ASK US WEDNESDAY: “How do I cull a client?”

by Rachel Smith
31 March 2021

Updated March 2021

I’ve been freelancing for six years and in the beginning I took on a lot of small, low-paying clients to get experience. I charged low and worked my ass off. I still have one or two of those clients on my books, despite improvements in my skills and confidence. I think it’s time to bid farewell to these clients so I have more time to chase higher-paying ones. But how do I cull a client? And am I crazy to turn away paying, long-term clients? Paul

Not at all. We’ve all been in that position and as you build your freelance business, do courses to boost your skills and get valuable experience in the market, you will naturally start to out-grow those clients who were with you at the beginning.

But deciding to cull a client should be Plan B. Plan A is to be brave and tell the client you’re putting your rates up on X date, hope they will recognise they got a good deal for many years, and not quibble.

If by some chance they DO quibble, or because the relationship you’ve had with them has been one lacking in boundaries (you know what I’m talking about – they treat you like a staffer, have you on speed dial, expect stuff out of scope for no more money, etc etc), then yes, it might be time to bid farewell to that client.

Here’s a checklist I run through before I cull a client:

  1. Do they commission me enough work each month? You might want to have a minimum per client per month and if that’s not happening, you might assess that that client is not worth your time.
  2. Do they pay my current rates? If they’re a quibbler about money and you find it exhausting having to constantly justify your rates, that might be enough to put them in the ‘cull’ pile.
  3. Do they pay promptly? A big consideration when you’re operating in an industry plagued by late payers, payment on publication and cashflow issues generally.
  4. Do they send referrals my way? Also important. Your client might annoy you or quibble about rates but if he/she is constantly sending referral work your way, it might be a no-brainer to keep that client on your roster.
  5. Do I enjoy the work? We all have to do stuff we’re not really passionate about, but if this client’s work bores you silly (and you answered ‘no’ to many of the above), it might be time to cull.

What to do if you’ve decided to let a client go?

You need to break it to them gently and professionally. This could be letting them know you’re moving in another direction professionally or are taking on a big project that has meant you no longer have time to service them as a client. If you want to, offering to connect them with another writer can soften the blow. We have several scripts in our ebook, 25 Scripts for Freelance Success, if you’re not sure quite how to approach it.

Listers: how often do you have to cull a client? What are your top tips?

Rachel Smith

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