Are Your Clients Reverse Nickel and Diming You to Death?

When you hear the phrase "nickel and dime" chances are that you think of being a buyer -- asked to pay for ridiculous little add-ons to a product of service, greatly increasing the overall price. Can you also be nickel and dimed as a freelancer? Absolutely.

How Freelance Clients Might Try to Nickel and Dime You

As a freelance writer, you probably either give a client your standard rates or a custom quote up front. Either way, you know what's expected of you and the pay covers that work, and only that work. For example, if you're writing a feature for a client's corporate newsletter, you might charge a rate of $1.00 per word for the article. That rate might include two rounds of edits, and you don't bill the client separately for small charges like phone calls to an interviewee. Your proposed (and accepted) feature might include working with two interviewees.

While these things probably would never happen all at once, let's pretend for a moment that you have the client from hell. All of a sudden, you're asked to do other things like:

  • Add a third perspective to the piece (meaning another interview, more phone calls, etc).
  • Get transcribed copies of interviews to the client.
  • Write a separate short summary for the feature (so they can use it as a preview on their website).
  • Do very minor extra edits because they ran it by a "friend" who felt a need to give their two cents after it was approved by the actual client.
  • Consult with the client on the phone about the formatting of their newsletter.
  • Come up with 3 photos for the feature (not originally discussed).

Other than the transcription, each of those things might seem relatively minor. If you're hoping to turn a one-time gig into a long-term one you might be tempted to just suck it up and do these things without renegotiating the total project fee, especially if the client throws one at you at a time rather than asking for all of these things at once. At the time they seem like relatively simple and innocent favors.

"Favors" Cost You Money as a Freelance Writer

Look, there's nothing wrong with going above and beyond for a client once in a while. In fact there's nothing wrong with going a little above and beyond every time you work with them. But you should know what you will and won't do up front, and you should be willing to say "no" when the requests start to pile up.

I know it's not easy. Sometimes you just want to be a people pleaser. It's easier than risking disappointment, right? But this isn't your bff asking you for a ride to the airport. It's not your sister asking you to watch her kids for an evening. It's a client. In that particular relationship you both have responsibilities. Yours include completing everything agreed to. Theirs include paying you for the time invested in their project. If they change the terms, it's basic business sense -- they should pay for the extra time.

How are these little favors the equivalent of a company nickel and diming their customers? Every extra minute, half hour, or hour you spend on the client's project (essentially unpaid) is time away from other paying projects. Spent an extra two hours on that feature? Charge $75 an hour on average? You just got nickel and dimed out of $150. It's not like putting that time into running a site of your own (where you might earn revenue and use it as a marketing tool to land new clients). You aren't likely to get anything out of that lost time that you wouldn't have gotten anyway for completing the project as planned.

There's a very fine line between being a good freelance writer to work with and being a flat out pushover. Which are you?

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4 thoughts on “Are Your Clients Reverse Nickel and Diming You to Death?”

  1. I like this article. I’m taking some notes. I did want to add to the one where you said “ran it by a friend”. I know some Freelance writers that have had this happen a lot in the past, so now they include it in their contracts. Some state that the contract is terminated when a third party comes into the picture. Then renegotiation begins.

    I guess they have been burned so many times with a business partner, uncle or neighbor, who chimes in and feels the client should add this and that and that to the content.

  2. That’s exactly what can happen. It’s bad enough when there are too many cooks in the kitchen within the client’s company itself. But when they start bringing in outsiders who aren’t exactly experts in either the writing or in relation to the company, it’s frustrating. They weren’t a part of the background discussions, market research, and planning. They’re not even a target reader of the material. In those cases their opinion pretty much means nothing. But they’ll happily suggest changing a word here, a phrase there. Here’s the thing. If you show the same copy to 10 different people they’ll probably have 10 different sets of suggestions for you. Someone will always be able to find potential edits for someone else’s work, even if the changes do nothing to improve it.

    That’s why a set number of revisions is a good idea when discussing details with a client, especially for larger projects. That way they’re forced to gather all of the feedback from people they want input from at once, fine tune it and make final edit requests, and give it to you for one edit set.

  3. Yes–put “one reasonable rewrite if needed (under to hours)” in your contract. I don’t write for pay on pub places, but when I did, they would come back months later when they were ready to publish and ask me to “call all the sources for changes.” This is why I don’t write for pay on pub. Plus it honked me off that is was perfectly OK with editors for us to wait 6 mos to a year for our probably too low fee. We eat just like they do. I also hate chasing art–this has now become an accepted part of the writer’s job. Sorry–this is the designer’s area. I don’t mind asking the source if they have pix–but going around and around on resolution, having pix sent to me, and my sending them on–that takes time. Yeah–I am an old crab. Stay off my lawn, too. 🙂

  4. I’m sure it works for some people, but I couldn’t write for pay on pub clients either. Mine have completely spoiled me I supposed. It would have to be a damn good offer for me to even consider it, and even then I’d say it’s highly unlikely.


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