How Being a Client "Yes Man" Can Kill Your Freelance Writing Career

If you were a client, would you prefer to hire "yes men" who tell you whatever you want to hear, or would you prefer to hire people who tell you the truth? While I've seen some potential clients look for the former, my experience is that "yes men" are not what most prospects need or want. And if you spend too much time trying to please the client by giving them comforting tid bits to back up what they already think or know, you might ultimately lose them and kill your career. After all, that's not what you're hired to do.

Freelancers are hired because they have specialty knowledge -- knowledge clients very often don't have themselves. The point is to bring in a fresh perspective from an outsider. It's your job to know what the company insiders think. But it's also your job as a freelancer to add that extra perspective -- to look at things in a way the client hasn't (and sometimes can't).

Sometimes that includes pointing out problems. For example, what the client thinks is a great slogan could have a completely different meaning to their target audience (a group that perhaps you're a part of). Or maybe English isn't their first language and while they think their original writer did a great job with their Web copy, the grammar is atrocious. You would have to find a way to tactfully tell them so, and hopefully convince them to hire you to fix it. Or perhaps a client asks you what you think of something and you honestly don't care for it -- maybe a first draft of something that they decided to tackle themselves, thinking it would save them money.

In all of these cases and more, telling the client want they want to hear rather than what you really think would be dishonest and a real disservice to that client. No matter how good it might make them feel in the moment, in the long run someone will tell them the truth. And then you just come across looking incompetent.

Not all freelancers are comfortable in confrontational situations where they have to be the one to say "sorry, but I disagree," or "sorry, but no, I don't think this will work in the way you're hoping for." But if you're not comfortable with that, get there. Your other option is to fall into the "people pleaser" trap that will ultimately cost you your professional reputation. If you do love something, by all means say so if asked. But as a freelance professional you cannot be afraid to speak up when something just doesn't feel right -- no matter whose feelings you might hurt. In the end, clients appreciate honesty and competence and they pay handsomely for it.

So what about you? Are you able to be honest with clients even when you have something to say that you know they don't want to hear? Or do you find yourself feeling pressured to agree with them because you're afraid of upsetting them and losing their business? Or (heaven forbid) have you ever agreed with a client solely because you were too lazy to get into a real discussion about potential issues with a project? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Profile image for Jennifer Mattern

Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

Subscribe to the All Freelance Writing newsletter to get freelance writing updates from Jenn in your inbox.

3 thoughts on “How Being a Client "Yes Man" Can Kill Your Freelance Writing Career”

  1. I prefer the course of honesty. But just because I’m honest doesn’t have to mean that I’m rude.

    I like how you put it, Jenn. “Sorry, but I disagree,” or “sorry, but no, I don’t think this will work in the way you’re hoping for.” These words might not be what a client wants to hear, but they will not enrage him or hurt his feelings.

    It’s great to have the courage to tell a client you don’t agree. What can help to get the guts to do this is having a solution to a client’s problem. You say, “Sorry, this is not going to work. But this will.”

  2. It’s all in the delivery. I agree with you, Jenn, they hire you for your experience.

    One of the best compliments I received from a client was thanking me for being so professional in my presentation of a different way of doing a project.

    I tell clients (and believe it), that there isn’t a right or wrong way, just different. It helps them see that sometimes different is better. “Wrong” is one of those flash words that get an emotional reaction instead of a listening to a different approach reaction.


Leave a Comment