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The client’s invoice is 15 days overdue. So is my mortgage payment. My hands are shaking as I pick up the phone to sort out this mess.
“I don’t want to start a fight,” my client says, already getting defensive. “But we can’t pay you for all these hours if we’re not satisfied with the copy.”
He wants me to redo everything from the home page to the contact page. The copy he initially raved about got axed by the CEO, so it’s back to the drawing board. Starting over with a blank canvas, basically.
…at no extra charge.
I’m kicking myself. I knew I shouldn’t have said “yes” to this client. They’re a SaaS company, and I don’t work with SaaS companies.
But (wait here it comes…) I needed the money.
So I said “yes” when I should have said “no”—a classic freelancer mistake. That’s the freelancer’s get-outta-jail-free card, right?
When I hear freelancers complain about projects gone awry, this is almost always at the root of it. If you’re not a hot match with your client, you’re destined for hiccups, sometimes big ones.
The client doesn’t like the work, refuses to pay, and the starving freelancer agrees to do a patch job for even LESS money, and feels ultra resentful when the final invoice is ultimately paid (30 days past due, naturally).
So what to do? When you need the money, you need the money, right?
For real, freelancers. I’m going to throw down some deep truth here:
If you want to run a thriving freelance business, work with freelance clients you love, get paid a healthy rate, and have clients who want to hug you when they see your work, you need to get really freakin’ real about who those people are, and start saying “no” to everyone else.
But you still need to keep the juice flowing in your bank account though, right?
SaaS people don’t like my website. It’s way too bubbly and fun. It’s full of bright colours and ultra-casual language.
On the other hand, people that are only interested in being bubbly and fun don’t like my website either. I talk about using data to write copy and make data-driven decisions about layout and design too.
That repels clients who are:
Also, you won’t see the phrase “book a free consultation” anywhere on my website. I put my scheduling software behind a form, and I have my VA screen clients. (It’s too tempting to say “yes” to everyone, even when they’re only sort of right for me.)
If you struggle to get referrals, it’s probably because no one knows about you. (I know. Duh, right?)
Some of my best freelance clients come from other freelance copywriters who are either too busy or not a great fit for a prospective client. So it’s time to start connecting with people who do what you do, and freelancers who support the same ideal freelance client you do.
For example, as a copywriter I get leads from designers, FB ad managers, and the odd virtual assistant. I refer freelance business to them, and they refer it back to me. Everybody wins.
And here’s the crazy thing: when you tell a freelance client that they’re not the right match for you, they fall crazy in love with you and talk you up to other people who might be a better fit. It’s a huge professionality-booster, and makes you look like a total pro.
Maybe you’re the type of person who goes on 10-day silent meditation retreats, or maybe you only watched “The Secret” once a decade ago and thought it was hogwash—either way is fine with me. I’m just telling you what’s been true for me.
When you say “yes” to the wrong people, you’re essentially affirming a belief that it’s the best you can do. That no one better is going to come along. That you don’t mind working outside your zone of genius.
…and that’s so not okay.
Saying “no” on the other hand, is a subtle affirmation that there’s a better freelance client coming, they just haven’t found you yet. And you want to be available when they do.
I promise the first time you send an email that says something like this, you will instantly feel like a million dollars:
How liberating would that feel?
I’ll tell you, it feels freaking amazing. Almost every time I do this, someone else comes along right away. Sometimes a LOT of someone elses come out of the woodwork unexpectedly.
It’s not going to be easy. Before you get to the liberated, awesome feelings, you have to get really, really uncomfortable. You might have to say “no” three days before your rent is due and again when the electric bill is a month past due.
But I promise, the magic happens when you step outside your comfort zone. When you force yourself to do something a little bit differently.
…like write yourself a website that speaks only to [insert hyper-niched ideal customer].
…or send a cold email to a rockstar freelancer who you’d really like to get referrals from. (You can practice on me if you want.)
…and say “hell, no” next time someone asks you to “whip something up” for $50, preferably in the next 24 hours.
Saying “no” is tough to do at any stage of your freelance business. I once met founder of Copy Hackers Joanna Wiebe at a conference, and she told me that she turned down Google.
Google, people! Can you imagine how hard that was?
So next time Mr. Wrong comes calling, think of Jo and remember your mission.
To work with amazing clients who really value what you do. To get paid a fee that’s just a wee bit more than you’re comfortable with, allows you to pay all the bills on time, and do the kind of things that “normal” people do—like buy a house, take vacations and go to the doctor when they get sick.
I promise, you are worth it.
And if you need a little more advice, I created a special freebie just for you—10 things you can do to attract more of the right clients, starting today.
Download this issue of Tradecraft as a PDF to read and reference at your own pace.