Growing up is hard to do
The reason I bring all this up is to talk about the relationship between consultant (me) and client (you). Actually, that isn’t true. I’m addressing this post to other freelance professionals who have troubled relationships with their clients. I generally do okay in this regard, although I admit it took me a long time to grow up. But I see, from what other freelances post on mailing lists, that a lot of them, especially the younger ones, could do with a bit of gentle coaching.
The specific incident leading to this essay is an exchange on such a mailing list. Here is the question that arose, stripped to its essentials: The client engages the freelance to do a job. Both parties assume at the outset that their respective computers can communicate with each other for the exchange of files. Once the job begins, it becomes apparent that, to facilitate file exchange, the client should download and install a free software utility. The question raised is whether this is an unfair imposition on the client.
One poster, imagining herself in the role of the client, said, “Still, if I were hiring someone to do editing for me, I wouldn’t want to have to make the effort of downloading software. If the freelancer downloaded it, put it on a disk, and sent it to me, I might be willing to install it. I think it’s fine to ask the freelancer to install some software if they want the job. I just felt it wasn’t right to expect the client to install them.”
Here is how I responded:
Perhaps you would like the freelance to fly to your city, rent a car, drive to your house, and install it for you, as well, all at no cost to you. I’m sorry, but the relationship between editor and client is a business relationship. Both parties are interested in getting the job done; both parties have some responsibility to overcome random obstacles. I don’t think asking a client to follow a simple procedure to download and install a free utility is overly burdensome.What do you think? Am I being too harsh on my fellow freelances? Am I shattering the preconceptions of my potential clients? Do you feel entitled, as a potential client, to treat consultants as servants? If you are the sort of person who yells humiliating insults at servers in restaurants, I really would rather not work with you. If that is a problem for you, the help you need is well beyond what my credentials allow me to provide. Harrumph!
As freelance consultants we are not servants to our clients. If you put yourself in that position relative to your client, the client will devalue your services, impose on your time for favors, pay slowly or short, and generally treat you like a bathmat. Make it an adult–adult relationship, not a parent–child relationship. In an adult–adult relationship, you, as the freelance, are empowered to help the client behave in a less entitled manner. Try it. You’ll like it.