An Unhappy Client: A Real Life Story

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I’ve written another blog Client Communication: 4 Lessons Learned from my years as a freelancing creative professional. You can read that now if you’d like, but first I would like to begin with a story that gives some context.

The Ask

About a year into full-time freelancing, I was ready to try to go after some bigger projects. Most of my clients were paying around $1-2k per video. Which I was happy with, but wondered if there were some bigger projects I could grab. 

I had sent out some emails to prospects introducing myself, showing some past work, and asking for a shot at serving them.

The Opportunity

Well, spamming about a hundred prospects worked. I had a few responses that were promising, but I had this one client respond (actually a year after my initial email) who liked my work, and had a project for me.

The project had a $10k budget. 

This was more than twice what I had ever been paid up to this point, so I worked hard on it. Needless to say, I didn’t want to mess it up. 

But what did I do? I messed it up.

Bad.

The Bad

It was a tough project to begin with, and creative direction was very vague, but regardless of my excuses, I didn’t deliver top-quality work that the client was expecting. 

After many painful revisions and even a complete redirection of the video, we finally finished it up. I delivered the assets and sent an invoice for our agreed-upon amount of $10,000. 

She said, “Nope, we’re not paying you that. We didn’t get what we wanted. We’ll pay you half.”

Ouch. 

So what do I do now? I had spent so much time, energy, and thoughts on this. I was upset. 

The Response

I felt like I deserved the full amount, obviously, and my inner, prideful self wanted to just demand “payment or else”.

But what I responded with was this:

“I totally understand. I feel terrible that I let you down like this. I will accept a lower fee, but here’s what I want in return: I want one more shot. One more chance to show you what I am capable of, and what I’ve learned from this experience. And then you can move on from me, if you want.” 

She said, “Okay. I’ll give you another shot. Here’s my next project…”

And I crushed it. 

And then she sent another one to me, and I crushed it. 

The Result

Over the next few years, I received not tens of thousands, but hundreds of thousands of dollars of projects and revenue from this client, this department, and their organization. They were my leading client from 2015 through 2019.

I swallowed my pride and gave up a few thousand dollars I felt that I earned in return for hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

The Lesson

The moral of the story is this:

Don’t focus on the money today,

focus on the opportunity tomorrow. 

Now, don’t twist this and think that I’m saying to be soft, be a pushover, or do free work. 

Nope. 

On the contrary, I am saying this: be wise!

Evaluate opportunities, and count the cost of an angry email, or an overly firm response, or an emotional reaction. 

Because it might cost you dearly.

With that said, I have 4 lessons I’ve learned about communicating with clients that you can read here.

Caleb is the Founder and Lead Cinematographer at Filmpac.

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