This idea seems vaguely unfair to me. Things shouldn’t work this way. But I have seen it hold true at least 264 times.
Here it is:
The person who cares less about a project, or cares less about a relationship, is the one who has control over it.
They determine how it goes. Or when it goes. Or if it happens at all.
Like the kid on the down end of the seesaw. She’s the one who decides what happens next. The kid at the high end doesn’t have much say in it.
You land an assignment that you are hot for, because (thank God!) it means good money from a high-profile client. You need this feather in your cap. You itch to get going.
But on the client side, things start to wobble. Your client’s boss — who was the one who instigated all this — has moved on to other things and has quit talking about it.
Which means, to your client, this project isn’t such a priority now.
So she is now steering this boat.
She can decide to go ahead as planned. Or, she could push things through quick and ugly, just to get it over with. Or, she can decide to slow-paddle it until you want to scream. Or she can ‘revisit the budget’. Or just let the whole thing drift into oblivion.
And until she cares more, you can’t do much about any of it.
You take on a new client who is so flattering of your talent that you can’t resist. They think you a genius.
But from the first day work with them, you want to leap from a window. They need too much handholding. They penny-pinch the budget. Their tastes make you cringe. They can’t make a decision. They send too many emails. You begin to lose your mind while losing money.
Yet, inexplicably, they love you and keep calling.
In this asymmetric situation, you get to decide what happens — if anything — the next time they call. Because you wouldn’t care if they went away.
If a freelancer wanted to be nefarious, she could pretend to care just a little bit less about a project, hoping the client might be a little more pliable.
And for sure, I’ve had potential clients play that ‘take it or leave it’ thing on me. In which case it is almost always better to leave it.
But simply recognizing this dynamic can take some of the sting out of lopsided relationships. You can simply shrug and move on.
And when you’re calling the shot, you can be less of a jerk about it.
The good stuff happens, though, when you both care.
How to be a badass this business, while still remaining human: Smarter Freelancing.
April 28, 2019 @ 3:21 pm
Excellent rule, Walt, which I have unwittingly used all my life. I never say “no” to a client. Instead, “I’m busy working on another project”, then I tell them when I may be available. If I want the job/client, it might be soon; if I don’t, it’l be downstream.
One interesting effect is that many of my clients are very impressed. As one of them put it, “you’re always so busy that we figure you must be good, because everybody wants you.”
I like being grounded on a see-saw. 🙂
April 29, 2019 @ 12:20 am
Dear Walt….I agree with your wisdom all the time. In fact, I sent your prior post to Seth Godin, with whom I have an email relationship. As a psychotherapist, at times I see people who have always been on the losing end of see-saw relationships and they remind me to tell us all that this world is so painful, so very painful, to people who have never made it…and it is easy for people who have made it to forget that this is not about figuring things out, but about tears and injustice and hearts crying in defeat. “There’s other fish in the sea” is usually said by people who have a woman in their bed and had really great salmon for dinner.
I am sounding like a bleeding heart liberal…and I am not because my job also reminds me of all that you can do on the teeter totter to make life better or worse for yourself. However, I still have a bleeding heart, and so does everyone.
April 30, 2019 @ 9:39 pm
Here’s where a business savvy freelancer wins. It’s all about the contract. It should include a “golden parachute” clause that pays you if the client cancels or scales back the project. Sure, it would be great to deliver the full project, but the money helps ease the disappointment.
May 29, 2019 @ 10:59 am
I really liked this post. Completely true. It shouldn’t be like this. It’s all about balance, right?