Why I Turned Down A $20,000/Year Client

If you’re a freelancer or small business owner, you know making good money is hard work. Every dollar counts. You also know a small stable of big clients is preferable to many small clients, but also more difficult to come by. So when a big client comes along, it can be difficult to turn them down. What constitutes a “big” client? It depends on your situation of course, but I think it’s safe assume most freelancers would consider any client worth $10,000 per year or a large account. Get a dozen of those, and in most areas of the U.S. you would be making good money. That’s why it was so difficult for me to turn down a client who wanted to pay me $20,000 per year.

Why would I turn down a client who could have bought me a couple of jet skis over the course of 12 months? I admit I gave it a lot of consideration, but ultimately I had three good reasons. Here’s why I turned down a $20,000 per year client, and why you should similarly turn down any client who exhibits the following traits.

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1. She was indecisive

I appreciate taking one’s time to make an important decision, which is why I was happy to provide the client with samples, references, and other information while she debated between selecting me and other freelancers. But after she selected me, she changed the scope of the project three times in as many days. Not just a few parameters, but the entire project altogether. I had to wonder how many revisions she would need on the finished work.

It’s good for clients to think outside the box, and handling revisions come with the territory. But if a client puts out an RFP, said client should at least know what they want first. If not, you have to wonder how easy the client will ultimately be to work with.

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2. She complained about my fee – constantly

Before she selected my proposal, she asked why my fee was higher than many of the other freelancers she had contacted. I gave her my reasons, and she seemed satisfied. Yet in every communication (or project switch, as it was), she would work in something like “I need this to be attention-getting, but of course with your fee you would know that.” I get it if she felt she overpaid after she had seen my work, but this was before I had completed any work at all.

Ultimately, I think she felt that I was the best option, but she wasn’t satisfied with my fee. Even though she offered me $20,000 per year, I had to wonder if the job would even last a month, let alone 12 or more. I’m not in the business of bankrupting my clients; on the contrary, my job is to help them make money. But no one can spend their entire budget in one area and profit. If paying me was going to cause financial stress, I would be doing her a disservice by taking her on.

And – for all I know – she was loaded, but just needed something to complain about. I don’t need that, and neither do you.

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3. She wanted ownership

The client wanted to dictate when I would work, she wanted my cell phone number, and she wanted me to be able to turn work around at a moment’s notice. That’s called employment. It’s important to make the distinction.

Look, I work a lot of hours, but there are certain times I designate as family time or time for myself. For example, I very rarely miss a family dinner, and I almost never work on the weekends. These are the perks of working for one’s self. Moreover, my cell phone is for friends and family and, yes, a few clients who I’ve become friends with. For everyone else, I give my Google Voice number, which rings to my cell phone but can be turned off during “me” time.

Finally, we have to value the $20K for what it was: a good-paying client, yes, but a low-paying job. Like other businesses, freelancers have to schedule work in advance; and charge more for rush jobs (if we have time for them when we have existing deadlines). You can’t stop what you’re doing for one client to work on another client’s project simply because they are unable to properly plan.

She wanted ownership of my time, and nobody gets that but me. You should adopt the same mindset.

Ultimately, while the money constituted a good-paying client, the hassles of taking on this particular client weren’t worth the money. The best clients recognize your value and do not micromanage you. In fact, they don’t manage you at all; they simply expect you to deliver as promised and on time. They’re happy to pay your fee, because they understand their return. And, they see you as a human being, one who has other clients and a life outside of work.

When you can fill your stable with outstanding clients, as I’ve been fortunate enough to do, you’ll find your small business or freelancing career to be less-stressing, more exciting, and more rewarding. Knowing how to avoid headaches – and the clients that cause them – is a powerful strategy for building a successful business.

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