Always have an exit plan.

Some of us think it is inauspicious to prepare for the worst case scenario while embarking on new journeys. And this often ends in really bad break ups. Even worse is enduring bad work situations because we don’t know how to get out of it.

This used to happen to me when I started freelancing. I was young and naive. I thought people who said they’ll pay will pay. I trusted people who said, ‘more work will come your way’. I believed it when people said, ‘we understand you’re not available full-time for us’. And then slowly the nightmare began.

So, I began solving each of these problems. Put contracts in place. Got myself a lawyer. Collected an advance and so on. It helped. A bit.

But what really changed the way I worked was having an exit plan. Now, I insist on trial assignments — I want an experience of what it is like to work with a client. I have a clause in the contract about arbitration, where I bring my lawyer in, if I can’t stand talking to the client. I add a kill fee (typically, the amount paid in advance), in case they aren’t happy with my work for no fault of mine.

While these tactics are useful, truly having an exit plan is knowing unambiguously that even the most well-intentioned projects with the best of people can go south. 

Someone I know worked with a client for three years before it went down the gutter — It’s not like you know immediately. Another person I knew worked for an entire month and it was great; but when she asked to be paid, things turned sour. Yet another had a great relationship with her client until the day she said no to something.

To end the work engagement without ruining the relationship with the client, and more importantly, the one who referred you to the client, is a skill you absolutely need.

Having an exit plan isn’t about keeping one foot out the door. It’s having the key to the lock on that door. That’s all.