Not all the people or companies that hire writers are great to work for – in fact, some make downright miserable clients. You can’t always tell in advance, but often there are warning signs or red flags. When you spot a potential problem client your life will be easier if you skip them entirely and move on to the next opportunity.
Here are six examples of clients you probably want to avoid:
Writing clients who ask you to available at unreasonable times. While there are some writing gigs that do need to be performed or completed at odd times, like news, the client who expects you to be available all day every day for instant messaging or phone calls is asking too much. And when they want you to be available over the weekend as well, it’s more than to much. How and when you get the work done is up to you as long as you meet the agreed upon deadlines. The clients who insists on constant availability are control freaks who will eat up way more of your time then they are willing to pay for. Make it clear you’ll be available by appointment only and that you’ll charge extra for long phone calls or other distractions.
Clients that want you to please a committee. I always ask who will actually approve the writing I present. If they don’t know, and sometimes they don’t, I’ll talk a bit about how important it is that everyone is on the same page then suggest they get in touch with me when they have that worked out. Of course, the person you’re writing for probably has a boss, but unless the one you’re talking with has the authority to approve the writing you’re doing you’re setting yourself up for the kind of revisions that have you going in circles. Another approach is to limit the number of revisions to two or three – in fact, I usually do both.
Writing clients who aren’t clear on what they want. There’s just no point in starting a writing project for a client who doesn’t know what they want. You can, in most instances guide them toward making themselves clear by asking questions. We talk about the questions you need to ask in 5 Ways to Train Your Clients. If you get good answers, great, go ahead and work with them. But if after your questions they still can’t make up their minds what they want you and the writing to do, it’s best to ask them to call you back when they do get clear.
Writing employers who want free samples. If the samples you’ve got posted on your website aren’t good enough for them, chances are they may be running a scam. I won’t do free samples and neither should you. Yeah, there are exceptions. Writing for a consumer or trade magazine on spec (submitting a completed article) can be a good way to break in. I’ve also been known to offer to write or edit a couple of pages for free, but that’s usually to be sure I know what I’m getting into and how long it will take me to bring their drafts up to snuff. Writing a sample blog post or web article for free so they “can see if your style fits” is a huge red flag.
Insist this writing gig is a great opportunity and your payoff will come later. Lots of people have lots of ideas about a new business, but it’s silly how many of them expect you and me to write for free or very little on the hope the business will pay off. And yes, I can tell you of a couple of exceptions, but I won’t, because it takes years in the writing business to recognize a real opportunity like this, and often I’ll be wrong. Get paid for your writing – if they win big they can give you a bonus.
Your gut tells you it’s a poor match. If you’re talking to a potential client or working through a series of email exchanges and you begin to wonder if the person you’re talking to is nuts or somehow not legit, listen to that ‘still small voice’ and move on. We’re got instincts and intuition to help us stay out of trouble – it’s our job to pay attention.
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What would you add to this list? Got a horror story you’d like to share with us? Comments or inside the forum are good places to do it.
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Write well, and often,