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Beware The Clients You Can't Afford
To Lose ... Or Who Drive You Nuts!
May 10, 2016

By Paul Strikwerda
Voice Actor

A reader of my articles wants to know:
"Have you ever fired a client, and why? I have one customer who is driving me nuts, but I canít afford to lose his business.Ē
First of all, thatís a horrible position to be in.

Many freelancers choose to run their own business because they donít want to depend on someone or something else.

Having big spenders as clients may seem fantastic, but if youíre not careful, you end up being in their pocket, and they start pulling all the shots. 


David Ogilvy, the famous advertising guru, took great care in selecting his clients. That concept alone was revolutionary. If youíre a service provider, donít clients choose you? Isnít that how the game is played? Not in Ogilvyís world. 

Ogilvy and his partner would turn down about 60 clients every year, and this was one of their rules:
"Never work for a client so big you canít afford to lose them.Ē
They once turned down Ford because the iconic motor company would represent half of their total billing. 


So, to get back to my readerís question: Be selective in whom you want to work with, even if youíre just starting out.

Donít put all your eggs in one or two baskets. It makes you overly dependent, and very vulnerable. If that one big client pulls out, youíre toast. 

Have I ever fired a client? I sure have, and Iím happy I did.

It wasnít all about money, either. In fact, in many cases money had little to do with it.  Here are a few clients I gladly gave the sack:


Hereís the client who thinks he owns you twenty-four seven. He always knows best; heís overly demanding, disrespectful, and never satisfied.

These people are impossible to please. The more you try, the less you succeed.

Working for dictators made me hate myself and my job. I did everything I could to avoid contact with them because it was emotionally draining. No money in the world could make up for how lousy I felt working for these bullies. 


Some clients act as if the rules donít apply to them. Even with a written agreement in place, they try to bend and break it as fast as they can:
"Sorry, we canít pay you within thirty days. Weíll cut a check as soon as the end-client pays us.Ē 

"Did the agreement say that we have to pay you even if we donít use your recording? Well, thatís just too bad. We have switched gears, and donít need your voice-over anymore.Ē
When you continue working for a client who is not paying your bill, you are sending the message that you are not worth the fee you charge.


Stay away from clients with great ideas and no budget, and the ones that try to nickel-and-dime you from the get-go.

I once fired a long-time client of mine that was locked into old rates. When I increased my fees across the board, she insisted I make an exception "for old times sake.Ē 

While it may seem like a "niceĒ gesture, deals like that hold your business back. Time spent on these small-budget clients prevents you from spending that time working for a client who respects your rate.

Ogilvyís was right when he said:
"Only work for clients who want you to make a profit.Ē 

When thinking of your clients, ask yourself these two questions:
"Do they sell a product or service I can be proud of?Ē

"Will I be able to do my very best work?Ē
Whether youíre a copywriter, a graphic designer, or a voice talent, you will be professionally associated with a product or service you helped promote. Your reputation is always on the line.

An advertising agency I had worked with in the past, asked me to voice a commercial for one of the worldís worst weed killers. I politely declined, and they understood. My voice is for hire, but my integrity is not for sale. 

Itís up to you where you draw the line, but I would never want to be involved in something illegal, or help sell something Iím morally against. 


Some clients are completely unorganized and in over their heads. One day they want one thing. The next day all has changed. Itís something you find out once you start working with them.

As a freelancer, youíre used to juggling many plates, but youíre not getting paid to help your clients juggle theirs. 

Sometimes clients become overly friendly. They start calling at night with some lame excuse. It turns out: they just want to talk about a personal issue, or they start gossiping about a colleague theyíve worked with. Before you know it, theyíll be asking you favors because of the perceived friendship. 

Take my word: keep things clean, and have clear boundaries. Itís painful to have to fire these clients, because you know theyíll start gossiping about you to the next professional they cling to.

But if you give in because you want to be nice, theyíll suck up your time and tire you out.


All the clients I just described have a few things in common: They keep you from growing your business. They drag you away from your goals.

They also appear on your path as your teachers.
  • People who donít respect you, are giving you a chance to learn to respect yourself.
  • People who distract you, are showing you the importance of being focused.
  • People who donít pay you, are testing what you think of the value of your work.
  • People who are trying to manipulate your feelings, are helping you grow a pair. 
Now, if you are bound by a contract, Iím not suggesting you break your word and fire these clients. Rather than cutting them loose, youíve got to cut your losses, fulfill your obligation, and learn from the situation.

But should these clients contact you again for a project, respectfully decline their offer. All they would do is take the fun out of your job.

And as Ogilvy said:
"Where people arenít having any fun, they seldom produce good work.Ē
Paul Strikwerda is a 25-year veteran of the voice over industry whose Nethervoice service features German and Dutch voice overs, translation and evaluation services. Born in Holland, he has worked for Dutch national and international radio, the BBC and American Public Radio. Although 90% of his work is in English, Strikwerda also records in Dutch, German and French. Clients include Novartis, Johnson & Johnson, and the Discovery Channel. And he is author of the new book, Making MONEY In Your PJs: Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs, and publishes an informative and entertaining blog, Double Dutch.

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Making MONEY In Your PJs:

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Comments (3)
5/14/2016 at 9:57 AM
This is very sage, and it applies to everything in any work environment or business. With respect to VO, and on camera, the best clients are the ones with deep pockets that get things done and don't feel entitled. It's always the freebie, and cut rate clients that always ask for more, pay next to nothing, but always seem to have enough for mountainous sushi plates and lavish lunches.
5/10/2016 at 10:12 AM
Damn, you just described 5 people who all seemed to be my bosses in one complete package.
Hubert Williams
5/10/2016 at 8:16 AM
Another excellent article, Paul. All advice I will heed once I have clients.
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