As a freelance writer – especially if you’re new – you probably have a hard time turning down paying work, no matter what the gig is. Sometimes this works out. Sometimes this is how we end up with horror stories of the worst clients imaginable.
If you’re a writer for hire, then you’ve probably had your fair share of these clients. If you’re a newer writer, you may be wondering how to avoid these types of clients. For those who have a hard time turning away work, it might not feel good saying "no" to a client. In the end though, sometimes even the money isn’t worth it. After all, we’re freelance writers because we love what we do – and we want to work for ourselves.
Yes, you work for your clients. But the beautiful thing about freelancing is that you get to pick and choose who you work for. Finding great clients doesn’t have to be difficult. Sure, there’s a learning curve. Eventually, though, you'll know your ideal client when you see them.
When searching for new clients – and as you work with the ones you already have – be mindful of these red flags as they signify everything freelancers hate most about their worst writing clients.
- 1. They Are Difficult to Reach
- 2. Asking for Extra Work (for No Extra Pay)
- 3. Micro-Management
- 4. They Won’t Sign a Contract
- 5. Requesting a “Free Trial Run”
- 6. 10,000 Revisions Too Many
- 7. Unrealistic Expectations
- 8. They Won’t Pay a Deposit
- 9. They Give You Evasive Answers
- 10. You Just Have a “Bad Feeling”
- Fending Off the Monsters
1. They Are Difficult to Reach
When you’re pitching, it might take a while to hear back from busy editors or marketing directors. This is to be expected – they have a lot on their plate.
On the other hand, once it’s clear they want to work with you then you should be able to reach them relatively easily. If you have one email address or you’re still communicating through LinkedIn after initial contact with no personal contact info (phone number, business email, Skype ID, etc.) then you might not be talking to the kind of client you really want.
2. Asking for Extra Work (for No Extra Pay)
Another huge red flag for most freelancers is if the client is asking for extra work – but they don’t want to pay more for it. Whether this is an existing client or a new client trying to add to the scope of a pre-paid project, this is not what you want.
The same goes if they are asking you to work for a lower rate than you offered. This means they don’t value your time or your writing as much as they should. Never settle for a client that expects more for less.
As a freelancer one of the biggest perks is being able to work independently. In most cases, people hire freelancers because they trust that they know how to do the job and get it done right, without supervision. That doesn’t mean there aren’t clients who want to hold your hand.
There's a trade off, of course. These clients are often demanding and nit-picky and the sort who is never satisfied. If your client doesn’t trust you to provide them with amazing copy the first time, then maybe it's time to move on.
4. They Won’t Sign a Contract
Many new freelancers underestimate the necessity of a contract. In most cases, your best bet with any client is to include a solid contract with clear expectations for both parties.
Include your due dates for content as well as payment. More importantly, include a clause for what happens if you are not paid on time or if the client or you want to terminate services at any point. Including a late fee will ensure on-time payments, while including a "30 days before termination" clause will keep you from suddenly losing a chunk of your income without warning.
If your client won’t sign a contract, it’s probably time to move on to the next prospect.
5. Requesting a “Free Trial Run”
Anyone who asks you for an article or bespoke content for free as a “trial” piece is someone you don’t want to work with.
If you’ve already sent over a portfolio of samples, you shouldn’t need to send over an additional, specific article for free. Most clients who will ask you for free trial articles are going to pay peanuts for your writing. They are also probably one of those clients who will push you for extra work at no additional pay.
When you’re asked for a trial article, suggest a paid trial run. If the client won’t go for that, don’t waste your time.
6. 10,000 Revisions Too Many
Another way that monster clients like to get free work out of us writers is to ask for way more revisions than should be necessary. Most of us are open to revisions – any chance to improve your work, right? Keep in mind however, you should only do a couple of revisions included. Anything beyond that should have an additional fee. After all, you’re spending longer than intended on the same piece.
If your client has asked for 4 or 5 revisions and still isn’t satisfied, chances are they still won't be happy when they “settle” on a final draft. This sort of client will cost you time – and time is money. So make your policies on revisions clear from the get-go.
7. Unrealistic Expectations
When you first get on the phone with a new client to discuss the scope of a project you can usually get a good idea whether you will get along with the person or not.
This initial phone call is also a good way to tell if your potential client has realistic expectations, or if they want more than you (or anyone) can reasonably provide. If they want a white paper or eBook in less than a week, then they are asking for sub-par content. They might not realize that they are asking too much, but that won't change their expectations.
8. They Won’t Pay a Deposit
If your client won’t pay a deposit – or at the very least give you a definitive date to expect your payment – then you might want to think twice. Magazines and blogs might not always be able to pay an upfront deposit on a contracted article. Companies working with freelancers, however, should be used to paying a deposit.
Asking for a 50% deposit with the remainder paid upon completion is relatively standard. Most freelancers won’t work until a deposit is in place. This not only protects you from not getting paid later, but it also lets you know who is serious about their business.
9. They Give You Evasive Answers
If you can’t get a straight answer out of them, then you probably aren’t working with a good client. Tying in with point 1, when you have questions about a project you need answers now, not next week.
Sometimes, instead of not getting an answer at all, you don’t get the direct and clear answer you need. If you need to ask the same question three ways to get the answer, you're wasting your time and theirs.
10. You Just Have a “Bad Feeling”
This one might be the most important. Never ignore a gut feeling.
It might seem like you can’t afford to turn down whatever work comes your way, especially when you’re just starting out. But if you get a bad feeling in the back of your mind or the pit of your stomach after talking to a client, then turn around and never look back. Anyone who has ignored that gut feeling and decided to move forward with the gig anyway can tell you it usually doesn’t end up working out.
Fending Off the Monsters
Often, a horrible writing client doesn’t have just one of these issues. Usually, they come with two or three of these “red flags” at least. Remember, no matter how long you’ve worked with someone or how desperately you might need the money – it’s never worth the headache to work with a monster client.
Have you ever worked for a nightmare client? Do you have a freelance writing horror story to share? Don’t worry – most of us do! Eventually, you’ll learn to notice these things and your own pet peeves, before you end up stuck with a bad client.