Although freelancers and corporate employees both have stages of moving on in their careers, it tends to happen more often in freelancing. Clients sometimes lose funding or focus. Other times we’re called in for short-term projects and aren’t hired again. But there are other times when you initiate the change yourself.
Here are some common reasons why we sometimes feel the need to move on:
- Rates. This is especially true for new freelancers who started out with low rates and eventually had to raise them. While clients are mostly understanding of you raising your rates over time, you might encounter the rare few who’ll insist on paying you low rates even after working with them consistently for several years. If the money is no longer worth your time, it’s understandable to want to move on.
- Culture. Sometimes, our attitude towards business changes and becomes different from what our client’s attitudes are. We “grow apart”, so to speak.
- Client. Although it rarely happens, it’s possible that your client changes and treats you differently. When it’s a negative change such as delayed or skipped payments, it’s a clear sign to at least change your strategy.
- Time. Since we can’t create more time, we might drop certain projects if we need extra hours in our workday. Your reasons for needing extra time may include family emergencies, the need for more leisure, or if there are other projects you want to pursue.
- Interest. Whether it’s the project itself or the particular field you’re working in, it’s possible that you just want to try something different.
- Results. It’s also possible you get different results from what you were expecting. A venture might not have been profitable, or you did not meet any of your objectives.
The urge to move on grows stronger when your reasons start adding up. For example, I rarely leave a project because of rates alone. But if unsatisfactory pay is coupled with an extremely needy client who’s suddenly using shady tricks to win new customers, then I move on as early as possible.
Also, you might value some reasons over others. I know of at least two freelancers whose quality time with their children is non-negotiable. Personally I value personal interest and passion over rates, while a friend of mine has it the other way around. Know which aspects of your work you value the most so that you can make decisions based on your own needs.
Once you’ve identified your reasons, there are some things you need to keep in mind before dropping a project completely.
- Explore alternatives first. If you’re hesitant to completely move on from a project, explore your options first. Sometimes your reasons for wanting to move on are just symptoms of fixable problems. Is it possible for you to hire extra help? Can you change the project scope to something more suitable? Find other solutions first before you decide that it’s really time to take the leap.
- Be part of the transition. Unless you were treated unfairly, leaving your client in an instant is never a good idea. You were part of their business and to leave them suddenly is unprofessional. If you can’t recommend a replacement outright, offer to be part of the hiring and training process until your replacement is completely ready. This will save your client from unnecessary expenses and from making any hiring mistakes. Also, you won’t be burning bridges that may be essential to your career later on.
- Know how to say goodbye. Doing this properly depends on your relationship with the client. There’s no cookie-cutter solution. Just be as honest and as fair as you can be. If your reasons for moving on are negative (such as poor working conditions), then it helps to make a mental note of how you can avoid this in the future.
Leaving a client or a project need not be dramatic. As long as you find the right balance between your own needs and theirs, the process is usually clean and straightforward.
What are your usual reasons for outgrowing clients and projects?