Picking clients

Phoenix, not so much

One thing I’ve always tried being aware of is: Which kind of client work to accept and which not to.

It’s been debated widely among freelancers – and all other types of companies, too – and I think it’s never an easy call.

“Money doesn’t stink,” the saying goes. But doesn’t it? It’s not quite as easy.

Say you’re a freelancer or small company. One “bad” client might well use up a significant part of your work time, and hence a) pull your company in the wrong direction and b) associate you with the “wrong” kind of project/client/ethics/etc. I’m using the quotations marks here so heavily because “bad” and “wrong” are hard to qualify.

What I mean by “bad” client isn’t necessarily that there are ethical issues (but there might be, and in that case: run!), but that it’s not the right client for you at that time. Too big, too small, too demanding, too spendy, too poor, too disorganized, too organized, too strong a focus on domestic or an international market – the list goes on. The point is, it’s a client that would either take you in the wrong direction, or would otherwise put a big, unnecessary strain on your company.

Equally, a “wrong” project could be anything that pulls you or your company too hard in one direction. Say, too big a scope for you to handle, or a focus that doesn’t help you move into the direction you’d like to evolve to.

And then there’s the downright bad/wrong ones, the ones where your gut tells you to back off. That’s where money comes in, in mostly hurtful ways. Something you can’t turn down, for whatever reasons. Or, even worse, something that at that particular point you think you couldn’t turn down, but a few weeks later the world might look different. This is the kind of project where the trust relationship doesn’t exist, or isn’t strong enough. Where you have to make compromises that don’t really work for you. Where in order to complete your end of the deal, you have to call in favors you don’t want to call in, just to end up wasting them because that part of the project gets cancelled without consulting you first, or against your advice.

There are many projects like this. I’ve been mostly very, very lucky with my clients. But anyone and any company that has been around for a bit has had a client project like that. Most luckily live to tell the tale, the one about the “client from hell”.

In many cases, what’s extra annoying about this is that while this project can be very hurtful to one company or freelancer, it might be the perfect fit for another. But while there are way to test the waters, there’s no way to be absolutely sure in advance.

That’s why it’s so important to listen to your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, leave it be. There’ll be other chances. Go with the flow instead.