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.
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.