Clients We Love to Hate

I love my clients. I don’t want you to think I’m a total jerk for getting up here on this proverbial soapbox and bashing the people who routinely buy my services.

I’m not bashing them.

I have no reason to – in fact, I’m suddenly thinking of dedicating a post to what makes them so amazing, but that’s not as much fun to write so I’ll put that one off for a bit.

Instead let me tell you about some of the “clients” that I think we can all agree to hate. Yes, that sounds terribly ugly, but we hate what they represent, not the people they actually are…in most cases.

The User

I can’t stand this guy. Or girl. The user is someone who takes advantage of a gesture of goodwill. Or he might abuse a privilege or demand more than is reasonable in a service-based relationship. For example, a user might strike up a conversation with a writer. He might have some ideas for a website and want to chat about them and plan things out. The writer, who may have never dealt with one of these guys before, is more than willing to talk about a particular project – after all, there is likely a deposit for work coming shortly!

But strangely the conversation just goes on and on without any actual conclusion. The writer grows increasingly irritated with this guy – is he actually planning a project or just picking your brain for his own sake? Sadly, it seems too often to be the latter. While not always, there are plenty of people who think that we should help start up and design projects with clients without compensation.

Unfortunately, offering hours of “free consultation” isn’t part of the service package most of us offer. So we’re trapped in a bad spot and that makes me the most irritated of all. It’s important to help would-be clients see where they might need your help and expertise. That’s marketing. And I think it’s important to help clients navigate these waters if they haven’t paid for written services before. That’s education. But I don’t think we should be taken advantage of.

I, like many of you, have earned my place in the industry the hard way. I’m not willing to toss out hour-long consulting sessions free of charge, so that leaves us one option – send over a bill for consultation services or politely steer the never-going-to-pay-for-services user away to a forum or website where he can actually do some reading and work of his own to find the answers. Meanwhile we get back to the work that actually pays the bills.

Mr. Expert

When someone hires a writer or blogger or designer to create something, they are paying for a certain level of expertise. The more you pay the less you have to worry, generally speaking, about the end result. Those of us in this business for a long time know our way around a keyboard and a few SEO terms.

Yet there are still many would-be clients out there who like to tell us how wrong we are and perhaps explain how he or she would have done things. Usually this happens after you are paid a deposit, write something up as indicated and then get an earful about what he really meant for you to write and why you did a terrible job

You might hear about his credentials (again) and then you’re told line by line the things to go back and fix so that they read just the way he would have written them, thus defeating the entire purpose of outsourcing his materials. He is probably a smart guy and you respect his abilities - you just wish he wasn't talking crap about your own skills while he talks his up (again).

Pretty soon you realize that the client would have probably saved himself some serious money and more than a bit his time and yours by simply writing it himself – obviously he’s the only one who really knows how. /sarcasm.

The trick with these guys is to be sure that you’re dealing with a real Mr. Right client. Sometimes we get a bit caught up in our own ego trips and assume that we know all there is to know online. But the successful writer is always learning and some clients have terrific things to say and advice to give.

If a client is actually trying to help you by showing you a short-cut or pointing out something that simply doesn’t work or that is flat-out wrong, that’s not being a busy-body. It might be embarrassing to be caught in a spelling, cultural, style or typo problem, but in that case the client is in the right and you’re in the wrong. Own that and grow from it.

But on the other hand, if you’ve had countless happy clients and suddenly you’ve got one who is never happy and seems to be changing the rules with every revision, asking for a totally new approach every time you look at the work again and demanding fixes or stylistic points that are inconsistent or frankly just wrong grammatically or stylistically, you’re dealing with one of the obnoxious ones.

My advice is to finish up the project and run – don’t walk – away from future projects with these guys. They aren’t usually worth the hassles, especially when you calculate in those revisions, conversations and platitudes in your hourly rates.

One caveat is this:  if a client comes back to you after a goodly amount of time has passed, you might give it a try again. People change and learn, and the longer you work online the more you learn about the industry and how to respect other professionals within it. Coming back after a long hiatus may mean the client now realizes just how much you were doing for him previously and he’s ready to work more reasonably now.

The Cheat

We can’t say enough bad things about this guy. I hate the cheaters out there and I’m sure you do, too. A cheater is someone who manages to get content without paying for it. He may ask for specific samples from multiple writers. The unwitting writers prepare them, send them in and never hear back. Why would they? The cheat has the free content he wanted!

Free samples are another popular scam on this and some unsavory types even tell each other where to score super cheap articles or written pieces from those who are too un-savvy to work safely online. Just how many unpaid internships can websites have anyhow?

While I’m disgusted with the cheats, I’m also disgusted with the individuals who allow these guys to continue doing what they do. Don’t write new samples and send them in as part of an application. Post the sample to your blog and link to the blog post. Don’t sign up for “profit share” or “future earnings” unless you’re ready to earn your share of nothing with a smile.

There will always be unsavory types around, and there’s not much we can do about it sadly except try to steer the innocents away from them or call them out when applicable. We certainly don’t have to bow down and let money walk all over us. You are the freelancer with the power to decide which clients are worthy of your time and efforts.

If you don’t like a client, don’t continue the relationship with him or her. If you have doubts about the client from the get-go, don’t lower your standards for the almighty dollar. Treating yourself with respect and walking away from leeches like these will do more for growing your business and helping you find success than groveling any day of the week.

Profile image for Rebecca Garland
Rebecca is a full-time everything. She teaches English and reading to her much loved, if challenging, high school students during the day and is a freelance education writer in the evenings. With almost ten years in the classroom and advanced degrees in business and information science, Rebecca specializes in materials that inform, educate and entertain. Rebecca indulges herself by pretending to have spare time and writing about the ups and downs of being a freelancing mama whenever she gets a chance.

3 thoughts on “Clients We Love to Hate”

  1. Rebecca,

    Here’s a fourth client we love to hate: The marcom pro who represents a dysfunctional organization.

    They say they are so stressed . . . and they are.

    They say they need your services and will get back to you with a contract . . . and then you wait, making tastefully spaced follow-up calls until you give up.

    There are three solutions:

    1. Don’t count your contracts until they are hatched, er, I mean signed.

    2. Structure payment so that you are paid in full before they declare the project finished. Do not allow final payment to be postponed until they declare the piece “finished.” Otherwise, the project may be held up in committee forever and you are never paid. Or worse yet, it may be tweaked and used by the client while awaiting some type of final approval that never comes.

    3. Thank God that you’re a freelancer instead of their employee.


  2. Great post!

    It’s not worth it to have a client that’s not worth your time and energy. If you have clients that are draining you, have the courage to cut them loose. Narrow down ‘who’ your real client is and market to them.


    In my opinion, the client who says, “I want you to provide me with a sample piece,” when you have a stunning writing portfolio is a waste of time. The only time you may consider writing a sample piece is “if” it’s your first time writing (fill in the blank). Other than that, the clips on your website are sufficient.

  3. Insightful post indeed Rebecca.

    Luckily I learnt about the sample issue before I ever fell in that trap. I see a lot of prospects asking for samples with an application and I think they catch a lot of newbies with this, getting the free content they’re after in the end.

    This is another great reason why I believe that every freelance writer simply need his/her own blog with enough content to serve as examples.


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