When is a client bad for your health?

Last month I lost a client.

Fortunately, it does not happen often but it is one of the pitfalls of self employment.

When a client dispenses with your services, it can be a shocking blow to your confidence and self worth. I don’t know many graphic designers or others in the creative industry who don’t struggle with ‘imposter syndrome’ from time to time. Unless the yoga practice is really working and your ego is totally non existent, a set back, such as a client bailing on you, can knock your confidence.

I can’t lie, I felt slighted. Was this because I raised my rate?… well, yes, absolutely!.

Initially, I had allowed myself to be knocked down in terms of costings. When you teeter on a chasm of fiscal doom,  it’s way too easy to slip in. The project had become much harder to navigate than it was when I first took it on, the schedules had become erratic and mismanaged, and the complexity of the job, way beyond what I had originally quoted for. This, together with a perplexing turnover of staff, meant I was having to adapt and work with different individuals on the same project over a period of 12 months. So reaching tax year end, I decided to realign my rate and therein lies the rub, as they say. I was clearly sidelined under a spurious excuse of a re-structure. This, from one of the most chaotic companies I had dealt with in my career was laughable.

That said, gradually, I found myself with an enormous sense of relief. I had been working with this client for long enough to realise that they didn’t really understand the importance of design to their business or even the skill behind the execution of it, which actually made dealing with them, an uphill battle. They would constantly question costs, mess me about and pay my invoices late which resulted in huge anxiety for me regarding meeting my bills on time.

I recently saw a designer on YouTube refer to this kind of client as a ‘business crasher’*.
In my case, I would be more inclined to describe them as a ‘brain crusher’.

So this raises the question, when is a client bad for your health?

Well, when they don’t share your values, or simply don’t credit your expertise. When you are freelance or self employed, it’s a tempting scenario to ‘put up’ with anything, just to earn a buck or two but the impact on your mental state of mind can be far more harmful than a depleted bank balance. Any designer worth their mettle will be prepared to go above & beyond for a good client, but being appreciated is critical to a successful client/designer relationship. I’m not suggesting you seek praise constantly and start crying into your keyboard if they don’t give your latest Facebook post the ‘thumbs up’. But just as in our personal lives, a one sided relationship is tiresome at best but long term, it can prove to be stressful, even toxic – ultimately, it’s probably completely unsustainable.

Expending energy on a client that ‘bends you out of shape’, not only drains you physically but when that physical energy is spent..there is no option but to draw on your mental strength, often with detrimental consequences. I’d often go to bed thinking about what challenge would present itself tomorrow and found it difficult to still my thoughts or switch off from the job in hand.

Worse still…there’s nothing quite like a bad client to squeeze all the ‘creative’ juices out of you.

On reflection though, I realised that I felt unexpectedly lighter, almost more hopeful. The fact that I no longer had to deal with them on any level, actually allowed me more headspace, giving scope for fresh ideas and opportunities. It dawned on me that when their projects were due, I was heavy hearted with the prospect of the compressed timescales and the general ‘nonsense’ that surrounded every job. Yes, my income was going to take a dive but my integrity and more importantly, my mental health was bound to improve.

Within a very short time, I got ‘the loss’ more in perspective and it was liberating.  I began to feel a refreshing return to ‘creativity’. No longer bogged down by the restraints of that repetitious cycle of justifying invoices or effectively putting my own self care on hold in case it clashed with the schedules resulted in a more balanced lifestyle. I found time for Networking, researching, learning, yoga, pottery, swimming, reading and best of all…I found ‘peace of mind’. I gave time to my own marketing and content creation. I reinvented my brand packages and relaunched my ‘Creative Conflabs’ which are personal ‘one to one’ brand consultations.

So consider before you submit that quotation… do they trust your experience or constantly question your decisions? If the warning signs are there (and trust your gut on that one), then avoid, avoid, avoid. Any whiff or sign of incompatibility is important to recognise at an optimal moment and maybe let them go. It’s so tempting to compromise your rates just to secure a project but this will only lead to resentment on both sides, devalues your craft and experience and leaves you vulnerable to complete ‘burn out’.

Do I have any regrets apart from the hole in revenue?..
…well only, that just like a faltering romantic relationship..I wish I’d dumped them first.

*4 the creatives

CREDIT: Image: Caju Gomes on Unsplash