One of the peculiarities of working as a freelancer is that you start every relationship with a client knowing that it will end. VIP VA Member & Author of ‘Virtually Painless’ Kathy Soulsby walks us through how she has found her own rhythm and mastered the goodbyes as well as the welcomes…
“Obviously when you are employed, a bit like getting married, you think “this is it, I hope I settle here” and whilst your long-term career plan may look like several roles you plan on leaving your mug in the staff kitchen for a few years at least.
As a freelancer, even long-term assignments are destined to end. It’s not something we talk about often – we tend to focus beginnings.
I was totally horrified when my first client ended our arrangement, even though it was completely amicable, these days I am more used to the ebb and flow of work.
My favourite ending is a client who has outgrown me. Their business has expanded, and they are now in a place where they need and can afford a full time, office based support person. This is a great feeling, a moment of success even as something ends as I have helped that client grow to get to where they are now. Even if that new place means that they need to leave me behind.
Then there’s the “it’s just time” type of ending. Maybe the client has decided to take back the work themselves, maybe they are retiring or having to downsize because they are having a lean patch or maybe the work I’m doing isn’t needed any more as projects change.
And sometimes, there is the honest realisation that it’s just not working. This can be for so many reasons and the beauty of freelancing for all concerned is flexibility – if it’s not right, it’s not awfully difficult to unravel as it can be with an employee.
On occasion, things end simply because the chemistry isn’t right. Maybe the businesses aren’t a good fit or maybe the personalities aren’t a good fit but one way or another the end is nigh. It happens to everyone and it isn’t a failure as long as you learn from it. Perhaps the client has discovered that working with a VA isn’t what they thought it was.
Perhaps expectations on one or both sides didn’t match – Annabel Kaye often talks about a “backpack”. Every VA role comes with T’s and C’s but day to day, the assumptions that everyone involved makes create a secondary layer of expectation where people can be disappointed when things aren’t as they thought they would be. And when those expectations and agreements aren’t laid out at the start of a relationship, that’s when things can get tricky.
And as freelancers, we grow and change (as do our clients!) and occasionally this might mean we aren’t right for some clients anymore and can decide that they would be better served by someone else.
Making the decision to hand a client over to someone else or let them go entirely isn’t an easy one, particularly if you get on well as people but if it isn’t working something has to change for both parties to get the best out of a VA.
Then there are the practical elements of ending an arrangement. Have you agreed on how data will be handed back or deleted, are all the passwords back where they need to be, is there a handover process to be done with someone? Do you have a process in place to keep in touch in the future with past clients? Do you need anything from them – a testimonial for example, an agreement that you can send them newsletters, a referral to someone else?
Whilst it’s never great to have a client relationship end, it’s inevitable. The key is to learn from that client what was amazing, what wasn’t so great and how to do better next time. And now that you have some capacity, who would you like to come along next to work with? The possibilities are endless …