The Client Isn't Always Right (Like This One)

"The client is always right." You've probably heard that a million times. Well guess what--you've also been lied to a million times. Clients make mistakes. Worse, they can occasionally become abusive.

I've been lucky in that these types of clients have been few and far between in my career thus far. However, two colleagues recently weren't so lucky. What's worse is that the client / prospective client who sent them the joint not-very-nice email was someone I referred to them. This wasn't someone I was well-acquainted with. They needed a lot of work done, had very short deadlines (if they wanted professionals, they should have been putting out feelers long before they did), and my schedule was booked. I referred them to several writers capable of handling each portion of the job. Anyway, here are some snippets from the email (writer and client names left out for privacy's sake):

"I love, love, love when a plan comes together!

My fabulous site is finally live and we're ready to party like the rockstars that we are...of course.
Hosting an uber fabulous Beverly Hills launch party with groovy sponsors and luxe swagg then beginning press campaigns worthy of royalfessionals. There's a few touches of backend programming and development deals but its coming together beautifully.

Its always good to know, especially since I'm enroute to all things Oprahliciousness, when to hold 'em and damn it when to fold them. I'm ever so grateful that things actually didn't work out between us. [Copywriter], your copywriting would have tanked my business. Which clearly explains why they wanted to seat you in the back of the kitchen when you visited Beverly Hills. I totally consider your writing a rip off and would not recommend you ever!

In introduction of the new brand of [niche] entertainment company that I envisioned...
Ladies, step up to [Company Name] copy , its exactly what I was looking for! Like they say, if you want something done right get rid of the dead weight and do it your damn self ! Use your voice and write right! Also the easy way to do the job of a rip off copyeditor is to simply purchase any online copy editing software. But this clearly explains why in the hell they don't let ladies from the south run with the big dogs. I am disappointed that I wasted money with you but ever so charmed in the end everything turned up Harry Winston red. Thanks for your support or lack thereof."

Look... you know how I'm often saying freelance writers should specialize, and focus a lot of effort on marketing and networking? Remember how it has something to do with more than being paid well--it keeps you busy and ensures you can take the gigs you want and turn down the ones you don't? Well folks, consider this Exhibit A. I've never been so happy to reject a gig. I'm only sorry writers I trust and respect got stuck with this.

First of all, this person is incredibly full of themselves. Now I've worked with quite a lot of people at all levels in the entertainment industry over the years through my former PR firm (quite familiar with the stereotypical superficial LA crowd), and I can tell you I've never met anyone that rude, self-centered, and flat out disrespectful. Might surprise little Miss Oprahlicious, but folks tend to be quite professional out that way when their businesses and careers are on the line. You can't afford to be anything else if you want to compete these days.

Just looking at the music side of things, it's self-evident. Those few I've dealt with who were full of themselves ultimately went completely off the radar (the ones who felt "entitled" to success). Several who worked their asses off and conducted themselves professionally went on to sign major label deals with the likes of Sony and Universal. I've seen the same in the publishing industry.

You can tell by the language of the email what this client was apparently looking for - a great big piece of fluff that would put your grandma's poodle to shame. There's a difference between edgy / fresh and flat out ridiculous.

I know the copywriter involved is excellent (I'm incredibly picky about my referral base, so she'd have to be). I know she knows how to evaluate a target market and effectively tailor copy to the audience (which is the job of copy - not to amuse the buyer). That said, perhaps she wasn't the best fit for what this client wanted. Regardless, the client's behavior in this email to two people is entirely inappropriate.

No client has a right to disrespect you as a professional. I don't care if a project didn't turn out wonderfully - it happens to everyone. Part amicably, and if you're happy with the drivel you've written for yourself before you even took the time to test the professional copy, good for you. Use it.

(And yeah... you have to test copy before pissing all over it. As an example, I did some copy for a retailer's homepage a while back, because the homepage bounce rate was too high. They weren't sure about the copy at first. I convinced them to trust my experience and test it. They came back weeks later telling me they saw an 80% increase in conversions from the homepage - people clicking deeper into the site to look at products. Funny what a few years of professional experience can do, huh?)

It's laughable that she can make the assumption the copy would have "tanked her business" or that "copyediting software" can take the place of professionals - really laughable - I'm roflmfao right now. Sorry, got sucked into her juvenile 'tude for a moment there.

Look, I don't care if you charge $200 per hour or $2 per article. Under absolutely no circumstances is it "OK" for a client, or a prospective client, to say something like "But this clearly explains why in the hell they don't let ladies from the south run with the big dogs." There was no need at all to contact the writers at that point anyway - it was a matter of harassment and gloating (and let me also say, if things could go that bad with both of these writers, I know the bulk of the problem wasn't them).

There's a difference between being enthusiastic about your company or site launch and acting like a queen bee. Paying someone doesn't give you the right to act abusively towards them in any way. I sincerely hope that none of you are finding yourselves in these kinds of situations, and that you'll know what to do if it happens - in short, run. You're better off refunding the client and going elsewhere than subjecting yourself to abusive behavior and language. You don't need the added pressure and stress. And there's no good reason to enable that kind of attitude.

So tell me... have you ever dealt with situations like these? Worse? Let us know what happened and how you dealt with things. Did you leave? Did you stay and take it because the money was good? Would you stay if it happened again? (If you leave a comment, please don't post client names or sites - this isn't a name and shame board, and since I can't verify stories, let's keep it general, OK?)

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.

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5 thoughts on “The Client Isn't Always Right (Like This One)”

  1. Wow.

    Just….wow. I was reading the snippets from the email from Miss Oprahlicious in disbelief, and then I got to the snotty “ladies from the South” part. And that’s when I, a lady and a professional writer from the South, got mad. Does this woman not realize that word gets around when someone acts like that? Word gets around. Writers talk, just like people in every other industry. Hopefully, her obnoxious attitude will come back to haunt her. What goes around comes around, Missy!

  2. That email made me feel so good! Well, only because I can share the pain. A few weeks ago, I was working on a sales letter for a new client. I asked the client for some info for a testimonial- either from him or someone who had used his e-book- and he didn’t have any. He told me to “Make something up because testimonials aren’t true anyway.” I explained that I wasn’t comfortable with that but I would do something else with the salespage rather than a testimonial. Client started berating me via IM telling me that I’m a very expensive writer (which I’m really not), and this sales letter better be good, and that I’d better make something up. I promptly fired him. I can understand him asking me to make something up- no problem, but once I express that I’m not comfortable lying, you should probably go ahead and respect that. Helps to know that I’m not alone 🙂

  3. That’s ridiculous. I worked with a pretty large vacations rental company recently, writing their newsletter. I was told three per month; one for holidays, one for specials, and one that was more of sales copy to get people to book. Well, the first assignment was for a “Valentine’s issue”. So, thought this was the holidays one. However, after my first submission, they came back with the assessment I needed to put more call to action and entice them to buy. Sorry, I didn’t think this was the one for sales copy. It took about three revisions for it to go live. They weren’t nasty like that, though.

    I should have spoke to them in more detail I suppose. But, regardless, I’m ever talked to like that, they may as well use their own crap. I sure won’t work with them again regardless of pay.


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