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Why I Stopped Letting Clients Walk All Over Me

  • Post category:Freelancing

When I started freelancing, I was desperate. I was six-months into unemployment, had sent out hundreds of pitches and applications, and hadn’t landed a single client.

I was living in a constant state of scarcity. Desperate for any opportunity or anyone willing to give me a buck in exchange for just about anything.

Even when I started getting some traction and doing a few gigs, that scarcity didn’t go away. I would bend over backward and would go way beyond the scope to make clients happy. I was passive and didn’t want to be “annoying” or “difficult”. I had no boundaries when it came to client work.

I was too afraid to ask for what I wanted, so I settled for being told my worth and tried to be grateful for the opportunity. I was also angry and resentful and very unhappy. I was still broke and overworked.

It wasn’t until the last four months or so that I learned how to set boundaries and actually stand up for myself. I’ll be honest: having paying clients and a small amount of money makes it infinitely easier to set boundaries. Desperate situations cloud your judgment and force you to cling on to any glimmer of hope for a payout.

I didn’t even realize how far I’ve come in my journey to set boundaries and stand up for myself until an encounter with a potential client earlier this week.

Here’s what happened.

I received a referral for a potential client and took the steps to schedule a call with him. Getting him to schedule the call took some back and forth. I sent him a link to my calendar asking him to choose a time that works for him.

I guess he took that to mean that I was online at the moment because he immediately added me on Skype and attempted to video call me. I told him I can’t video chat at the moment and to please schedule a time to chat. Old me would have quickly brushed my hair, canceled whatever I was doing and answered that call with a smile, despite being on a deadline and on my way out the door.

Instead, I responded.

“Please refer to the link I sent you and choose a time that works well for you, or proposes a different time tomorrow or later this week.” He calls me AGAIN. I politely tell him that I can’t talk right now. Eventually, he books a time, I thank him, he says “Ur welcome” and we move on.

I use Calendly to schedule my calls for a number of reasons. I work with people in a lot of different times zones. Calendly automatically shows the times in the other person’s timezone, saving me some math and accidental fuck-ups. It also sends reminders and automatically puts the event on your Google Calendar if you’re using a Gmail account.

So, back to my story. The morning of the call, I sent a courtesy reminder email. It’s something I started doing to protect my time. In hindsight, I could have worded it differently. Rather than saying “let me know if you can’t make it” I should consider changing it to “please confirm that you ARE still available.” I didn’t hear anything, but I also don’t expect people to be on their computers checking email all day. I sent another reminder an hour before the meeting.

The time of the meeting comes. We’re set to video chat on Skype and I notice he’s not online and hasn’t been in a few hours. I send a quick message, “hey, are you still available to chat?”

I hear nothing. Two minutes after the hour, I give him a call, thinking he might not be on his phone or might just be idle on Skype. There’s no answer.

I’m irritated. My time is limited. I have other things I could be working on that are time-sensitive. I could have planned to do something else. I could have not spent time preparing for the call and spent that time working on other time-sensitive things.

Not only that; I’ve done hundreds of sales calls at this point, but I still get nervous. My anxiety skyrockets the minutes before a call and I have to do a lot of self-talk to calm my nerves until the talking starts. So feeling unnecessary anxiety, even though it’s not his fault, really put me over the edge.

I got to bed, and wake up to a message from him on Skype.

“When was the call?”

Three things:
One — He scheduled the call. He literally picked the time and date.
Two — He should have received upwards of 3 reminders.
Three — As a service provider, it is not my job to be a client or a prospects secretary. I send reminders as a courtesy.

So, feeling a little bit petty, I went to Gmail, took a screenshot of the meeting he scheduled and sent it to him.

His response…

“My bad.”

Then he proceeds to video call me. I hit ignore. He sends me a message.

“Call me back.”

I’m livid at this point. The level of entitlement this guy has over my time is admirable. And no, I will absolutely not call you back.

In addition to standing me up, there were a few other red flags that came up during our Skype messages that I won’t go into. My gut was telling me that even if we were to find another time to get on a call and talk about the project, it wasn’t going to be a good fit.

I message him back telling him that I don’t think this a good fit, feeling proud of myself for sticking to my boundaries and listening to the sirens going off in my head.

I started to feel guilty afterward. Like maybe I was being unreasonable or overreacting, but I caught myself and stopped those thoughts in their tracks.

I’m allowed to be protective of my time, and anyone who doesn’t respect my time doesn’t respect me. I’m also allowed to choose who I want to work with. No client is 1000% better than one that walks all over you.

I feel very privileged to even be able to make that choice now. A year ago, I would work with anyone that would pay me a dime. I would respond with a “Don’t worry, I’ll call you in a minute” with a fake smiley face. I had no problem sacrificing my boundaries and self-respect for the promise of a check at the end of a project.

Nope, not anymore. That’s what I call #growth.