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Being a freelancer is not the easiest job in the world and the difficulty in maintaining your sanity when dealing with clients is certainly one of the reasons why.

Fortunately, going crazy doesn't have to be a side effect of life as a freelancer. You can freelance and maintain your sanity. Here are five ways to do it.

Boost your rates 

While there's always a limit to how much you can realistically charge your clients, there's a good chance you're charging less than it. Increasing your rates (within reason) is often a good way to make your life simpler. For one, it may actually help boost your perceived value, especially if you're undercharging. It also often weeds out 'bad' clients, helps minimize the risk you will take a loss on a project if Murphy's Law hits and perhaps most importantly, can also enable you to do more for fewer clients.

Set boundaries 

Want to be a successful, and sane, freelancer? Be prepared to learn how to say 'no'. You may have the most wonderful clients in the world, but clients are clients, and a good number of them, if given the opportunity, will try to get their way even if means you lose out. The key is learning how to say 'no' at the appropriate time and in the appropriate manner. Obviously, a freelancer who always says 'no' is likely to get a reputation for having a bad attitude. You don't want that. But 'no', when used as a tool for setting boundaries, is a must.

A tip: when a client asks for something that isn't in-scope and would materially impact either cost or schedule, make it clear that the request cannot be accommodated within the existing budget and schedule, but also make it clear that you're willing to work with the client to make sure he or she gets what she's wants if the client is able to accommodate the appropriate changes to the engagement. Sometimes they will, and you make more money, and sometimes they'll come to their senses and stick with what they wanted in the first place.

Stop nightmare clients before they strike 

If you have been working with clients for any length of time, you probably spot the nightmare clients before they're your clients. You know all the signs -- early miscommunications, no specs, etc. -- but even so, you still might take them on. If your sanity is important to you, it's worth recognizing that some prospective clients are best left as 'prospective' clients. In other words, turning away the wrong business and walking away is an option. Incidentally, avoiding nightmare clients is not only one of the best ways to maintain your sanity, it's one of the best ways to maintain your profitability too.

Focus on building up the right client list 

One of the most difficult parts of being a hired gun is drumming up new business. This is particularly true for freelancers who are relatively new to the game, but is often the case for seasoned veterans who have high client turnover. High client turnover is a sign that you've built up the wrong client list.

Instead of thinking all paying clients are created equal, think long-term and focus on acquiring clients that you have the potential to develop 'committed' relationships with. Achieving the ultimate goal of not having to do business development again may or may not be possible, but by considering the long-term potential of each new client relationship, you have a better shot at minimizing the day to day hustle that is so distracting and sanity-killing.

Take a vacation

 Vacation? If you're a busy freelancer, the word may be foreign to you. After all, when you have a menagerie of clients to manage, finding the time to venture off to a deserted island is pretty tough to do. But it's important that you make some time, at least once a year. If you have the right clients, they'll understand, and when you come back, you'll notice that you actually perform better.

Photo credit: Edge of Sanity via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 9 August, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2392 more posts from this author

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raincoaster

Tried and true, every one of these. I especially like #1, because it tends to help you avoid #3's right off the bat.

about 6 years ago

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Name Tags

Ooooh vacation... I have heard of these and they sound awesome! I hope to have one soon!

about 6 years ago

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Issa

I think I will take your advice to heart, especially the last item:  Take a Vacation.  Since I've started working as a full-time freelancer, this is something hard to do and I think I will need to reward myself after 1.5 years of living in the Freelance Nation.  Thanks for this reminder.

about 6 years ago

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Natsai Mandisodza

I second #2 - setting boundaries. Yes, it may be difficult to do this when just starting out with a new client, but it will ensure that the client respects you and behaves appropriately. Once you get yourself into a pattern where the client feels that they can freely ask you for additional work without any repercussions, it becomes extremely difficult to correct the situation.

about 6 years ago

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Barry Rickert

WOW, I am thinking "What planet does this guy live on?" I love your article and all is true, if we are talking 2002-2006 but not 2010. I have an artist friend who, in the past was very successful illustrator, awards, accolades and big clients. She has not had a job for over two months. She is not about to give her work away... Good for her. Glad her husband has a real job. Right now, for most of the creative world there are no bad clients. If you follow the guidelines in this article today, you are most likely under employed. You know who is making money now? The creative who is willing to put their ego on hold, clinch their butt muscles and say "how may I help you?" This high horse concept worked a few years back it ain't working today. More for less, lower your standards and pay the bills. I just wrote an article "How low can you go?" that deals with these real issues. Did you know that there are more than 600,000 new creative buyers added to the economy every year? True...

about 6 years ago

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RACNicole

Great article. One more sanity-saving strategy is to work through a service that takes care of time-stealing tasks on your behalf. As a freelancer, I'm not sure I would be as successful as I am had it not been for vWorker. Via vWorker, I don't have to worry about collecting payments or drumming up painfully detailed contracts because the company does all of that for me. It also does quality control on my behalf. If I had to do all of these things for 10-15 clients at a time, I probably would have given up a long time ago.

about 6 years ago

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James

I'd have to agree with Barry on some validity of some of the advice in this article. It doesn't seem to be based on any real world factors when it comes to freelancing. Your rates should be a reflection of your skill level in your chosen area and what the market will bear. It really shouldn't take too long to establish what the going rate for your work will be. Many clients in this day and age (particularly agencies) know the rates and you should too. Putting your rates up will generally result in a fall in bookings. I do agree with stopping nightmare clients and if you're experienced you'll see them coming from the first email or phone call you have with them. Unless you're utterly desperate, you'll be able to avoid those ones but in reality, as a freelancer, you will end up taking some of these on to pay the bills. Heading off a problem client is also not as easy in the real world. In an ideal world we'd all say no but sometimes you just can't. Here's some reading on that one! http://www.welcomebrand.co.uk/blog/actually-the-client-is-always-right/ Cheers, J.

about 6 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

Barry,

"Right now, for most of the creative world there are no bad clients."

With all due respect, this is just downright wrong.

While there is no doubt that times are tough for many, one thing remains true: successful (read: profitable) freelancers acquire and retain good clients. Period. Unsuccessful freelancers are those who take on problem clients and half-baked projects, both of which are rarely profitable. Furthermore, unsuccessful freelancers are typically those who spend a good chunk of their time finding 'the next client', which, for obvious reasons, isn't a profitable activity either.

The economic climate has little to do with this. There are always a lot of freelancers competing for business. Many fail entirely at self-employment, and I'd venture a guess that most will have to hustle hard just to break even.

Has the economic environment made it more difficult for freelancers? In some cases, sure. This said, I know plenty of designers and developers who are booked solid and have grown their businesses substantially over the past several years despite the global recession. How'd they do it? In general, they were wise enough to invest in acquiring quality clients during the good times and on building strong long-term relationships. As a result, they aren't forced to undersell themselves just to acquire a new client, and they have the ability to turn down projects that are obviously going to be money-losing quagmires.

New freelancers who are interested in success should remember that being a freelancer is no different than running a business. At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is profitability and cash flow. You get neither when you're focused solely on 'making a sale.'

James,

I'm certainly not suggesting that a graphic designer charge, say, $500/hour. But if we're going to speak of 'going rates', it's important to recognize that there's significant variability. Example: I can certainly find a web developer in India who will for $10/hour offer to do the same work a developer in the UK might charge $100/hour for.

Recognizing that market rates are best represented by a range (often quite wide), and not a fixed amount, it's no surprise that savvy freelancers set their rates to maximize profitability, not to simply increase billable hours or the number of clients acquired.

Case in point: a graphic designer I've frequently used over the years was charging $50/hour up until this year, when she increased her rate to $65/hour. I have actually sent her more work this year than I did last year, despite the increase. Why? Her work is excellent, and I still feel like I'm getting superb value at $65/hour. As far as I can tell, she's doing quite alright, and now that she's earning more with each billable hour, she has increased her flexibility when it comes to which clients and projects she takes on.

about 6 years ago

Kavita Kapoor

Kavita Kapoor, Senior New Media Product Manager at London 2012

Following on from the comments, setting one's rate is often dictated by the client and their budget. However I think the advice is very valid if you are trying the shake of a difficult client or wanting to say no with having to actually say no. My additional advice is also to keep meeting potential new clients and/or interviewing for 'real jobs'. It is easy to get sucked into a couple of clients and your freelance fortune will be dependent on their business pipeline. Also if you are lucky enough to have had a single contract for six months or more it is easy get rusty in meeting new people and talking about your own work. So my advice is to get out there regularly apply for jobs and meet potential new clients even if your current workload doesn't look like diminishing for a while or you want to that extended holiday. Best of luck...

about 6 years ago

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