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Have you heard of Stockholm Syndrome? It’s a fascinating case where people taken hostage by a kidnapper start to develop psychological alliances with their captors. After being in custody for a prolonged period of time, the kidnapped will start to sympathize and protect the folks that are putting them in danger.
If you’re running a freelance business or even a small agency, it can be easy to fall into the trap of the “Stockholm Client”.
What do I mean by this?
When you’re starting out, it is really easy to jump on every opportunity that comes across your desk. You will hoard clients. You will bend over backward to help them. You might give unnecessary discounts. You might respond to issues within minutes, even after hours. Your relationship goes from that of partnership to more of master and slave.
And why is that?
Because the worst possible thing that could happen is being fired by the client. If they left, you and your family would starve. You’ll lose your house. You will never find another client. Everything will come falling down.
So you go out of your way to make them happy - even if they’re taking advantage of the situation.
I just recently went through this myself. A client of mine of 6+ years went from the best client I had to the neediest client I’ve ever had. I worked 10 to 12 hours per day to try to keep their expectations met, and I always seemed to fall short.
There were in-person meetings where I was verbally yelled at and reprimanded by the project stockholder in front of all their employees.
There wasn’t a way that I could win. But I kept moving forward with the client.
Every person I’ve told this story tells me, “why haven’t you fired them?”
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And it’s because they were a Stockholm client. I was sympathizing with them and thinking that I was the problem. This caused me to be regularly stressed out, and neglectful of other aspects of my life and career.
I was worried about other types of fallout, like lawsuits or whatnot.
So I stayed in a bad relationship.
Until I realized what I was doing. And I started the process of ending the relationship. Oh boy, the weight off my shoulders.
If you find yourself dealing with a Stockholm client, I’m here to tell you it’s okay. There will always be other clients. Drop the bad ones, and seek out the good ones.