I spent some time with a fellow freelancer recently, and he showed me a spreadsheet of his recent and current clients.
Better still, he showed me how profitable each of those clients were.
I have created spreadsheets like these myself, and was fascinated to see how similar his was in terms of the spread of profitability.
Let me explain.
On his spreadsheet he had a couple of really profitable clients, several middle-range clients, and a couple of clients that were barely profitable at all. His mix of clients was very similar to what I have seen in my own career as a freelancer.
So I asked him the obvious question, “The two least profitable clients take up way too much of your time for too little reward. So why not fire them?”
Good question, right?
Well, it turns out that these two clients are old clients. He has worked with them for years. And while his rates have risen over the years, the prices he charges these two clients have remained lower.
He also feels a sense of loyalty to these clients, because they were with him during the tough, early days, when he was trying to earn enough to pay his rent each month.
I get that. I understand his reasons.
But if you want your freelance business to grow, you can’t afford to spend too much time on barely profitable work. You need to do one of two things. First, you can renegotiate the price. Second, you can fire the client.
If the work is good, and the client is easy to work with, you should try the first option. A smart client will understand that your rates have to go up from time to time, and will agree to that increase in fees.
But in my experience, even the smartest clients feel a lot of resistance when faced with a fee increase.
If that is the case, you need to say goodbye to that client, and find a better one.
I shared this argument with my freelancer friend, and while he agreed with my reasoning, he felt very uncomfortable with the thought of pulling the trigger and letting two clients go.
Why? For the same reason that every freelancer worries about letting a client go. What if next month turns out to be a bad month? What if they need that client’s fees to pay the bills? In other words, we feel insecure. We try to hang on to every source of revenue we can.
I understand that too. I have been in the same place, many times.
But what I have learned is that in pretty much every case you would do well to ditch those two clients. Why? Because getting rid of them gives you the time to find better, more high-paying work from new clients.
As freelancers we hang on to these old clients out of insecurity and even sentimentality. There are no sound business reasons for spending time on that kind of work.
You have to maximize your revenues. And that means firing those bottom-rung clients and using the time you have freed up to find better ones.
It isn’t always easy to let clients go, but this is how smart freelancers rise above the crowd and make 6-figure incomes.
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