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Realities of freelance writing- Managing your clients

Updated on May 27, 2012

There is nothing more dangerous to freelance writers than lousy client relationships. So many writers don’t seem to realize that they’re dealing with a different species with different needs and priorities. These are relationship issues, and there are two sides to them.

(Hub Pages readers please note- This Hub expands on some points made in my other Hubs on commercial writing. I thought it was necessary to spell things out as a separate Hub for clarity.)

Managing your relationships- Good relationships

Client relationships are critical, not only for business reasons, but also for your mental and professional health. The idea that writers can afford to be temperamental, vague or any of the other cartoon character study- type is ridiculous enough. The fact is that how you manage your relationships is also a good indicator of your working abilities.

If you’re vague and wafting about what you’re doing, do you know what you’re doing? Do you expect anyone else to believe you know what you’re doing? If you can’t be bothered to listen to a paying client, can you see a few possible problems with that situation?

The basics of client relationships

· The gentle art of shutting up- This invaluable skill allows you to obtain information, as well as letting your clients get a word in edgewise. Listen, read, and understand before you open your mouth or type a single word.

· Don’t assume superior knowledge- You may be an expert, but you can’t know what’s going on at the receiving end. Your client may or may not be able to explain the issues at their end. If someone wants a rewrite into a different tone or style, there will be a reason, probably a good reason, however badly expressed.

· Understanding business objectives- Freelancing is a business. There’s no real excuse for not at least appreciating the basic fact that your clients have their own business needs. Your first mission for any job is to find out what those objectives are. Some clients will tell you, some may appear to want you to guess, but find out. This will drastically improve communications with the client and make your writing a lot easier.

· Middlemen- Some clients buy articles and on-sell them to their clients. This adds various degrees of difficulty to the writing. Try to pin down a clear picture of what’s required by the end client from the middleman. The same communications apply about business objectives, but remember you’re getting this information second hand. Ask questions so the middleman knows what questions to ask their client. It’s quicker and simpler and reduces the rewrite risks.

· Productivity as a relationship asset- A lot of writers don’t recognize good clients when they see them. There are a lot of online organizations and individuals who literally can’t get enough material. If you can achieve the right level of turnover for them, you’ll get more work than you would ever have dreamed possible. If you’re one of those writers who lingers over every word, get over it. This is business. Productivity matters. If necessary, learn how to be expressive at machine gun speed, but do it.

Managing your relationships- Risky relationships

The other side of the relationships equation is tricky. Some writers innocently stick with clients who are actually costing them money. These are mostly drudge jobs, paying peanuts and generating work which is of absolutely no value to your portfolio.

These are the characteristics of relationships which need to be valued quite ruthlessly:

· Dollar value- Does the job pay well enough to justify the time spent on it?

· Nitpicking- Do you get a lot of flak from the client on a regular basis and have to do continual rewrites of material which was perfect? Start looking for saner clients, for the sake of your own sanity.

· Edgy clients- These people aren’t actually bipolar, it’s the relationship which is bipolar. For some reason, the client is acting allergic. That’s a situation you can do without. The stress factor here is a real cost to your health.

· Megalomaniac clients- The realization that you’ve got a megalomaniac client is a truly sick feeling. These guys tend to be highly qualified idiots. They’re good at their own jobs, which means they think they’re good at your job and will interfere constantly and very unproductively. Take or leave, but make sure you get paid before you leave.

· The “proof reader” clients- These are bureaucrats, generally middle managers. They justify their existence by spending days looking for problems or issues to tell you about. They’re not worth it, as a rule.

· Payment issues- This nasty little problem usually comes about with the less desirable clients. Payments are slow, but your bills aren’t. Ditch the client if you’re not getting good basic business services.

· Choppers and changers- These people reshuffle everything and always want rewrites. The trouble is that they don’t know when to stop. They won’t settle for a basic working model. They’ll restructure an entire project, costing themselves money and using up a lot of your time, which you’ll notice is usually undervalued.

The bottom line with client relationships, not entirely surprisingly, also happens to be your bottom line. A good relationship can be a lot of fun and is priceless. A bad relationship will cost you money, time and stress. Be realistic about your options, but recognize risks and rewards.


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    • Dee aka Nonna profile image

      Dee aka Nonna 5 years ago

      This is a very valuable list of advice that can be used in more than a freelance writing career. Very well done. Voted up and useful.