. It’s time to unlock and go to the next level. It’s about working with the clients who absolutely light me up. I am doing the best possible work for them. I am excited about it every single day. I am being paid well to do it.
It’s the business model that I have always wanted to build as a freelancer, where I don’t feel obligated to do something just because it’s something I have been paid to do.
I hope this has been helpful for you. Let me know in the comments below if you have questions about mindset and how often you practice with your own mindset.
For more freelance advice, check out my YouTube channel, Freelance Freedom.
HI, I’M LAURA!
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