By far, the most popular post on my blog is my Freelancer Alert: Elance Review.
This rant soon became a sounding board for many freelancers who found it helpful. They also shared their own experiences with Elance (mostly negative).
Many times I’ve wanted to give a more in-depth response to a comment, especially when I saw there were several other similar questions or comments. It finally occurred to me to respond in another blog post, where one or several connected topics could be addressed on their own.
The first one I’ll address comes from “Kristine” on January 1, 2014 (emphasis mine):
I agree with you about your assessment of Elance. I am a freelancer who was recently put in the position of working for someone who seemed great at first and paid me a flat rate per month to reserve a certain number of hours of my time.
However, I soon found that I was supposed to be at the person’s beck and call basically at all hours. It turned into quite a handful. To top it off, the client had very poor people skills and as a result ended up with no work coming in and began criticizing every little thing I did. Setting me up to fail. I had put in over 30 hours in the first two weeks of the month I had been pre-paid for.
So I made the decision to be professional and give two weeks’ notice.
I didn’t wish this person ill. I just had no more interest in working for them. So we had a very civilized conversation about how to wrap up my work, etc and the client said that as long as I did these things, they would consider my money to have been earned.
4 hours pass and I am locked out of the company email, and shut down from being able to access what I was supposed to do the wrap up for the client and the client demands a refund of my last two weeks! So I respond to the client asking what they are doing because this is far different from what we had discussed.
The client, who had been very open in the past says “well, I no longer need your services.” So I disputed it. The client requested a phone call, so I got on one to mediate and they didn’t show up. So now I am sweating because I have to wait and see if they start another way to drain money from our pockets called arbitration. The disputed amount is less than $300.
But now the client can try to arbitrate to get the entire funded amount of my contract! And I HAVE NO PROTECTION in this situation unless I pay $250 for arbitration. We did not use Work View™ and the client and I communicated between business emails but arbitration does not allow for anything outside of the workroom! Even though I have a ton of email copies supporting my work and even another contractor who worked with me to support my side of things. That’s right. They won’t even take it into consideration.
I have to wait another full business day to see what happens. I will not be taking jobs from Elance again. I am sure I am not the only freelancer to run into something like this. The moral if the story is, I suppose, don’t be professional and give two weeks’ notice. Just screw your client over and up and quit when you’re ready to be done.
First, Kristine, I’m sorry to hear that you started the New Year with such a headache of a client! Secondly, I hope you’ve had a beneficial resolution to this dilemma.
That said, there were several aspects of this situation that I felt deserved some attention. And Kristine, you certainly aren’t the only one who tried hard to please a client but it just didn’t work out.
It happens. Some clients are a great fit for what we have to offer. Then, there are others that aren’t.
In addition, some clients who at first loved us suddenly may decide we aren’t so great anymore. Again, there are many reasons this could happen and the best thing to do when you’re sensing a business relationship going south is to talk to the client about it.
A business relationship is complex. A business relationship forged through an online job board has even more complexity. Not only are you trying to meet a client’s expectations, you are also trying to stay compliant with the job board’s rules.
You’re the boss of your business
What stood out to me, Kristine, was something you said at the very beginning of your comment:
So I made the decision to be professional and give two weeks’ notice.
It may have triggered something in me because I was reminded of something I had to understand when I first started my freelance copywriting and content marketing business.
I needed to embrace the fact that I was no longer an employee. And the moment I started to act like an employee with a client was the moment I gave up my power to negotiate.
As a freelancer, you are your own boss, which is both a blessing a curse.
On one hand, it’s wonderful to be your own boss – to have the creative license to act upon your own ideas, initiate your own strategy and direct your business’ success.
On the other hand, no one is holding your feet to the fire for results unless you count paying the bills. Even then, some freelancers miscalculate how much work they need to pay those bills and then make a mad run to every job board they can find to make some quick cash.
The shift of perception that I was a business offering professional services (and not an employee), did not happen overnight. It took months. For so long, I was used to reporting to someone in an office. My confidence level as the boss wasn’t there at first.
Now it is. And when I read that you gave two weeks notice to your client, it just reminded me of “the employee mindset.” Not the boss mindset.
A boss would not give two week’s notice. At least she wouldn’t call it that.
She’d say to a client that after reviewing the relationship, it was evident the services she provided no longer served the client well. Some who are especially bold might have even told the client that their requests for extra time and servicing went far beyond the initial agreement.
The important part of this is to stand your ground.
Use an agreement
If (and that’s a VERY important “if”) you had a written agreement (or contract) that explicitly specified what you would deliver for an agreed upon sum of money, then you would use that as leverage.
Some feel they can push around freelancers. But they can only push you around if you let them. I know this because it’s happened to me. It only took a few times of feeling like I was taken advantage of before I started to set strong boundaries. And that’s what you need to remember for future client relationships.
As the boss, you determine your office hours, not your client. Some clients are demanding and will push for even more of a freelancer’s time if the freelancer allows it. Again, strong boundaries are needed.
This is where an agreement comes in handy. In many agreements/contracts, the service provider will clearly state her deliverables to the client and a timeline. That way, both parties can refer to it when there are questions.
Kristine, your story could likely be retold by many freelancers with a few details changed. It usually only takes a few experiences like this before a freelancer realizes that her way of developing a business relationship with a client needs to change.
Elance, of course, doesn’t make it easy. Dealing with a job board means you must abide by their rules. In this case, they need proof of the relationship’s agreed upon terms and they only accept communication through their site as evidence. Although it’s unfortunate they don’t accept email correspondence outside of their site to be accepted, I can understand their position.
I’m sure, Kristine, that you don’t ever want to go through this again – and I don’t blame you! No freelancer wants this. It’s the making of “the nightmare client” scenario. We all know that every once in awhile, we’ll face an overly demanding client. But by setting strong boundaries, at least you won’t feel like you’re being taken advantage of.
You own a business. You’re a professional who desires to serve her clients with both quality work and courtesy. Don’t let this bad apple ruin your desire to continue to do that. Believe me, there are plenty of clients out there who would absolutely adore you and love what you bring to the table. Keep swinging for the fences!