When you care about your career, and by extension, your clients, you want to make them happy. You want them to keep coming back so you can keep getting paid. And you want them to like you – most people want to be liked.
So you work for it. You worry about it. You toil and stress and move your own life obligations to meet their needs. You fret over something inconsequential. You lower your expectations while subconsciously raising theirs. You make it a whole thing. You put so much into that one client that the stress practically has its own heartbeat.
Then something happens. They cut their budget. They give you feedback that spits in the face of what you’ve been writing for them for a year (If you didn’t like how I do that, why didn’t you say something 25 articles ago?). They cancel the monthly orders they promised you. They do something that says, “I’m not overly concerned with you.”
All of that pressure was for nothing. Yes, you were paid for your work, you have new clippings for your portfolio. But you didn’t get commitment, dedication, longevity. You didn’t get nearly enough to repay you for how much agony you put into them.
It’s not about the work. The work fits into a box. You know what the project is before you start. You charge for it, you do it within your time limit, you send it off, you put a lid on it.
The real output isn’t the work itself. It’s the time and weight of thinking about it all. How you could be disappointing them. If you’re what they need. Where you’re going wrong. What will happen if you lose them.
Your clients don’t think about you like that, though. They don’t care about you in the same way.
You can see it every time they don’t read an entire email – they only respond to part of what you ask, and you have to send a followup note to get clarity on the rest. You can see it when they forget they had a meeting with you, when you call and they don’t answer because it slipped their mind. You can see it when they pay their invoice two weeks later than promised or when they don’t bother to say, “Hey, this is great!” but instead randomly mention how good of a job you did when you talk to them a year later.
They’re not stressed over you. To them, this is a service – they’re no more strained than you are when you walk into a clothing store and casually ignore the person folding the jeans as they ask if you need help with anything, or when you return those jeans because you simply changed your mind.
What type of energy should go into them, then? After all, you do need clients, happy ones, if you’re going to pay your bills.
There’s a type of effort that won’t suck you dry, give you a headache, leave you with an eye twitch. Be the one who’s responsible and professional. Get all of the information you need so you’re armed with the tools to do the project well. Put your head down and work. Send it in on time. Follow up with an email asking if they’re happy with the result.
Do your part. Don’t do theirs.
Your commitment is to the bigger picture, the notion of supporting yourself, making a living by writing (or whatever your craft may be), having the type of flexible schedule that lets you design your days. The commitment is not to a loop of stress and worry and concern.
You can love your clients and set these boundaries. I love some of my clients. I’m happy to listen to their personal and professional struggles, to make life easier for them so long as it doesn’t make my life harder. When you work for yourself, it’s almost impossible to not wrap emotions up in it all. But when you’re confident that you’re doing things correctly – and if you fix them when you’re not – you can let the dread and tension drop away, no matter how your clients behave.