Why freelancing is like Wipeout

by Jake Poinier

Why freelancing is like WipeoutFreelancing can often seem like the cult TV show Wipeout, with unexpected obstacles popping out of nowhere, and even visible obstacles being squirrellier than you realize…till you plunge into the drink.

My most challenging client and I weren’t seeing eye to eye on Friday. (He’d be proud of the “most challenging” descriptor, so I’m at peace writing this openly under the assumption that he might read it.) It was the most serious disagreement that we’ve had in 3 years of working together.

In Wipeout terms, this was an obstacle I already knew about. He really, really would like me to expand beyond the 3 hours a day I spend during production crunches to manage his other writers. I’ve always been clear with him that I’m not interested in taking a full-time job. I never say, “I have other clients,” because that’s a counterproductive comment—but he’ll occasionally try to get a rise out of me, saying things like, “I guess your other clients must be more important.” (I ignore it when he says that.)

Things came to a head along those fault lines: Him, believing that I wasn’t working fast enough on the upcoming project; me, believing that I had been very clear about the amount of time I could commit. Keeping in mind that this is simultaneously a client who pays great…and also costs me a few bucks a month in aspirin…I had a couple of options available to me at this point:

  1. Say “to heck with it,” sever the relationship, and find better things to do with my time. That would be foolish, because on balance the projects meet my pay-to-hassle ratio requirements.
  2. Say “OK, I’ll commit more time.” Unacceptable, even though it would guarantee me more income. Diversity is absolutely paramount to my business, not to mention my sanity.
  3. Restate my position, “I can give you XX hours a day during production peaks, which is what I’ve been doing for the past 3 years, and which has been a good partnership.” This stood a not-insignificant chance of resulting in termination.

I chose 3. Obviously, I’ve painted an oversimplified picture here. But the first of two deeper points is that you need to come at these types of situations from a position of strength and self knowledge. No one can tell you what your own parameters are—there are successful, happy freelancers who would have chosen option 1 or 2.

The second point is that, while negotiating the Wipeout of the freelancing world, you need to be persistent with whatever choices you make. I knew my client wasn’t going to like my decision to resist his offer. Yet, based on the work I’ve done for him and the strength of the relationship we’ve built, I believed it was the proper course of action.

First thing Monday morning, I received a conciliatory email from him: He respected my position, though he couldn’t quite understand why I would forgo such a great opportunity. We’ll continue working with each other, same as it ever was, until the next obstacle.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous February 26, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Cold, wet, bruised, dirty and humiliated. Sounds about right.

Dr. Freelance February 27, 2013 at 7:16 am

Anonymous, your gravitar matches that comment perfectly. But I hope reality isn’t *that* bad!

Cari March 3, 2013 at 6:01 am

Thanks for this,
An insight into the working mind of a good client?
The hardest part of this freelance life is knowing what
that anonymous human on the other side of the world
is thinking/feeling/hoping to get out of you. Half the time I’m not even sure what gender I’m dealing with! Posts like this have helped me through my first few negotiations, successfully, I think.

Young Work At Home Moms March 8, 2013 at 11:26 am

That is an interesting way to describe freelance writing. I have been writing for 3 years now and I have had my share of both good and bad clients. Some are worth holding on to while others are not.

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