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Beware of the Monster Clients of the Deep

In a tough market, freelance copywriters can be all too keen to grab the next deal, sometimes against our better judgement. Eager to please and allured by the work it can be easy to ignore the warning signs and dismiss our gut instincts, failing to take the necessary precautions from the start.

Many experienced copywriters have their share of client horror stories and will tell you that working with a bad client can cost you time, money, stress and morale. While there is no way of guaranteeing you’ll never have to deal with an ogre client, there are some basic precautions you can take, to protect yourself against any lurking ‘monsters’.

– Don’t accept a brief brief

As commercial freelancers, we work with the input from our clients. Our clients are paying for what they ultimately want and need to let us know how they want us to sell their business.

While we have our own tastes and are able to come up with our own ideas, guessing what the client is after, if they’re not forthcoming or decisive about exactly what they want, could lead to trouble. Even if the client thinks that they know what they want, if they can’t properly tell you, it’s not a good sign.

Always establish the structure and the style of the content to be written, and find out exactly who it’s to be addressed to. Get answers to all your briefing questions. Even if the client is really keen to get the ball rolling and wants to defer giving you these details, always demand a sufficient brief before agreeing to move forward.

– ASAP! Urgent!

Commercial markets can be very fast paced and urgent needs do come up, however if a potential client comes forward with a request for you to structure and create a very large, important part of their marketing content, which they haven’t already got in place…and they need it overnight, you have to ask yourself why.

If this is marketing material critical for their own business, why haven’t they planned ahead? The client may be in a position where they’re aware they haven’t planned properly and feel they can pass this burden of responsibility on to the copywriter. And when it all comes crashing down, you’ll know who’ll be to blame.

– The client knows better

Creative marketing is subjective and the customer is always (and will always believe that they are) right, even if you’re absolutely convinced they’re not. If you have written copy to a brief and the customer states they are unhappy with it, they should be able to tell you exactly what it is they are unhappy with. Vague statements like ‘I don’t like it’ aren’t sufficient.

When you offer to rewrite the copy, the client should be able to provide you details of what they want changed, included or elaborated on. Even if the client is difficult, you should always ask for the information you need. If they feel they know better, but refuse to confirm what they want, there could be a rocky road ahead.

– The client is unreasonable, or rude

As a freelancer, you are under no obligation to deal with a client who is rude, disrespectful or unreasonable, basically unprofessional. If a situation like this occurs, always remain professional yourself and keep your cool. When you confront them, stick to the facts and lay down the conditions of your agreement or contract. Never be tempted to retort to anything said on a personal level. If they are not prepared to change their behaviour and you’re unable to continue working with them, make this clear to them.

– Other clues

From experience you will get a feel for the clients who know what they want and what they’re doing. The best clients will know the ‘drill’ when it comes to working with freelancers and often these jobs can be plain sailing. Other clients may have less experience dealing with freelancers and occasionally may need to be led through the process.

This is fine if the client is willing to be informed about how it works. The client may be disorganised, however be wary of any client who is disinterested in what needs to be done to get to the end result, particularly in providing the briefing information you need. Also, if the client appears to have had relationships with other freelancers that may have turned sour, take this as a warning.

– Always put it in writing

Nothing is bullet proof and even when taking precautions, things can go horribly wrong. Whatever arrangement you come to with a client, always put everything in writing. In the unlikely event of a dispute, you can always refer to the terms and conditions that were agreed upon at the outset.

An agreement in writing is beneficial to everyone concerned. If a client doesn’t want to play ball, walk away. You’ll be happy in the long run for not selling yourself short or ending up in a tangled mess.

– If the worst does happen, it’s not all doom and gloom

The satisfaction we gain from being able to earn money for doing what we love and seeing happy clients far outweighs the negatives of dealing with the occasional bad apple.

Plus there is a lot to be learnt from such apples.

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Aaron has over 5 years experience as a professional copywriter. He is extensively educated in the intricacies of English grammar (both UK and US) and can write for any English speaking market. He has written copy for a broad range of companies on varying subject matters; from creative to corporate.

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  • Anonymous

    A great reminder Aaron that “only fools rush in”. Very often freelancers can end up working for next to nothing or even losing money by snatching at a perceived deal,

  • Hi Aaron,

    You’ve got some good advice in here. As sensible as it all seems, it’s very easy to get caught up in a new project or enchanted by a new client and abandon the things we inherently know could be problematic down the road.

    A “brief” brief sets warning signals off for me every time. Why?? Because it almost always ends badly.

    Great job.

  • Hi Aaron, I work with salespeople and this advice could easily be for them. Too often, we can be guilty of putting our eggs in one basket so to speak as the risk of ignoring our bread and butter sales and customers. Great post! thanks for sharing.

  • Anonymous

    Ha! I can relate to this. This video is about graphic design, but I think you’ll be able to relate to it.

  • Aaron

    This is a fantastic list of what to avoid. I especially love the /brief/ brief point and urgent rules. If they expect you to whip out your crystal ball and make decisions alone, it’s a bad sign.

    Often urgent ceases to exist when it comes to paying the invoice, and is flexible depending on how many alterations clients demand.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Hi Aaron. I like your thinking. New consultants, or indeed many who should know better, in any field can rush into things head-on without thinking. The one that is probably the biggest challenge is convincing that “client who knows best”. If you can’t convince them then, if you can, you should walk away and work with people who appreciate your talents. What on earth is the point in engaging someone who can help you and then think you know best! And yet this happens every day – grrr!

  • Hi Aaron – I wonder if its a case of power and who has it… this case the company. I remember my first freelnace job – I was over eager and unsure how to set boundaries. What happened? I started the work and a week later I got a letter saying ‘…..we’ve decided to pursue other options….’. I had to hold a piece of vital info to ransom to get my bit of money. (Just in case anyone wonders, I didn’t actually plan on keeping the said item, just agreed a swap). It certainly shakes you up and makes you realise that documentation is important, as is setting a procedure.
    O’ and ofcourse, your comments on rude behaviour. You don’t take in working IN a company, you shouldn’t accept in working FOR them.
    Nice blog – great read. I nodded in agreement throughout ; 0 )

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