I have a good client I have worked with steadily for years. I thought we had a good relationship. Then, for some reason, she stopped using me. When I call, she says “I don’t have anything for you right now.” No explanation. This has gone on for months now. I’d like to write her to find out what went wrong. Did I offend her? Was my work not up to par? How do I do this professionally? I really need to use her as a reference.
My guess is, you won’t find out what happened.
I’ve been ‘fired’ like this plenty of times. It’s always a mystery. At least when I got canned with a lot of yelling, I knew precisely why. (“You’re always late. You argue too much. You turned this job into a spectacular mess and made me look like an ass. You write like a hack.”)
My other guess is, whatever happened isn’t your fault. Maybe her needs shifted. Maybe she’s stuck with a new freelancer policy she has to deal with.
Maybe her boss foisted some other freelancer on her. Maybe she found someone she ‘connects with’ better. Maybe she’s wrestling with personal drama right now.
Or maybe nothing happened at all. Maybe it’s just a natural lifecycle at work. Who knows? You will make yourself crazy thinking about it.
Since she hasn’t said anything so far, asking her to explain would only make things more awkward. You will sound paranoid, or needy, or clueless.
Like in ninth grade, when I kept asking Mona Delaney why she broke up with me.
Besides, whatever your client might say wouldn’t be useful to you anyway.
No upside there.
So what to do?
Using her as a ‘reference’ may be risky, if by that you mean having a potential client ask her about her experience with you. You don’t know what she’d say, if anything. Although, in my 194 years of freelancing I have NEVER had one client call another for a ‘reference’. Never happens with any freelance friends either. Maybe your line of work is different.
But it would be perfectly fine to include her work on your resume or web site. Just say you did such-and-such work with her, or the company. Even show samples, clips, whatever. Any potential client is probably more interested in the work, anyway, rather than anything your former client might say.
Best bet is to shoot her a note now and then. And quit worrying about it.
Always enjoyed the projects I worked on with you. I’ve been busy, but I do miss doing pieces like “XXX XXX.”
If I can ever be of help sometime in the future, please let me know.
If not, that’s okay too.
Anyway, stay in touch.
Then start working on some new clients, which you’re doing all the time, of course.