Do you ever land bad freelance writing clients? Maybe they're too needy. Maybe they don't pay on time. Maybe they expect the world while paying next to nothing. These aren't good clients to have. Yet many freelancers face these situations. You don't have to.

Here are three simple ways you can better insulate yourself from bad writing clients.

1. Be Choosy

As a business owner, you can't say "yes" to everyone. You have to be able to turn work down when there are signs that a prospect will turn into a nightmare of a client. If you take on that client anyway, you really have no one else to blame. So say "no." Sure, that means you won't have that gig bringing in income. That's life. You move on. You find another, even better, gig. The more time you waste with bad clients, the less time you have to find and land great ones.

This is one of the reasons I push the idea of building a writer platform so much here. You build your visibility and your network and gigs find you instead of the other way around. If you have an effective platform, chances are you'll have more prospects coming to you than you can take on. That means you can choose to work with the best and not feel guilty about saying "no" to others. It's also another chance to network as you refer the "no" gigs to other colleagues (just don't refer gigs with major warning signs or you could hurt relationships more than you help them).

2. Charge Professional Rates

The lower your rates, the more likely you are to come across these bad client types. That said, there are lousy clients in higher paying markets as well -- just not as many. Why does your pay level play a role? For a few reasons:

  • Clients who pay very little don't have much invested in the project.
  • If they aren't willing to pay for professional work, they're less likely to respect you as a professional (in their mind, you might just be some amateur doing the job for "play money").
  • It's easier to say "it's only a few bucks, so it's not a big deal if I pay late."
  • They know it doesn't make much sense for you to go to collections or sue them in small claims court if they screw you out of a very small payment.
  • Clients who pay next to nothing are either cheap or not properly funded. In either case, they need to squeeze as much value as they can out of every cent they can. This is why low paying clients are sometimes even more demanding than those paying professional rates.

The best way to avoid this kind of treatment is to raise your rates to professional levels. Don't sign over all rights to an article for $10 for example. Those writers are, and always will be, replaceable. If you want respect as a professional writer, you need to show that you're not that easily replaceable -- that you offer value the extremely low-priced writers do not. Charge what you're worth, and you'll immediately kick a large number of bad prospects off your doorstep.

3. Build Alternative Income Streams

When you're desperate for income you're probably more likely to say "yes" to any project that comes along, bad client or not. So you need to come up with a plan to get out of that desperation phase. One way to do that is to create alternative income streams. This is an especially good idea early in your freelance writing career when you probably don't have clients beating down a path to your door yet.


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These are income streams that don't rely on you landing new freelance writing clients. It's income that fills in the gaps so you never make bad decisions out of desperation. You know something else will still be coming in. Here are a few examples:

  • Offer another freelance service (like design or marketing consulting) so you can choose the best prospects from both markets to work with at any given time.
  • Publish and sell short e-books and reports.
  • Run a niche blog. Earn income through ad revenue while you build an ongoing portfolio piece to attract new clients.

It's all about diversification. Just like you shouldn't rely on any single client too heavily, you shouldn't rely on one income stream either. The more you diversify your incoming revenue, the more insulated you are against one of them failing (like a bad client refusing to pay on time).

4. Nurture Relationships with Regulars

It's basic math. The more clients you need to work with, the better your chances are for coming across a dud in the mix. So rather than looking for short one-off projects, focus on existing clients and building regular contracts. Regular clients are people you have an ongoing relationship with. They're more invested in that relationship. After all, it's easier to keep a good freelancer they're happy with than to spend time and energy trying to recruit one that could adequately replace them. It's win-win.

Reach out to past clients and pitch ongoing gigs (like one or two articles into you managing their blog on a monthly basis). And keep existing regulars happy (within reason). The more regular gigs you have with clients you know and trust, the less time you'll have available for those potentially bad prospects to get on your schedule.

You won't always know up front if a prospect is going to turn into a bad client. Look out for warning signs, and know when to say "no." If you do land one, don't be afraid to "break up" with them after your current project. And work hard to maintain the relationships you have with good clients and build other income streams. If you do these things and make a conscious effort to avoid the cheapskate, deadbeat variety, you'll never have to take on a bad client again.

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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, NakedPR.com, and BizAmmo.com.

Jenn has 18 years experience writing for others, around 13 years experience in blogging, and over 10 years experience in indie e-book publishing. She is also an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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