Waving Goodbye

As I pull in a rather lucrative ongoing client project, I wave goodbye to one I’m glad to see going. (I have amended some of the facts so as not to embarrass those who are guilty, though I don’t know why.) I took it with the promise from the client that related projects would pay much more than the main project. When the client began fussing a few weeks back about the already agreed-upon price of one of those related projects, I knew it was time to cut ties. I will not work for folks who change the rules as we’re playing. No thank you.

The main project (Project A) was small. It required research and for what I was being paid (a shamefully low amount), it wasn’t worth it. The only saving grace was the related project work (Project B), which I priced fairly and within standard market guidelines.

Here’s where things got ugly, however. Three or four Project Bs in, the client, who didn’t understand the intrinsic differences between projects, said he couldn’t understand why Project B cost more than Project A, actually devaluing in very abrasive terms the time and multiple edits I had to put into each Project B. In the same breath, he said we’d have to correct the difference in price. No discussion with me. Just “Change the pricing.”

Ignoring the contracted terms, in my opinion, is the instant death knell and the biggest no-no on the planet for any project. It made his next move – trying to disguise an obvious Project B as a Project A – almost expected. And I nearly laughed after seeing his posting for my replacement while I was still working on his latest project. Yes, work ended instantly. I don’t work for people who pretend to be big-time players while arguing every penny they pay me, nor will I work for people who behave in an underhanded fashion or ignore contract terms because they decide they don’t like them after all. If you don’t want to pay my rates, say so and move on. Don’t waste my time. You don’t pay me enough to even want to pretend to play these games.

I bring this up publicly because I think there’s a lesson to learn here. Taking on clients who don’t value your worth is taking on a constant struggle. You will always have to defend your prices. You will always have to assert contract terms. You will never get what you’re worth from someone who doesn’t value your services from the outset. Bad client behavior aside, this client didn’t want to pay what good writing is worth. He lost my writing (and he praised the Project A writing I did for him) and he’s now looking for someone who will give him the moon for the price of a stick of gum.

Clients – if you want talent, don’t be afraid to put money into that talent. This client will now search for someone who can write to his specialized niche audience, which will require an industry knowledge that some have, but that very few will be willing to utilize for such crap wages. I did it on the promise of other projects. The minute those project fees were called into question, I realized there was nothing more in it for me. The business relationship must benefit each person in that relationship. If your writer charged you $10,000 for a blog post, you’d feel cheated. Turn that around – if you pay $10 for a 10,000-word blog post, your writer would feel cheated. Act fairly and receive fairness in return.

Writers – just don’t take the job if the client won’t pay you what you’re worth. Even if they dangle the carrot, know that they’re going to rethink it later, for they’re too cheap now to pay you fair wages – why should any other project warrant better treatment?

What job have you waved goodbye to lately?

About the author




  • Devon Ellington September 29, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    Lately? Not much. Earlier in the year, a publication that paid under my normal rate expected a ridiculous number of rewriters, and I could only mention (and was expected to mention) their affiliates in each article, which, to me, was unethical.

    buh bye.

  • Lori September 29, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    That's advertisement disguised as an article, Devon. I agree with you – it's unethical because you're passing off content to your readers as factual when there's a clear bias. No thank you. I had one such magazine gig. The new editor was being pressured to use only advertisers as sources. He pushed back. Eventually, he and all his writers (I was one) walked away. I was proud to know that man, for he stood up for journalistic integrity and took it to heart. Amen. A breath of fresh air in this business.

  • Wendy September 29, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    I, too, have taken on work that paid a smidge less than what I would normally charge because of the promise of specific ongoing projects.

    Then after starting the work, the client decides to change tactics, which they felt would be a better deal for me. I knew better.

    They were surprised at my response. Instead of jumping on board with their plans, I bailed ship.

  • Eileen September 29, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    If I have a prospective client ask for a discount on the first one with the promise of more work down the road, I handle it in one of two ways.

    1) Most often, I tell the prospective client that I reward my steady, long term clients with discounts and if they have multiple projects they want to contract with me, we'll write a discount in on the back end. (That's usually enough to send them packing.)

    2) If I decided to take on a new client's first project for a lower fee, I do so freely and without reservation. That is, I'm doing it because I like the project, think the client would be enjoyable to work with, and have some extra time to fill on my schedule. I make it clear the lower price is an exception, and if it doesn't turn out that the client can pay my normal rate in future, I've had a good time with the first project, and move on, no hard feelings. These types of projects are rare, but they have their place. I'm working on one right now where I slashed my fee because the guy is a startup with a product that is near and dear to my heart, he's enjoyable to work with, and even if there's no long term relationship, I've gotten lots of warm fuzzies from working on this project.

  • Paula September 29, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    I'm still trying to process that your ex-client simply ignored a signed contract!

    Would it have helped (on the final project, anyway) just to say you'd have to refer him to your attorney if he wanted to break the contract?

  • Katharine Swan September 29, 2009 at 10:50 pm

    Devon and Lori, that's funny that you bring up the advertorial thing, because I was just thinking the other day about a gig I took a few years ago, when I was a bit less experienced. The magazine wanted me to interview a few of their advertisers as part of the article, and I quite happily added several otheer sources to that. The article was accepted, but when it finally ran they'd literally chopped it in half, cutting out all of my added sources.

    The article paid quite well and I had no inkling this was going to happen, so at the time I didn't think anything of it. But it occurred to me that if this happened now that I know better, I'd be pretty peeved about the ethical issues.

    I'm considering saying goodbye to a client right now, not because of payment, but because of other issues. I was late on a couple of not-very-clearly-stated deadlines, and now my client is pretty much harassing me every time a deadline approaches. It's annoying because the lateness, while partly my fault, wasn't entirely, since my client wasn't really that communicative about the deadlines in the first place!