This one is for all of my fellow entrepreneurs, freelancers and consultants!
Creating your own career, starting your dream business, following your passion in pursuit of a profit is not for the faint of heart. But I’m gonna spare you the Girl Boss bullshit and hustle rhetoric. I want to talk about the everyday courage that is required to meet yourself in every single decision you make as a business owner.
Actually, it’s so much more than mustering up the courage to parlay your vision and values into a business opportunity — it’s ultimately about the deep relationship you build with yourself as you navigate the circuitous path of self-employment.
As someone who has been an entrepreneur for my entire adult professional life (that’s going on 27 years, kids!) I eat what I kill — so I’m hunting all the time. Meaning that when you are in a services based business, offering your IP, your time, your expertise, your artistry for compensation, you have to develop a balance between the Dominant Stories that will race through your mind 24/7.
Dominant Stories are the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. When you are an entrepreneur, a freelancer or a consultant these stories might sound like:
I NEED this client or else I won’t survive.
I’m not inspired by this client (or this work) but I just can’t say no.
I don’t like how I feel in the relationship with this client but the money is good (or consistent).
I get it. I’ve been there. These Dominant Stories are hard ones to break. Why?
Because ultimately relationships are the currency of business.
And when you are in business for yourself, pitching your work, creating your own company structure and culture and trying to navigate sustainability and profit — sometimes the last thing we really think about are relationship dynamics. But we need to. And after decades in this game, I want to share three signs that indicate it may be time to break up with a client.
1. You don’t like how you feel when you work with them.
Now wait a minute. Beggars can’t be choosers right? If you are just starting out and need the dough and connections, you are likely to put up with a lot. But maybe it’s the tone they speak to you in. Maybe it’s how they treat or talk about their employees or consumers. Or maybe it’s just not a great energy alignment between you both. Either way — how you FEEL is just as important as securing that bag. I may even argue it’s more important (and sure, it’s easier to say that when you have $$ than when you are on the climb, but follow me here…)
LIFE IS WAY TOO SHORT TO FEEL SHITTY.
I don’t care if they are your dream client or your first time client — you owe it to yourself to really check in with how you feel doing the work. How do you feel when they communicate with you? What patterns do you notice? Sometimes we are hustling so hard that we put off this introspection until it’s too late. Give yourself permission to value your feelings as much as your work output. How you feel in the process of your work is just as important as the product you create.
2. You don’t share vision and values.
There is truly no greater feeling as a freelancer, entrepreneur or consultant than getting a new client or piece of business. The relief of work and cash flow coming in. The excitement of a new relationship. Perhaps even the prestige of the project. And then something happens. You get into the work and you realize that ultimately you don’t share the same vision or values as your new client.
Maybe you find out they have contributed to a social issue you are strongly against (i.e. the Texas abortion ban legislation or destroying the rainforest, or testing on animals).
You ultimately get to decide how much you “let that slide". But in the same way we often tell folks to vote with their dollars, I want to remind you that your time, energy, and resources are also a way to vote on the things you care about. And YES even if you technically need the money/job!
It can be a much bigger personal sacrifice to stay in a client relationship that is out of alignment with what matters most to you then to swiftly and directly extricate yourself from a work relationship that ultimately doesn’t serve ALL of you, because your political and social convictions do matter.
3. Sometimes it’s just time to move on.
And you know it.
If relationships are the currency of business then we have to look a step deeper into the dynamics of relationships. I don’t know who originally said it but I definitely believe in the axiom that people enter your life for "a reason, a season, or a lifetime”.
Clients will rarely last a lifetime. That’s the nature of business (although I do have some clients going on a decade or more that I’m grateful for). But we won’t always know the life cycle of a client relationship. Some relationships start out strong and then run its course.
No one is really at fault — business imperatives may shift, your services may not match their goals (or vice versa) or those dreaded budgets get cut. Whatever the reason, what I’ve found in talking to so many fellow entrepreneurs, freelancers, and consultants, is that usually we know the relationship is over well before we really let ourselves come to terms with that knowledge.
One of the biggest lessons I am currently learning...
...is to trust the flow and timing of a work relationship. When I hold on too tight to a relationship that no longer serves me (work or otherwise) I am usually avoiding an important reality about my own growth. Moving on and breaking up with a client can feel counterintuitive to the hustle and grind crap we get fed when going into business for ourselves.
I’ve been told with my business:
“Don’t make it personal.”
“Separate yourself from the emotion.”
Um, hello. Everything is personal when you are sharing intelligence or expertise that literally comes from your personal brain or body! And I am a human being, so disconnecting from my emotions is not only futile but dangerous to my mental wellness.
I don’t think we can or should divorce who we are with the work we produce in the world.
So let this be your wakeup call to listen more closely to the whispers inside that tell you that this relationship has run its course. Trust that by creating space in your workflow through the absence of this client that it will ultimately bring forth the next project or relationship you need. It’s tempting to believe we have to sacrifice our wants and needs as entrepreneurs to serve some sort of greater business good.
But friends, we ARE the GOODS.
By taking care of ourselves, our relationships will flourish.
By staying aligned with our vision and values, feelings and well-being, we can create abundance in our businesses.
Don’t forget to apply the compassion needed to soothe the growing aches and pains that many of us entrepreneurs, freelancers, and consultants can experience in our relationships with clients.
Be clear, be true to yourself, and be direct. Trust that change happens to everyone.
But most of all, trust that you are not alone in trying to figure this out.
I’m writing this for you as much as I am for myself.