5 Ways Freelance Writers Can Train Their Clients

by LoriAnne

training clientsListen to seasoned freelance writers for very long and you’re sure to hear at least a couple of horror stories about how hard some clients can be to work with.

Many of the problems stem from the client’s lack of understanding about just what it is a freelance writer does. When you stop and think about it, however, it’s not surprising they don’t know. After all it took us awhile to figure it out too.

What many freelancers fail to realize is that they can actually train many of these clients to be better clients.

Here are five typical complaints and some suggestions about how you can train your client to behave differently:

  • Writing clients don’t know what they want. I’ve come to consider it part of my job to help clients figure out just what it is they want from me as a writer. I train my clients by asking questions like:
    • How will this piece be used?
    • What results do you want from this piece of writing?
    • Have you ever seen a piece of writing that is a good example of what you want? Will you send it to me?

This kind of probing and questions like these can help the client know what she wants and help you make sure they get it. Listen closely and keep asking until you’re both clear.

  •  My client wants to talk on the phone for hours! Although you can build telephone calls in your contracts, if you’ve got a gabby or insecure client you’ll probably have to train them to be brief on the phone. The first step may be making it clear you want to schedule the calls – then screen them so you don’t find yourself talking to a client that hasn’t made an appointment. Or, if you take calls from clients, and I do, tell them how much time you have available when the conversation begins. You’ll often hear me say something like, “Hi Jerry – good to hear from you and I’ve got to warn you I’ve only got about seven minutes before I have to leave.” Then I watch the clock and at seven minutes I politely end the call. Do this a few times and they’ll get the idea.

  • They always pay me late. This is a little tougher. Make sure your agreement spells out exactly when you expect to be paid. Name the date or use a phrase like payable on receipt. If a payment is late more than a day or two, call and ask what’s going on. If they are chronic late payers, a frank conversation may change things. If someone else, like an accounting department, is actually writing the check, talk to them and make sure they have all the necessary paperwork. A missing 1099 can delay payment forever and you may not know why until you talk to the payables department.
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  • They change their minds in the middle of a project. First, make sure your contracts or agreements clearly defines the nature of the writing to be done.  When the client suddenly wants you to head off in a new direction, gently but firmly remind them of the original agreement. Go back to their reasons for wanting you to write in the beginning. Often the need for a new direction will disappear at this point. If it turns out it doesn’t, draw up another agreement. Generally clients grudgingly appreciate this sort of clarity and will begin to respond appropriately. 

  • Clients always seem to want more than they originally contract for. Again, be sure the work you’re agreeing to write is clearly spelled out.  It helps if you add a clause that says something like additional work will be billed at $xx per hour. At the first sign of what’s often known as scope creep, remind the client that they will pay extra for that because it’s in addition to the way the work was originally defined. Stick with this. Sometimes you’ll get pushback – keep referring to the original agreement. Offer to rewrite the agreement, including the additional work at the additional fee.  Stick to your guns and soon the client will learn not to expect extra work for free.

Your lesson is that you are in charge of your own writing business. Clients aren’t always right, at least not for you,  and you get to determine which ones you want to train and keep and which ones you want to let go.

What’s your take on training clients? Have any good examples? Or do you have questions about making this work? Tell us in comments.

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