Getting fired as a freelancer sucks!
A couple weeks ago I lost one of my two big clients.
Funnily enough this was one of the concerns I expressed on my September Income Report. I hope I didn’t speak it into existence!
In all seriousness I kind of saw it coming. It doesn’t make it much easier to bear, but I may have been mentally preparing myself for it to have happened. I’m sharing my experience in hopes of making it more tolerable and maybe helping someone else – it happened to me and probably not for the last time! Here’s the story and a few of the lessons I learned in the process.
This is actually the first client that I put a contract in place with – I’m so glad that I did! I had also gotten a deposit. For future clients with reoccurring work, I’ll likely do the same. It does offer some protection, peace of mind and in hindsight a guarantee in getting paid.
We started working together mid-September. They wanted to start with two posts per week and ramp it up from there. Our contract outlined these expectations and over the next few months this one client had the potential to replace half of my current salary – to say I was excited is an understatement.
The subject matter was also right up my alley – I could write about all things healthy living; from finances to nutrition and exercise, even mental health was fair game. It was also at a really great rate. One that made this whole freelance writing business seem feasible.
I even got to write a guest post about my success on Leaving Work Behind. And then it went south!
Bursting My Bubble
We had fairly frequent communication in the beginning. We needed to flush out the contract, expectations of the role and get me access to the back-end of the blogging platform they were using.
After we set up the blogging schedule, our communication began to drop off. I didn’t want to be a pest, so I limited my questions as much as possible. They were busy launching and had a ton to focus on as a start-up, plus they hired me with the expectation that I could run with things.
As a part of the interview process I did a test article. I put a deposit clause as a part of the contract and told them I needed to collect it prior to starting work on additional assignments. Money showed up in my bank account shortly thereafter. All seemed well.
I completed a few more assignments for them and the end of September came. I sent my invoice, which asks for prompt payment within seven days. I also sent an email asking if they still wanted me to send content in a Google doc in addition to me posting in the blog’s back-end. Both the invoice and email were sent on Monday, Sept. 29th.
I hadn’t heard anything by that point on the Friday of the same week, so I forwarded Monday’s email message asking if they had seen it. I also hadn’t gotten paid. I proceeded to hear nothing.
The following Monday I tried calling my contact, which is one of the company’s founders and the person that hired me. I left a message about my email and then received a reply that same morning saying that the launch was going fine, they were ironing out some kinks and yes to continue sending the articles via Google doc as well for the time being. I replied “Sounds good” and asked to be paid.
A Cancellation Letter
The next morning I received an email with a contract cancellation – just like that! It seemed (although I don’t know if this is accurate) that me asking to get paid prompted this response. I’m not going to lie, opening and reading that letter made me a little sick inside.
Immediately I tried contacting the founder by phone and left a message. I wanted to know why of course and figure out what the expectations were for the rest of the contract. The contract stated a 30 day notice by either party for dissolution. I didn’t know if they wanted me to write another month’s worth of content or not and certainly didn’t want to, since they still owed me money!
I also replied via email asking as much (very professionally I might add). Since I hadn’t gotten any response either way, I tried calling later in the day and didn’t leave a message this time when I got his voice mail.
The next day just brought the same cancellation letter via email from his assistant (who also sent the first one). Then I tried calling her – she was also the person that paid the invoices, so I could address both things with her I figured. No answer there either, so I left a message. This is when I started to get nervous.
I resent my invoice after I revised it to include both last month’s work, plus what I had already written and posted for October. I included a note to say this was the final invoice. I wasn’t going to write anymore for them, since I still was unpaid. Plus I couldn’t get a hold of anyone!
It didn’t end up being necessary, but my thoughts as to next steps were to hint at taking legal action via an email. If this still didn’t prompt a response or payment, I would ask one of my lawyer friends (so glad I have them as an option!) to write a letter on their legal letterhead threatening legal action as a next step.
The Phone Call
Finally the assistant gave me a call back and we got the opportunity to discuss the change and payment. I spoke both professionally and candidly about my concerns and she answered all of my questions.
Apparently they didn’t feel the blog had gotten the response they wanted (they didn’t market it at all and it had only been a few weeks!) and they were going in a different direction with their marketing efforts. I didn’t feel they really gave it a fair shot, nor used SEO appropriately to get it out there, but it’s not my call.
I told her that I’d be happy to just be done writing if they weren’t finding value from the articles and she expressed that it wasn’t my writing that was a problem, but agreed that would be best. She also said she’d get me paid in full ASAP. She followed through and we’re all caught up in that department I’m happy to say.
Mentally Dealing with Disappointment
The hardest part is dealing with the knock to my self-esteem. Even though they said it wasn’t anything I did, I can’t help but wonder if I could have done something different. I volunteered helping in additional ways (SEO, posting to FB, etc) and thought I was being both sincerely and generously helpful. I also tried to respect that they wanted someone to just take control and run with things – that’s what I did.
Luckily this experience happened before I’m fully depending on my freelance income and I have diversified my business for a reason! I’m doing my best to chalk it up to lessons learned and a good experience nonetheless. Some days are better than others!
I think in hindsight I’ll consider this experience an invaluable learning experience. I can already look back and see some things that I’d do again and some that I might do differently.
One of the things that I’d do again – as I mentioned above – is get a contract in place and collect a deposit. I don’t have contracts in place with any other clients right now and I’m not sure I’ll go back to collect any with my existing client base. I will do it going forward AFTER a trial period however.
I want to make sure the relationship is a good fit for both sides, so I like doing trials. If the client is too difficult to deal with (unrealistic expectations) or overly picky, I might not want to work with them. Not everyone is going to like my writing either, so I’d rather know that in the beginning, before I count on them for income.
One thing I can do better is to flush out the client’s expectations. What is my writing for them hoping to achieve? Is there a way we can tangibly measure it? What is an appropriate period of time to expect results? If I had flushed this out with this particular client better, we might not have jumped in with both feet.
If we would have started with one article per week , maybe they’d have allowed a longer time for it to take effect? Maybe, maybe not. It could have ended just the same way! It’s hard to not think of the “what if’s” though.
Easy Come, Easy Go
One thing I’ll keep in mind going forward, is that clients will come and clients will go. I will have attrition over time. Some will be by me and some will be by them. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad writer or not good enough – it just means that we weren’t a fit.
I’m going to try not to take it personally and just chalk it up to an invaluable learning experience. I WILL get fired again. It’s okay! I’m a big girl and I can handle it.
Have you ever been fired before? How did you deal?
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