Writing clients are like most relationships; sometimes they simply don’t work out. You’ll be better off if you’re prepared to fire the occasional client. Not often, mind you, but there’s no good reason for hanging on when a project goes badly arwry. There can be any number of reasons why you might have to let a client go. The most likely are:
You were too eager for your next client and ignored the red flags
Often, not always, the potential client will ask for things that you know you’re not qualified to write or want you to write x number of paid samples for free, or insisting you be on call all day every day… This list can go on and on. I will do an article just about these red flags. It can be boiled down to if anything makes you wonder if you’re being treated fairly or sets off some sort of internal warning, your probably better off saying no.
Sometimes you may get a sense they don’t have the money to pay you or they will become unwilling to pay you. I almost always ask them what their budget is for the writing project we’re considering, and if they don’t answer I give them a ballpark figure as soon as I can. I’d rather find out sooner they can’t afford me than later. And I think all my contracts have a clause that says what will happen if I’m not paid on schedule — I stop writing; and I do. Pretty simple actually.
You didn’t really understand what the client wanted, and/or the client had a whole different expectation
One way to be sure you are getting what the client wants is to sum up your understanding in a short email. It’s a good idea to tell the potential client you’re sending this and ask them to be sure you’re on the right track. This can be before you come to an agreement or within the agreement itself.
Of course, in spite of your best efforts to understand and get agreement you understand what the client is saying, it may turn out they have a whole different idea than you thought. Maybe you misunderstood, or maybe they changed their mind. It doesn’t matter. If you run into this one your initial agreement needs to be rewritten if you can come to terms. If not, move on.
You didn’t help or insist a confused client get clear on what they needed and wanted
It’s surprising how many clients are confused. They don’t understand how writers work. They have no clue how to provide the information you’ll need. They don’t know they will need to do some editing and communicating with you. And, often the biggest, they have no idea how the piece they want written will be used. If the latter is the case you’ll have real trouble satisfying them.
You are the expert when it comes to writing. That’s why the client wants to hire you. This means it’s often up to you to help get the client sorted out. You may find yourself explaining what a blog post might be like, or why you need to know what the writing you’re asked to do will be used for. Chances are the client is expecting or hoping for a specific result, often something like increased sales. If the client doesn’t offer this information, by all means ask for it. If you get push back you’re probably dealing with someone who hasn’t thought through the project. I’ve been known to just tell them until they know what they want I can’t help, at least not without an consulting fee. Once in a while I’ll get one. The clearer you can help your client become the more likely the project will be a success.
And yes, there are a few clients or potential clients out there who need or require way too much support for the amount of money you’ll earn working with them. If they can, and are willing to pay more, it may be worth it. You can only find out by asking. Otherwise it’s probably best to let them go.
The person who hired you was replaced
When you’re working for an organization big enough to have at least one employee who works with freelancers like you, keep in mind all sorts of things can happen that have nothing to do with you.
A perfect example is when you call say Barbara, the gal you’ve been working with there successfully for months or even years and you’re told John has taken her place, you may be in trouble. New hires often prefer to bring their own freelancers on board. They may have a totally different perspective on freelancers and how to work with them. While it’s certainly possible to establish a good working relationship with the new guy, if you sense trouble you might want to move on sooner than later.
Another real possibility is you’ll be told there’s no longer any budget for you. The best you can do here is ask for a reference. Or you may discover that they’ve outsourced the whole department you were writing for, or that the company has filed for bankruptcy or… well, you get the idea.
Sure it would have been nice if they’d notified you, but often they don’t. It’s the nature of our careers that surprises often happen.
The goal or expectation I set for myself is pretty simple. When I’m contacted by a potential new client I want to leave them in better shape than they were when they called. By that I mean I’m happy to give them some pointers or ideas even if I’m not their writer. And if they hire me and down the road we part ways, I have the same goal in mind. When I’m able to do that, and I can most of the time, I feel better. That’s why I do it. I want to feel I’ve done what I can reasonable expect to do. That’s my bottom line and it has a nice impact on my financial bottom line as well.
Write well and often,