Feast or famine is a common part of freelance writing. As your list of clients dwindles and the season slows down, your cash flow can struggle to keep up with your bills.
At the same time, there’s a special place in your heart for your first-ever client(s). Your rates are higher now and your career has evolved since, but you loved working for them back then. Sometimes you miss them.
“I wonder if so-and-so needs a writer,” you think. You send a “Checking in!” email and cross your fingers that they’ll write back.
For years, this was my go-to strategy for securing more income. It worked, too. I’ve paid for Christmas gifts and vacations this way. Clients from way back when would be happy to hear from me. They’d say, “Wow, this is perfect timing, I do need a writer!”
After finishing the work and getting paid, though, we’d go back to radio silence.
This tactic starts strong, then fizzles
Ex-clients gave you business and money at one point, so it’s often easy to get business and money from them again. As a short-term strategy, this can work.
But depending on dried-up clients for the long-term doesn’t typically work.
1. Your client expects your former rate.
Your current rate is so much higher than what you used to charge that they can’t make sense of it. You’ll have to negotiate and maybe still take a pay cut. Even if they do agree to pay your current rate, they’ll feel like they’re overpaying.
2. If the client urgently needed a writer, they would’ve taken the first step.
They probably haven’t forgotten about you. It’s more likely that they don’t need a writer enough to reach out and get the ball rolling.
When a client hires you out of convenience (you popped up in their inbox, after all), there isn’t lasting value for you. Don’t expect to get traction beyond stocking your fridge for the week or affording a weekend away — which may be exactly what you’re going for. But in general, reel in your expectations.
Remember that there’s a reason you no longer work together
Common reasons for ending a client-writer relationship include:
- You changed the type of writing you do (blog posts vs. social media copy) or focus on different topics now
- The client moved fast when launching their business but ran out of a budget for content
- The client was unreliable for some reason and you stopped bothering
That last one is a biggie. Unreliable clients aren’t altogether bad, but they are unpleasant to work with. They ask you to work on an assignment, then never get around to paying the invoice. They change their mind about the scope of the project after you’ve started. They ramp you up for three months of articles, then stop you midway because they’re focusing on something else.
Don’t be desperate … even if you’re desperate
When your bank account is low, you forget all about the client’s proven flakiness. Chances are that their unpredictability is still there, though. Expecting anything more than a one-off project sets you up for disappointment.
When you’re acting from a place of desperation (and we’ve all been there), stop and think. Reassess your goals. Remind yourself of why you do what you do. Think about why you don’t do what you don’t do. Ask yourself what’s different from how you operated a few months or years ago.
When to maintain contact with an ex-client
Sometimes, the reason why you parted ways isn’t a roadblock to getting back together. One of my best clients was also one of my first, with a big break in the middle. I had to negotiate a bit, but the value of having him in my regular schedule outweighs the few cents per word I lose.
Don’t depend on ex-clients to fill your work dance card, but do continue to connect with them. Keep them on your mailing list. Let them know about discounts you’re offering or new services you’re selling. Pass along info that will benefit their business, like a link to an article you read somewhere.
Mentally move them from “client” to “contact.” Stay connected without sacrificing your energy, time or income. They’ll know you’re there when they need help with content or to refer your services to someone else.