2012 Tales: A very expensive road trip.

Freelancers know that referrals are the lifeblood of our business. When someone refers a new client to you, it’s a great boost to your pocketbook and your morale. So when I was recommended by an acquaintance to this client that eagerly wanted to meet, I was pretty excited. There was a lot to be happy about:

  • It was going to be a nice, fruitful project that would set me up financially for at least a little while. Gotta love those.
  • It was for a ministry, so it was doing my favorite kind for work – work that matters.
  • They seemed to have a really solid idea of what they wanted, and were eager to get started. I love a client with a plan.

They were located in another state about 5 hours away, and offered to reimburse me my mileage and put me up in a hotel for the night. I’d never had an out-of-town client offer to do that before, so I was really excited to see what they were all about. We met last summer, and honestly, things went great. The group treated me to lunch, they were all very friendly and ready to go – it looked like this was going to be a great project.

On my way back to the hotel that night, I was driving the highway and heard what sounded like a gunshot. It was dark, and I looked around to find out where it’d come from, and in about 10 seconds saw exactly what had caused the noise: it was a semi that had blown a tire, and I was about to run over that huge chunk of tire in my little 2-door Chevy Cobalt and there was nothing I could do. No time to swerve, I braced for impact and with a really loud “Tha-konk” made it over the tire and thankfully, back to the hotel.

Of course, I didn’t get by unscathed. The next morning, my overheating light came on before I even made it out of town. I pulled into an auto shop and proceeded to wait (for several hours) until they told me what was wrong. As it turns out, a lot. Busted radiator, bent some of the frame up, knocked the fan out of place…all told, I not only had to fork over the reimbursement check I had just gotten, but had to go get an extra $300 to pay for the repairs, and then hope it would hold out on the ride home. Last thing I wanted to do was end up stranded on the road between here and Sapulpa. Thankfully, the repairs did hold up and I made it home just fine, although much later than I had anticipated and with a lot less money.

In the meantime, I began to work on some other projects that were already in progress, trying to get them done and pushed through before this one was to start. Sadly, I was never able to pull that off. We were about 3-weeks past the start date for this project and I was quickly realizing that this was too large of an undertaking for one person. These guys didn’t need a freelancer, they needed an agency. It was a flag that I should’ve thrown on the day I met them, but I wanted to believe I could handle it. And maybe I could’ve, if we’d started at the right time. That wasn’t going to happen now.

I tried to find someone local to the client’s city to help out with the project, but nobody was available. I knew the worst thing I could do was to try and go ahead and rush through this thing and just try to get it done. If I tried to force it, this situation would go from bad to worse in a hurry. So after several emails with my main contact at the client’s offices, we decided to cut our losses and they would go hire someone else. All told, we ended things on fine terms – much better than it would’ve otherwise been, I’m sure.

So what’s the main points to take away from this experience? There are many, but here are the most prominent to me:

  1. Look for warning signs early, and be ready to pass on the project if it doesn’t fit with your mission statement or goals.
  2. Try to assess as early as possible whether or not you’ll need help for a project. Make sure you have someone on board to help before sending out the estimate.
  3. If you need to cut and run, do so as early as possible in order minimize the loss to you and your client. Don’t be so prideful to think you can handle something when you know you can’t.