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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Image: AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by DBduo Photography

white_towelsOver the weekend we had company. At one point, one of the guests asked “Is it okay to use the guest towel in the powder room?”

I smiled and said yes, but I was confused. She was a guest, it was a towel for guests, and it was the only option.

Alas, we’ve been there, haven’t we? We were trained from childhood to keep nice things nice. Thanks, Mom.

Isn’t it true you do the same thing? You’re in someone’s powder room and there’s that towel, fresh, clean, and too lovely to use. You hesitate, don’t you? And if you’re in a full bathroom, a show of hands — how many of you dry your hands on a bath towel instead of messing up the guest towel?

As I sat down to write this post, I couldn’t help thinking about that exchange. In a number of ways, we treat our careers a lot like we treat other people’s guest towels. Here’s how:




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client confusionIf you’re new at the freelance writing game it may surprise you when you find the first client who doesn’t seem to quite know what they want.

Their confusion can show up in a variety of ways, including:

Vague  instructions – this one you can often help with, and that’s by asking just exactly as many questions as you need to. If you find that their answers are confusing you’ve probably run into a client who really doesn’t know what they want. You can try asking some clarifying questions like:

What result do you want from this writing?

How will you measure the result?

Who do you think this piece should be aimed at?

If you could choose only one reader for this who would it be?

You can’t get clear instructions no matter how hard you try – this is a big red flag. If the client doesn’t know what they want, you’ll probably never figure it out. Don’t waste too much time with these folks – you’ll probably never satisfy them anyway. If, after a couple of conversations and emails, you still don’t know what they want it may be time to tell them something like, “I’m sorry. I’m just not getting it. Perhaps you should try another writer or, if you’re not quite clear, get in touch with me when you are.”

The only other option is to bill them by the hour and include the time you spend talking with them and emailing them.

Umteen change requests – This one can sneak up on you. You’re sure you understand what the client wants, yet you get request for change after change after change – the chances are it’s the client who is confused, not you.

free content for writersYou can avoid this trap by specifying you’ll do two or three revisions only for the quoted price – any changes made beyond to be billed at your hourly rate.

Missing appointments – if a client starts missing appointments with you often, or fails to respond to your emails, it may be because they’ve changed their mind about what they really want your to write, or they didn’t know in the first place. Give them a call and if you reach them you may be able to figure out what to do. Don’t be afraid to bill them for the time you’ve spent if the communications don’t clear up.

Most people who hire writers really don’t understand how a writer works. They may think they’re being clear when they’re not. They may have worked with someone in the past who was able to guess what they wanted so they unknowingly expect the same to you. A client may think a change request “will only take you a minute,” not recognizing the time and energy spent in stopping what you’re doing and re-entering their project once again.

It’s up to you to protect yourself, to set the boundaries and to be willing to do some educating. Sometimes a simple explanation is enough to help the client see the error of their perception.

Just because they are offering to pay you doesn’t mean you should allow yourself to be walked on – there is always another client if this confused soul can’t get it together. Be brave and move on. You’ll both be glad you did.

Have you run into clients who didn’t know what they wanted? How did you handle it? Tell us about it in comments.

Image: AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by mikecogh

it's okay to say noI’ve been working on a fundraising letter for my favorite non-profit. I’m part of the committee that helps raise money and usually the problem is just that – trying to get something written when I have to include or at least acknowledge the contributions of six or seven other people. It can be maddening at times, but it’s also a labor of love and I get plenty of praise and no real pressure.

It turns out that this particular letter will be sent via email and not printed.

Using an graphic from a previous letter, I picked a background color in Outlook 2007 and made sure the graphic matched the background color – it looks good. Except, the leader of this organization is on a Mac and I’m on a PC. She can’t see the background color on the letter, just on the graphic, which is a bit odd.

She suggested that a way around the problem of Mac/PC issues might be to put the letter in html.

That’s when I ran into into time eating trouble. I cannot find instructions I understand about how to use my own html in Outlook 2007. After posting on a couple of forums and doing umpteen Google searches, I created a copy in Word, adding the background color and saved it as a .pdf. I thought about using gmail, but they’ve changed their interface and I had already spent more than enough time on the deal. So I sent an email saying I didn’t now how to do it and that if someone else couldn’t handle that part, the the letter would have to go as a .pdf or in an email knowing those on Macs wouldn’t see the colors.

free content for writersAnd that’s the point, really. [click to continue…]