The dream of many freelancers is to quit clients and focus on products. It may be themes, or books, or custom yoga pants that you want to make and sell.

The specific product doesn’t matter. It’s the thought that no more clients around would be awesome.

Quitter is a book about moving from your ‘day job’ to your ‘dream job’. One of the things that has stuck out to me as I’ve been reading it is the thought that you should probably stay in your ‘day job’ a lot longer than you really want to.

This concept applies to quitting clients in favour of product based income.

Why quit clients

At it’s simplest level many freelancers want to quit clients because they are tired of unreasonable requests and silly deadlines.

I got tired of that as well and by positioning my relationship with clients in a totally different manner I was able to kill most of those silly requests. I have better clients at higher rates with some strategy.

I think that the reason to build products is to help diversify your income streams. What if you get hurt or sick and can’t work for a bit.

If you’re only doing client work (even if you price based on value) your income will dry up at some point. You won’t be doing work and that means that you won’t be earning anything.

Having a fleet of products around can smooth out the bumps in health and work hours till they don’t really matter.

Having a decent amount of product income can mean that the low income months are still more than enough to pay all the bills and live comfortably on. Instead of having the low months eat in to the profit of the good months.

I’m all for having diverse income streams with a bunch of products that don’t not rely on you doing much work once they are set up.

But clients allow you to…

The thing is that quitting clients too soon may mean you kill that product dream.

Right now clients bring in 95% of my income. If I was to quit client work right now I’d also have to figure out how to live on a few thousand dollars a year.

Not possible and my wife would be pretty upset.

Hey honey I just quit all my clients so you’ll have to start growing cotton and making all our clothes. Okay? It’s my dream so just go with it.

Yup I’d sound like a privileged ass and I’d deserve the cast iron frying pan upside the head.

Instead I devote time each week to working on longer term projects (books, writing here, plugins…) and to client work.

It’s likely that at the end of this year my client work will be more than 50% of my income still. Who knows maybe client work will be more than 75% of my total income.

Working for clients allows me a flexible schedule and no one looking over my shoulder to make sure I put in my 40 hours. Working for myself gives me freedom in how I allocate my time, and clients make it all possible.

I’ll never quit clients

While I’d love to have less income reliant on clients I don’t think I’ll ever quit client work entirely.

The fact is that clients ask for things that are hard because they don’t know it’s hard. They want that last pixel adjusted and get you to do it. Sure it can be frustrating since we think it’s close enough but it pushes us. I know when I’m working on something for myself I can be biased to sticking with the easy way I already know to do things.

Even if the easy way I know how to do things is not actually in the best interest of the project.

My ideal would be to take 1 client a quarter for minimum 4 week engagements. Then spend the rest of the quarter finding that right client for the next quarter and working on my own products.

What I want is the ability to not find that right client for a quarter and not worry about how that will affect my life at all. That is my goal with product income, not to quit clients entirely.

So if you want to build products, take a good hard look and where you income is coming from. Make sure you don’t quit that income stream too soon.

Unless you like killing your product dream before it’s really had time to mature.

photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc

9 responses to “Don’t Quit Clients”

  1. Ryan Hellyer Avatar

    On the flipside of this argument, the most successful product based businesses I’ve seen, were run by people who threw caution to the wind, bit the bullet and launched headlong into a risky startup venture and are now reaping the results. I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to do this. Your route is just less risky.

    1. Curtis McHale Avatar
      Curtis McHale

      I certainly believe that at some point you do need to leap in to the product if that is where your heart is. Just don’t leap at the first thing you think of.

      All successful businesses I know of leapt, even me. I saved cash as a cushion and jumped to freelancing and made a successful business out of it. I could just have easily burned through all the cash and headed back to a job.

      It was actually pretty close a few times in the first year or two.

  2. Andrea Avatar

    A lot of friends/family have encouraged me to get away from client work lately, and while I do like the idea of earning money that doesn’t require trading hours for dollars, I also don’t want to become one of those “selling the dream” people. Instead, I’m blocking off every other month on my schedule in 2014 to launch a couple of products and projects of my own, and I’ll be working on client stuff in-between.

    Hopefully next year I’ll have a better mix, but I don’t ever see myself moving away from client work. I try to remind myself that I really love what I do when I’m not dealing with super demanding and/or nitpicky clients, so it’s my job to find better ways to ensure a good fit before taking on new projects.

    1. Curtis McHale Avatar
      Curtis McHale

      As I look at some of the products I have in mind I fear moving to ‘selling a dream’ since many of my ideas are about teaching people to run a smart effective business. Guess I better deliver big results and concrete stuff.

      I do have some other more utility ideas for plugins but I think the biggest earners in the short term will be info/book products.

      1. Andrea Avatar

        Agree 100%. My clients request info products constantly, so I’m not going to ignore them. I just want to be careful to keep a foothold in the “real world” of doing stuff and not get caught up in trying to become a guru who has no clue how things work anymore. Here’s to success for both of us in 2014!

  3. Manuel Vicedo Avatar

    It’s never googd to have too much of a single thing, that is for sure. I’ve been doing client work for quite a while and although it’s okay dor now, putting out a few products definitely helps. It’s also good to avoid stagnation, as things get pretty old pretty fast and your skills stop growing to a halt. At least, that’s what it feels sometimes.

    On another note Curtis, do you have any book recommendations on how to improve the quality of clients? I’ve been looking for something that would provide some pointers on how to manage things to avoid bad quality work, but no luck so far.

    1. Curtis McHale Avatar
      Curtis McHale

      Funny it feels to me like clients push my skills by asking for hard things that I then have to figure out.

      In my series on 6 Figure freelance I recommended specializing and solving business problems as ways to really put yourself above other freelancer’s. The bottom of the post has links to the rest of the series.

      For books I’d recommend reading Book Yourself Solid.

      1. Manuel Vicedo Avatar

        I’ll take a look at the book then. For a while now I have specialized in WordPress as well, but since clients ask for a variety of things, it’s hard to stick to only a single area. Your thoughts are much appreciated, though!

        I’m from Spain. Here, things are quite different as people are not that open minded about the web– at least not yet. Most of the time, a client will be asking for a lower estimate, even at the expense of crippling results later down the road. It seems like there simply isn’t a drive to truly invest on a web project and expect to generate income off it.

        1. Curtis McHale Avatar
          Curtis McHale

          Why work for people in Spain then? I’d say similar things are true of my local market since I don’t live in a bigger city. I work for almost no one local

          Most of my clients are in the US. Of term out of New York but recently that has been shifting to the west coast.