Choosing Compassion: Clients Who Care
“Your clients don’t care if you’ve been sick. They just want the product, or you’re going to lose them.” I heard this comment twice on Christmas Eve, once at breakfast and once as I headed off to bed. I’d been swamped and super sick for a week and was trying to figure out how to catch up with my life. And I trundled off to bed with these words ringing in my ears. I’m a rational, calm human being, so my first reaction was to immediately implode into a super nova of anxiety and shame. You know, a normal response. I laid in bed in my NyQuil haze and felt like a failure who would never again find or satisfy a client. However, once I got a few days of perspective and stopped coughing up a lung every ten minutes, I started thinking about these words. And while they weren’t wrong, they were wrong for me.
The reason I’m a freelancer is because I want to design my own working environment. I love being able to take on projects that interest me. I write when it suits me, I pick topics I like to talk about, and I take time off when I need to. I also pay my own taxes and don’t get health insurance. But the benefit of this life of freedom is… freedom. I get to choose my clients. I get to pick the kinds of people I want to work with. And if a client doesn’t care that I’m sick, if they want that blog post from me even if I’ve been incredibly ill for a week, or chose to spend Christmas with my family instead of being holed up in the basement working, then they are not the kind of person I want to work with.
For some people, that business-like sentiment is true. They don’t want to hear ‘excuses’, what the rest of us call reasons. They need their blogs finished, or their web copy written right then, and that’s the way it is. They keep their relationships with their freelancers strictly business because that’s what they’re paying for. That’s who they are. But I am who I am, too. I get sick. I deal with mental health issues that sometimes slow down my work. Sometimes, I want to spend time with loved ones. And being a freelancer means I can do those things. I can get sick without losing my job, or take time to care for my mental health, or spend time with my family, because I’m my own boss. Does that mean I should blow off deadlines? Of course not. I want my clients to get what they paid for, and I want them to be thrilled with the final product. But it does mean that I will choose clients who understand that I’m a human being with a life and needs, clients who respect and value me as a person.
To The Freelancers: Make A Choice
We choose how we let people treat us. If I have a client who doesn’t care that I’m sick, who values their deliverable more than my health and happiness, then I don’t need them as my client. They don’t have to think about me or send me a Christmas card, but they do have to respond with decency and compassion when I tell them that life happened to me. After the past few years we’ve all gone through, you wouldn’t think I’d need to say this, but clearly, I do. Everyone deserves to be treated like a person. This is universally true. But sometimes as freelancers we forget that we are fortunate enough to have more control over this than most. If a client isn’t treating you right, if they are treating you like a cog in a machine instead of another human being, that is all the justification you need to fire them and go find someone better. You can choose how open you want to be with them—you don’t have to divulge all your problems. But it’s okay to say you have them. (I’m kind of an over-sharer, so I’m working on reigning myself in a bit, but I still try to tell them what’s up).
I know sometimes, in the moment, you don’t have the choice because you need the money no matter what. I’ve been there. But as soon as you can, go find someone who treats you right.
To Future Clients: Make A Change
Work life balance is changing. It’s not the same as it was a few generations ago. You have every right to expect that work gets done on time and well; you’re paying for it, after all. But Your freelancers have the right to expect things from you, too. Never forget there is a person on the other end of your Email, and show them grace and compassion, even if you don’t personally understand what they’re going through. Your freelancer wants to do a good job for you; that’s how we get paid and build our reputations. But sometimes life slips out of our control. We are not trying to mess up your life with our illness, grief, or chaos. So, when your writer emails you and tells you they’ve been down with the flu for a week, or they’ve been coping with a period of depression, be the kind of client who asks how they’re feeling first, and for an update on the project second. We owe it to each other to stop treating each other like printers, and more like people.
To my fellow freelancers, there are people like this out there. I work with several of them. They care if I’m sick or struggling. And that’s one of the biggest reasons I work with them. Even when they get frustrated with me, they treat me with kindness and understanding, and we work it out together. If any of my clients are reading this, I’m so grateful to you for your compassion and generosity of spirit. And I hope my fellow freelance writers get to work with people just like you.