Suzanne from LA: I am an exceptional graphic designer and a large client of mine is nickel and diming me to death. I had a great relationship with this company for many years but turnover there has put me working with a real ninny. He is constantly haggling over bills. Doesn’t understand the design business. Pays bills months after they’ve been submitted. And is badmouthing me all over the place there. I wind up putting in many more hours than I get paid for. What can I do?

My dear Suzanne, it sounds to me like the beast you’re working with is of the weasel family.

In the animal kingdom the weasel is a small active carnivorous mammal that eats small birds (that would be you) and other animals. When we say a human acts like a weasel we most often mean he is sneaky, untrustworthy or insincere. What you must understand, my dear Suzanne, is that you cannot turn a weasel into a cuddly koala bear. You are wasting your time to dream otherwise. And my guess is that the situation is harming your self-esteem and potentially doing even more damage. If you are indeed putting in far more hours than you’re getting paid for, you are getting dollared to death, not nickel and dimed to death.

My advice would be to put some significant effort (let’s say at least 8-14 hours a week) into securing another client to take the place of this one over time. Ask friends and other clients if they would consider recommending you if they hear about appropriate opportunities. You can certainly check out opportunities online. But I find that personal referrals from current or former clients are far more valuable than striking up a business relationship with a stranger. My human companion, who’s in the communications biz, has enjoyed successful referrals from her past clients at Johnson & Johnson, Unilever, Procter & Gamble and more. Another thing you might have overlooked, is that you have the perfect talent to make a memorable and witty impression on prospects. A clever graphic, illustration, thank-you note or original art is a kickass talent and something most of us simply can’t do.

So you really need to stop whining, get out of that quagmire you let yourself slip into and beat the bushes to find a replacement client who will appreciate you for the value you offer, and actually pay you your worth. Why don’t you start the conversation with someone you’ve helped? That’s the way things work. You help someone. And eventually they help you back. (If they don’t, you put a hex on them.) Sometimes the cycle just needs a little nudge. I will also suggest that you should probably grit your teeth till you get that replacement client and don’t let on that you know a weasel when you work with one.

If you’re getting badmouthed, you really need proof. If your work is as good as you say it is, I’m sure the people who hear bad things about your fees know the criticism is coming from a weasel. Make some effort each day to get out there and look for some new business. The alternative is to resign the account. And you should assess the financial damage of that with a steely eye before you go that route. Good luck. Let me know in three weeks how it’s going.

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