Before I left corporate America a decade ago to pursue a self-employed life as a freelancer, I would occasionally boast that I’d never been fired. I used to think, during job interviews, that this little laurel (which was the truth) probably made me stand out a bit. It’s one of those extra things that, if you can make the claim, certainly can’t hurt your chances.
Technically, as far as corporate full-time jobs go, that remains true still. In the freelance world, though, in which clients come and go over time, that statistic gets a bit hazy. And that’s doubly true with web work, as people like me are sometimes called in for one-time consultations or short-term fixes. Or you have businesses that simply fail, or grow and get bought out by other companies (rendering their web sites obsolete in both of those cases). There are tons of reasons — unrelated to your performance or personality — that explain why/how clients come and go regularly.
The Nature of Freelancing
So, the intention of freelance relationships isn’t anywhere near as long-term, on the whole, as that of corporate roles. Indeed, I think part of the challenge of freelancing in general is building up a base of longer-term clients — those companies with which you’re more of an ongoing partner rather than just a one-time Mr. or Ms. Fixit.
Looking back, I can only think of one instance in which it was definitely me. I had a client absolutely 100% ghost me a year or two back. I didn’t even know they’d “fired” me at the time; I just figured they weren’t busy or something, and so hadn’t contacted me. Until one day when I went to their site and it was completely different. And that’s how I found out I’d been canned.
It kind of hurt — hurt my pride a bit, I think, as I felt my perfect record was tarnished. But, when I tried to figure out why, I actually felt a lot better about things. I can’t say for sure to this day, but do you know what I think it was? I think it was my invoicing system, of all things, which sends out auto-reminders after X days of an invoice being late.
This particular company was constantly late. They’d have just a handful of support hours each billing period, and then they’d sit on the invoice for months, during which other invoices would pile up and also become late. That meant that, after a few months, they were probably getting like 6 emails every week or two reminding them. And I figure that finally just pissed them off. They saw me as money-grubbing or whatever.
When you think on it, though… Was I being a pain in the ass? I mean, I think I gave them “Net 15” terms, which is reasonable. So, if they’d actually paid their invoices in a timely manner, they’d never have received the automated reminder emails at all.
In fact, I never directly harassed them over it myself. I saw them as busy and disorganized, and took into consideration that they always paid eventually. That, coupled with the fact that it was always just a handful of hours, allowed me to look the other way. But, my billing system wasn’t inclined to let it go.
And, in the end, I think the billing system was right. I may be the biller, but I’m also a client of other companies, and I pay my own bills when I get them. It’s just common courtesy. And I wasn’t being shown that, even if it meant that this client saw things the other way around. So, in the end, I’m happy they fired me.
An Almost Perfect Record
So, I suppose my record is almost perfect still, at least. And now that I’m focused on this, I think the secret to achieving a client retention rate that you’re proud of lies in the client acquisition process.
I hadn’t meant to talk about this here but, for freelancers in the web world, remember this: It’s not simply you trying to land a web design gig; you are also interviewing the client, and you need to always decide if the client is right for you. Only take jobs where your desire for the job balances with your desire for having the client.
If you do this (interview them as much as they interview you), you’ll become more of a partner with a healthy base of longer-term clients versus a short-term consultant called in to fix a problem. That’s been my experience, anyway. Your mileage may vary. See also:
✍🏻 Jim Dee maintains three blogs — Hawthorne Crow, Web Designer | Web Developer Magazine, and Wonderful Words, Defined — and contributes to various Medium pubs. Connect at JPDbooks.com, Amazon, FB, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Medium, or Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com. His latest screwball literary novel, CHROO, is a guaranteed good time.