Do you remember the first time you used the internet?
I was 13 and my cousin showed me how to play checkers online.
I thought it was magical.
And the most magical part was the chat, and….
… the lying.
(Remember that …. It stood for age/sex/location)
I remember looking at that little blinking cursor and dreaming of the endless possibilities.
My 13-year-old go-to answer was:
Now what I found exotic about being from Minnesota I have no idea. But, that 19-year-old fantasy me was a college hockey player waiting for her big break.
The thing is, the internet hasn’t changed much since then.
People still have all kinds of weird fantasies that they play out.
And one of them, apparently, is playing “successful copywriter crushing it at life.”
It’s as perplexing to me as pretending to be a 19-year-old from Minnesota.
But there they are… clogging up my Facebook feed every day.
And it’d be fine if they would just pretend on the checkers chat windows like good internet citizens, but these guys are much more dangerous.
Because these tricksters hang out in industry forums where unsuspecting, well-meaning, new copywriters are looking for advice.
I see this play out daily.
New Copywriter: “Hey guys, I need advice. I have this client issue and I’m not sure what to do.”
“Crushin’ It” Copywriter: “Fire them! That’s a terrible client! People suck!”
Then, about 15 responses down you’ll find one that says: “Hey, did you try getting on the phone with the client and discussing the issue?”
And then they get torn apart for advocating that copywriters allow themselves to be taken advantage of.
Join any free FB group for copywriters and I promise you’ll see it within the top 5 posts.
Now, as I mentioned yesterday. I’m all for setting standards and vetting clients. But, if we fire every client we have a miscommunication with, we won’t have much work.
Sometimes, just like a relationship, it takes some work.
So where’s the line between a toxic situation and a saveable one?
Here’s the 4-Part Test I use when I’m thinking of hanging it up:
The 4-Part Client Breakup Test
PART I: THE 5X TEST
If I was getting paid 5X what I’m getting paid, would I stay?
This helps narrow the scope of the problem. If the answer is “yes,” it’s likely that you are feeling undervalued and/or overworked. This can be a simple problem to solve. Is it scope creep? Are your rates too low?
If the answer is “no,” ask yourself why? Are your values not aligned? Is it not the kind of work you want to do?
Understanding where your frustration is coming from is the only way to start to solve it.
PART II: THE ATTRIBUTION TEST
Am I creating a reason that’s not there?
I had an ex once that after months of living together, came home from work one day and lost his mind.
There were dishes in the sink and for months he’d been interpreting it as a signal from me.
“When did you stop caring about me?” He asked.
He had assumed that I was leaving the dishes for him because I had lost respect for him.
In reality, I had my first full-time copywriting gig and would get into “writing mode” while he was at work and forget about the dishes.
He was putting meaning where there wasn’t any.
If when you think about your frustration with the client you have thoughts like “they don’t respect me” or “they hate my work”… try and figure out where that is coming from.
What are the ACTIONS that you are seeing that have led you to that conclusion?
Us copywriters are notorious for getting in our own head (“nah, not us!”) and attributing meaning to something that may just be a misunderstanding.
Which leads me to….
PART III: THE AWARENESS TEST
Am I certain the client is aware of the problem?
The first step should always, always be to talk to the client. Get on the phone (or face-to-face if you can) and voice your concerns.
What may be obvious to you they may not even see.
Give them an opportunity to fix the problem.
If they don’t fix it or express that they don’t care, then you can think about leaving.
PART IV: THE FALLOUT TEST
What’s the fallout if I leave? What if I stay?
If you’ve taken some serious time to reflect on Parts 1-3 and still are thinking of “firing” a client, this may be the most important step.
Think about the fallout if you leave.
Now the immediate fallout is easy to see. The client will be pissed and you may lose some money. My guess is that you’ve already thought of that.
But let’s think more long-term.
Considerations to think about:
Who referred this client and how will this affect your relationship?
Are there legal ramifications to breaking your contract?
What do you have lined up to replace this client?
Will this client badmouth you to others?
Is it more beneficial to just “man up,” honor your commitment and not work with this client in the future?
And equally as important is thinking about the future if you stay:
How much longer do you have on your contract?
What is the mental/physical toll this problem is costing you?
What are you giving up to stay in this relationship?
How is the quality of your work? Can you still create something you’re proud of?
There’s no right answer to these questions and they all take serious consideration.
But it starts with a conversation. One that you should probably have today.
Most of the time, “bad clients” are not “bad people” they just need to learn how to work with us.
If you’ve ever lived with a romantic partner, you know this already.
You can’t be mad at someone for not making the bed every morning if they don’t know that’s something you value.
(And yet, it happens all the time)