Freelance Writers: How to Identify and Bypass Difficult Clients & Find Ideal Ones

The following is a guest post by Laura Pennington.

There are plenty of guides and general marketing advice available online about how to identify the perfect client for your freelance writing business. Chances are, if you have been in the freelancing game for any amount of time, you have probably already begun to identify what your ideal client looks like.

The Value of an “Ideal Client Avatar”

Some people go the extra step of developing an ideal client avatar. I’ve done this myself. That being said, this client avatar may tell you more about who you would like to work with on an everyday basis.

However, I often find that the difference between someone who is a struggling and frustrated writer, and someone who is in love with their work and capable of doing it on a constant basis, is how good that person is at sizing up people who are not the right fit.

“Otherwise” Is Not an Option

Someone may otherwise fit your ideal client avatar, but they treat you poorly. All too often as freelancer writers, we are tempted to bring these kinds of people into our world – because again, otherwise, they’re the perfect client. Otherwise should not be an option.

Advice for Freelance Writers on How to Avoid Problem Clients and Find Ideal OnesBeing treated with respect is part and parcel of an ideal client profile. Your ability to identify “otherwise” clients sooner rather than later can make a significant impact on your bottom-line, not to mention your sanity.

Following are several things I’ve learned as a freelancer to sniff out these types of prospects that may help. As you read through them, keep the underlying message of this video in mind. It’s funny, but highlights a serious issue all freelancers face at one time or another.

How Does the Person Reach Out to You?

Chances are, an individual who is excited about working with you will approach you in a professional manner. Someone who sends their first email to you and asks how much of a discount you can give them, or approaches the subject of working with you or pricing in any negative way, is likely to set the relationship off on the wrong foot.

As a freelance writer, in some cases, you have to educate clients about the benefits of your services (especially those who are new to outsourcing work), but you shouldn’t be dragging them along and hoping they’ll eventually come around.

This is a recipe for disaster. If they start off like this, it’s likely to only go downhill from there.

  • If someone doesn’t treat you with respect from your first point of contact, you run the risk of setting a precedent and allowing them to act like this for the duration of your relationship with them. Don’t even open the door and invite that headache in.

How Respectful Is This Person of Your Time Based On Initial Contact?

Some people who are not quite familiar with what they want or who would like speak to you further to determine whether or not you are the right fit may suggest an email exchange or a phone call.

I frequently do a free 20 to 30-minute intake call to learn a little bit more about the client and whether we are a fit to work together. That being said, there are several red flags you should watch out for if this individual treats the initial email conversation or intake call in a particular manner. These include:

  • Him or her failing to show up to the meeting or changing the phone conversation appointment several times with very little advance notice to you.
  • The client seems willing to send 25 emails back and forth rather than hopping on quick phone call to figure things out.
  • The client is not respectful of your time when you are on a phone call and drags the conversation to an hour or longer without paying you for your time.

Most ideal clients will understand that your time is valuable and will not try to take advantage of this.

At a certain point you may need to suggest to this individual that they if they need more than this initial contact, then they should: (i) paying a consultant fee, or (ii) order a trial package/service/article.

Sometimes this gentle reminder is enough to let your potential client know that they may have overstepped their bounds. Someone who isn’t the right fit for you will react to this kind of calm reinforcement negatively. This is a major red flag and you should get out of the situation as soon as possible.

  • Be firm but fair in guarding your own time. Someone who understands your value should not expect to receive free work out of you past an initial conversation.

Consultation Tip: If you do offer an initial consultation, put a definitive time limit on it, eg, 15 minutes via phone. If it’s an email consultation, have a “new client proposal package” you can tweak to send along. Most new clients have the same questions, so having this in your marketing arsenal can be a great time saver.

Client Who Ask for Unreasonable Discounts

It’s not unheard of to give a 10%, 15% or 20% discount to someone who is ordering a bulk project (eg, writing an ebook, social media marketing and article package), but if the client begins asking for even bigger discounts and unreasonable turnaround times, this is a red flag.

Of course, it’s always tempting to take on a project where it seems like the pay day might be big, but these are usually signs that the client is going to have unfair expectations of you for the entire duration of your contract.

Signing yourself up for a major project with someone who doesn’t respect you or your time could actually turn out to be nightmare regardless of the money paid.

If you have ever had the opportunity to work on a job like this, then you know what I mean because no amount of money paid by the client makes up for the headache that he or she has caused you. Your best bet is to weed out these clients as soon as possible.

Having your own discount policy in place helps you stay firm. For example, perhaps you offer discounts based on order over $500. This is simple and tells the client before he or she asks that you do offer discounts based on this minimum order.

  • Watch out for unreasonable discount requests and never agree to a discount based on a “promise” of future work. That promise only becomes real when it’s in writing.

Discounting Advice: The following advice on offering discounts is from Jen Mattern who runs the highly popular freelance writing blog blog, All Indie Writers. She advises …

“… if you insist on offering bulk discounts never forget the minimum freelance writing rates you need to earn per project.

At a bare minimum, keep those discounts above that level to minimize your losses. Of course that only applies if you’re charging more than the minimum to begin with. No gig is worthwhile if it doesn’t help you reach your business or financial goals. In freelancing, it always comes back to hourly earnings.

Sage advice.

The Client Indicates That He or She Has Recently Fired or Worked with Numerous Other Writers

There are certainly situations where writers move on to other opportunities or where it’s no longer a working fit for a client and writer to work together. However, the hair on the back of my neck always stands up when somebody tells me that they have hired five other writers and terminated them all.

This is a bad sign, even if it wasn’t legitimately their fault for losing all of those writers. Only one time in ten will this turn out to be a relationship worth pursuing. Usually clients who have fired other writers have done so because the client has unreasonable expectations and no writer was willing to put up with their issues and problems.

Almost every time that I have had the opportunity to work on a project where even two other writers had been previously hired and fired, I ultimately found my way to the exit as quickly as possible too.

A client can conceal some of his or her worst qualities before working together, but the fact that they have had terminated relationships with other writers is a definite sign that you could be in for a terrible project. It might be easier to just turn down all projects where someone else has been hired and fired.

Take an inventory of your current clients. I firmly believe that the 80/20 rule applies with freelancing, and you’re likely to notice that the clients who pay the least also demand the most.

So, are you working with your ideal clients or is it time to clean house?

Next Post: Next time, I’ll be talking about some of the best online tools you can use to help you with your freelance writing business. These save time and ensure that you deliver top-notch work to all of your clients!

About the Author: Laura Pennington is a former inner city teacher and corporate employee who fled the grind in 2012 to work at home. Since then, she’s focused on SEO content for law firms and insurance agencies, writing everything from ebooks to blogs to video scripts. She now blogs at www.sixfigurewritingsecrets.com.

P.S.: Get in front of thousands of other freelance writers. Submit a guest post.

P.P.S.: I’m Ready to Put These Tips to Use and Start Earning $100-$250+/Day as a Freelance Writer.

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Thanks to your help and inspiration, I have more work than I know what to do with and have successfully landed a number of clients that give me recurring work. Thanks again for your advice!

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