This is not one of those things I like to talk about, but the reality is that if you’re a freelance technical writer/editor, you will not maintain the same clients for the length of your career. Some you will leave, some will leave you, and sometimes you will both call it quits by mutual agreement. This post will address how to handle those situations.
The Client Leaves You
I’ve had some clients leave because I was unable to help them achieve their entrepreneurial aim (e.g., sell their product/service to another company, win a grant proposal, etc.). Those hurt because you don’t like to lose, either, but quite frankly that’s reality. Most proposal writers I’ve talked to have a lifetime average of .500 (meaning they win about half the proposal they work on). I’ve never been arrogant enough to guarantee someone that they will win.
There are other reasons clients might fire you: personality/work style conflicts, quality of work (real or perceived), no more money available for a technical writer/contractor, and so forth. Some of these situations are more comfortable than others. My first freelance client actually did fire me, and the subcontractor I was supporting them through threw me under the bus rather than back me up, even though (from my perspective and those of my peeers) the quality of my work was fine, it was a personality conflict. I had an uncomfortable, unpleasant meeting in the customer’s office, was told to go home, and then I went to seek other work.
The best thing you can do sometimes is dust yourself off, learn the valid lesson (sometimes it is your fault, sometimes it isn’t), and then move on.
You Leave the Client
This is not easy for me, especially if I’ve had a good working relationship with someone. If you’re a service-oriented or “people” person (as I’ve been told I am), this is also not fun because you don’t like to say no or reject someone. That’s not to say it can’t happen, though.
I reached a point early this year where I realized I wouldn’t be able to take on additional work given that my two largest bill-paying clients were adding subcontracts onto my current workload. Another client, who brought me work on a less frequent basis, was probably going to get caught in the crunch if there was a conflict. (I find it curious how, when you have multiple clients, everyone wants work done at the same time, but that’s a post for a different day).
One thing you can do, especially if you want to remain on good terms with the client and not “burn bridges,” is arrange for another writer/editor that you know and trust to meet the client’s needs. This is what I’ve called leaving a good last impression. In other situations, where the relationship wasn’t as congenial or I was unable to locate a replacement for myself, I at least made certain that I sent a formal resignation notice and wished the client well. I didn’t just “ghost” (disappear without warning, notice, or follow up).
Endings and former clients affect your reputation as much as current clients. Don’t believe me? If you’ve been on the dating scene a while, consider how your previous significant others might talk about you after you break up. It’s a different type of situation, obviously, but whether you’re working or dating, it’s still a relationship, and people do and will talk about you. What they say or how they feel are not within your control. What is within your control is the behavior you exhibit: upon meeting someone for the first time, during the relationship, and afterward. It won’t always be easy, and you won’t always make the most warm and fuzzy choices, but do your best to at least take the right actions….even on your way out the door.