When To Say No To Clients As a Freelancer

Feb 27, 2024

Time spent on clients that suck, is time not spent on landing better ones. It took me a while to realize this. Took me even longer to take action. In this newsletter you'll read about my battle with fear, corporate nonsense and axing clients.

I started freelancing when I was 28 (I'm 39 now). I'd been working for an agency the past five years, while also working on my e-commerce site.

All the money I could save, was put into webdevelopment, marketing or stock for my online store. Unfortunately, it failed. Bust. I failed.

I found myself broke, uninspired and and angry with the world. The only thing I had going professionally, were three freelance gigs that I got through the agency I'd worked for.

Having little choice (at least I though so), I pursued freelancing as a career. I mean, I had nothing left to lose and needed to make money fast.

Luckily, my network caught wind of my availability rapidly and my portfolio of clients grew quickly.

Within no-time I was working around the clock for reputable clients (on paper) and growing my business.

This is where I entered the puberty phase with my business. A period wherein my business had to mature. To overcome obstacles new to me.

Most freelancer I talk to went through a similar phase. So I thought I'd share my insights and lessons. If you're in your puberty phase, you might pick up some ideas. And if you've already matured, reminiscence with me here.

These were the 5 phases of my business puberty:

1. I was extremely happy with the money and feeling productive

And I mean I was over the moon. I was working (more than) full-time, was billing insane amounts of money and learning new skills and meeting new people.

Things couldn't be better. Clients were lining up, and I was raking in money.

2. I started resenting the work, clients and life itself

Sounds amazing, right? It was. For a while. After a year of living on a pink cloud, as we say in Holland, reality caught up with me. I found myself overworked, anxious and even experienced my first panic attacks (although I didn't know this at the time).

One day I was staring at my screen, working on-site at a corporate client, unable to read the words before me. And I still stayed at my desk. Waiting for the moment to pass and get back in the game.

The moment didn't pass.

3. Burnout

In actuality, this moment wasn't just a moment. My eyes failed me that time, however my whole body was showing signs of malfunction. Twitching muscles constantly. Headaches. I developed Vitiligo, losing pigment in my face. I honestly think it was linked to the stress I was putting myself under.

4. Cutting ties with toxic clients

Even though it took me a while and I let stress get out of hand, I did eventually come to the realization something had the change.

I started asking myself why I was working so hard. Or for clients who weren't giving me much motivation and work that didn't give me any satisfaction.

A friend once said crisis and knowledge enable change. He couldn't be more right in this case. The crisis I was in needed to end. Things needed changing. I needed to change.

It started with cutting collaborations which were borderline toxic.

Then I cut client who forced me to work on site.

And I ended with letting clients go for whom I just didn't want to work anymore, for whatever reason.

5. Going for hell yes collabs

Now, I was ready for the consequences. I expected backlash, revenue drop and anxiousness to arise because of this.

But this didn't happen. Clients mostly understood my decisions. The year I aggressively cut clients, even outperformed the previous year in revenue. And I wasn't feeling anxious at all.

So what happened?

First of all, the clients I was happily working for, got more attention. Which caused their businesses to grow. That in turn, caused my income to grow. See, my income is linked to the growth of the budgets of my client, I'll talk about this in a future e-mail.

Also, remember the first line of this newsletter?

Because I wasn't working around the clock for clients I didn't want, I had time to market myself and find clients I did want to work for. Funny how that works.


So... when to say no?

To be honest, I think you know when to say no. The better question to ask yourself is: why should I say yes to this?

Your time is scarce. Don't waste it on clients you don't need or want.

Your real challenge is to position yourself in such a manner you'll get the best leads, most fulfilment and generous income. In the next e-mail I'll share the process to get you there.


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