Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Great Experiment: Letting a Client Go


I had this client for 12 years.

The magazine was one of the first to welcome me into the world of freelancing after I'd fled a career in newspapers and with the AP wire service. On a personal level, the editor and I have had a wonderful relationship. She is a good person and supported me through a lot of events in my life ... my then-husband's three deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, a difficult pregnancy, caring for a newborn infant while my spouse was in the thick of war zones, an eventual divorce, balancing life as a new single mother and discovering that my child had a unique condition, Asperger's Syndrome.

This editor provided me with work through all of that and was the backbone of my business. I tell you all of this, because three months ago, I made a very tough call and decided to stop working for that magazine.

I wasn't leaving the editor. I was leaving the magazine. The reason was pure logic. This was an instance where I had to shelve emotions and personal feelings and see the situation from a business perspective.

You've probably heard the expression, "working hard versus working smart." And that was the case with me. I was working hard, so hard, in fact, that I rarely had any time to do anything but think about the stories I was writing for this magazine. I had to keep up a chart for sales people, whereby I was required to call or email, on average, 20 companies per week, asking them to participate in my stories. I logged the date of each contact and what each person said or whether I was unable to make contact. I did this without fail for 12 years, every single week.

I averaged eight to 10 stories every six weeks, just for this client. For each story, I would do an interview that would last about an hour on jobs in engineering and Information Technology fields. Sometimes this required in-depth background research on things like ... rocket science at NASA or genome analyses at pharmaceutical engineering firms. Suffice it to say, these weren't simple stories. They required a breadth of understanding before the first question could even be asked.

The result was that each story on average took about 3 hours to write. They were about 1,200 words each, which doesn't sound like much. But given the topics and high demand for accuracy, great care was required. I honestly don't remember a weekend during those 12 years when I wasn't doing some form of work for this client, whether it was the list of calls or the writing itself.

Now this past year, I also picked up a new client that is a business college for a major university. The client asked me to write for their magazine and Web site for alumni. And the pay ... was about the same as what I was receiving for my 12-year client. What I discovered was that while I was jumping through hoops for Client A, the work for Client B took about one-fifth of the time to complete.

The problem was that Client A's work required so much time that I had little time to market for more people like Client B.

About three months ago, I decided to launch my own "Great Experiment." What if I cut Client A loose? Client A was providing a regular stream of income, and the editor was a wonderful person. But was I missing out on bigger opportunities because the work was so onerous?

I decided to go for it. I stopped working for Client A. The first two weeks involved revamping my business Web site. I really worried that this non-revenue-generating work would result in me spinning my wheels. But I was wrong. I picked up two new clients because of the Web site revamp, within the first week of it going live online.

Last week, I was simultaneously working on 3 projects for 3 different publications. Then my university client came calling and asked me to pick up 5 short profiles. And all of these were due between last Friday and this Friday.

I was dubious about whether I'd pull it off.

But here's the kicker:

Not only am I finishing each and every assignment on time, but I'm NOT working non-stop like I did for Client A. The time spent on these 3 features and 5 short profiles is about one-half of the time I was spending on the technology stories for Client A.

Not only that ... on average, Client A took up to six weeks and sometimes two months to turn around my invoices.

My replacement clients are paying me within 7 days to 2 weeks by comparison. And in all cases, the rate of pay for the amount of work is more than what I was receiving from Client A.

I should also mention that I immediately saw my health, energy and emotional well-being improve. I used to have tingling in my left arm and pain in my neck. After 3 months of physical therapy this past fall, I wondered whether it was connected to so many hours spent at my computer. When I cut Client A, not only did all of the pain vanish, but I've had a lot more flexibility to hit the gym regularly and do things that I enjoy. I never used to take a day off for myself. This is the first time in more than a decade that I have allowed myself that "luxury." (It still feels luxurious, to be honest!)

I don't know how this will continue to play out. It's still early in 2013, and I'm afraid to assume that this trend will continue. But so far, the "Great Experiment" has had phenomenal results.

I suppose I wanted to blog this because if you have my type of personality, you might be working for someone just because you have a good personal relationship. I had a great deal of difficulty separating my emotions from doing what was necessary.

Unfortunately, business is business. Analyze whether that person is just better to keep in your life as a good friend ... and form new relationships with those who will pay you well and pay you on time.

The rule of thumb, "Work smart," really is true.

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