Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Anchor Clients: Know Who's a Keeper and Who to Toss Overboard

Last week one of the blogs I frequent stirred up an interesting conversation among the comments. One commenter coined a clever phrased to describe repeat clients – those clients you can expect to receive work from on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. She called them “anchor clients”, which is a clever moniker in my opinion, because sometimes these clients end up doing just as the name implies – They either provide your business with a consistent income, or anchor you in such a way that you can’t operate YOUR freelance writing business as you see fit.

Not all anchor client relationships are negative. When I first started freelancing I was fortunate to acquire three anchor clients that supplied me with enough work for the first year which resulted in my business pulling in more of an income than my previous corporate job. These clients easily accepted my terms of service and allowed me the freedom to complete their projects as long as I adhered to the established deadlines.

Unfortunately I’ve also worked with anchor clients that made me feel as if I’d been tossed overboard in the middle of the ocean with an anchor wrapped around my neck. One client operated under the assumption that his business was my only client. He hired me to interview and write monthly newsletters for his clients. He thought nothing of calling me up to conduct a client interview with sometimes only a couple hours notice – never considering the fact that I might also be working on another client project.

First of all, I’m a freelancer. I make it clear to my clients when scheduling their projects that I typically work on other client projects simultaneously. Like most freelancers taking on multiple projects is pretty much my thing. Second, I used to work as a journalist. Although I became pretty adept at conducting in-depth interviews quickly and efficiently in keeping with the deadline driven environment, in most cases interviewing requires a good bit of preparation to get the information you need. The final straw was when he set up a last minute interview to take place the next day (actually, he had me set it up-with a very busy doctor who was in the middle of seeing patients). I woke up the very next morning only to discover I’d lost my voice (it’s how my body sometimes responds to hay fever) without warning. Expect the unexpected.

Hopefully this client now realizes that two hours, or even one day’s notice to prepare for and conduct interviews, when we’ve been discussing this project for the past month and a half (not to mention the assurance that he would be the one to schedule the interviews ahead of time), might not work for most freelancers. The longer I do this, the more I appreciate the need to know when to just say “no.”

Thankfully I quickly recognized that type of anchor client relationship is lose-lose for each of us, so it was best to quickly, and professionally end things on an amicable note.

Right now I only have one anchor client I’ve been working with for a little over a year now. The relationship is great, and I do like knowing I can expect work from her on a pretty consistent basis. I’m currently negotiating terms with another potential client who needs a reliable web writer to handle several new projects in the pipeline throughout the rest of the year (fingers crossed that this turns out to be a good thing). Ideally I’d like to have three good anchor clients to produce a steady stream of income while I put more time into a couple of personal writing projects – that doesn’t mean I’ll stop marketing my services. We freelancers can’t afford to get THAT comfortable, you know.

Do you embrace anchor clients in your freelance writing business or avoid them? What’s your experience?

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