These Are Not the Clients You’re Looking For

When you’re starting out freelancing it can be terribly difficult to turn down clients. Each possible new client doesn’t look like work, they look like groceries for the week or the gas bill or a car payment. You need  money to pay for these things, and so you need this client.

But that’s not necessarily true.

You don’t need a client who values their money over your skills. You want clients who believe the exchange of their money for your skills is a good and fair exchange.

By Johan Larsson via

By Johan Larsson via

Clients who value their money over your skills will always want to pay you less. Always.

Those clients aren’t groceries, gas bills or car payments. Those clients are small cups of coffee, half an apple and a pack of bubble gum. You aren’t going to go very far with those clients.

“But Katie,” you’re thinking, “everyone cares about their money and they don’t want to spend it if they don’t have to.”

No: everyone cares about spending their money on the things they value.

This is a real conversation I overheard last week in my gym.

A: So I finally found a seamstress I think I like and got a quote for a custom made jacket for work.

B: Oh, yeah? How much was it?

A: Yeah, I’m pretty excited; she does lovely work. She said it’d be around $XXX.

B: Wow.

A: Yeah, I think that’s a great deal.

B: I think that’s expensive!

A: Really? I thought it was reasonable when you consider how many hours goes into it. Her hourly rate is only $XX.

B: You’re thinking about the labor, I’m thinking about the money. I think it’s expensive.

A: Oh. Well, I’m thinking about the labor; I’m gonna go for it.

If you try equally hard to get both of these people as your client, you will reduce the amount of time you have available for other clients, like A, who value your labor.

By  Viktor Hertz via

By Viktor Hertz via

And, if you take on both as clients, I’m willing to bet B will try and negotiate you down to an overall price that sounds better to her but translates to a pitiful hourly rate for you. Leaving you with less time and less money.

Fill your time with As not Bs.


Explain your work in terms of how the service or good will help your client. Emphasize the quality and value  you offer over what you’ll “throw in.”

When you get A clients, ask them to recommend you to their friends, co-workers and colleagues. Before you finish the job ask, “Is there anyone you know who might be interested in the type and style of work I did for you? If so, I’d like to introduce myself.”

Say “no” to clients who demand deep discounts. There are times when working for a reduced rate or even for free might make sense. Figure out what those exceptions are now, when no one’s asking, and write them down. If the client doesn’t fit your criteria, say “no.”

The clients you’re looking for are the clients that value your work. And they’re out there, I promise.

By gravitystorm via

By gravitystorm via

This week I talked to Barbara Saunders of Solo Pro Radio about freelance and intellectual property and negotiation and all sorts of fun things! You can listen to the show here or here and you can subscribe to it in iTunes.

 One note for those of you considering lifespans in the triple digits: During the interview I inverted numbers when talking about the copyright term on a work for hire. You can expect those bad boys to last 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter.

Categories: Dealing with People


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« Self-Fulfilling Prophecies and Negotiation

Don’t Work For Free! »

4 responses to “These Are Not the Clients You’re Looking For”

  1. Brent White says:

    One of the toughest lessons I had to learn with my first company I owned was that you have to clean out your customer list every couple of years. The natural tendency is to hold onto each and every customer you have since it’s so hard to obtain new ones. But if you truly analyze your customers and move on from the ones who use up all your resources without giving you the proper return, you’ll find that you have more of your resources, including time, to pursue customers worth having, customers who will contribute to the success of your business rather than simply taking from it without contributing anything in return.
    Brent White

  2. Stephen Schildbach says:

    Starting not staring. Third word in your article.

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