Heeding Writing Client Warning Shots

What’s on the iPod: Blue Skies Again by The David Mayfield Parade

Last week was a nice transition from a light workload to a faster pace. I ended the week with another project and a few potential ones from the same client. Plus I saw my surgeon Friday morning and got the good news: I’ve recovered and I’m no longer under doctor’s care. I could have told him that weeks ago, but he had to make it official. 🙂

I was approached yet again by people wanting to guest post. I love having someone else’s perspective, but my guidelines state at the outset that I won’t publish posts coming from companies. Also, the guidelines say the posts must be relevant. Correct me if I’m wrong, but how to pay back your student loans or how to save money on car repairs doesn’t seem to be related to writing. Well, unless you’re getting paid to write about those topics.

It’s gotten to a point with me (and with other bloggers) that I can tell from the first sentence, or even the salutation, if the email is a waste of time to read. If it starts out “Hi” with no name, forget it. Same goes for emails that say “I read your blog regularly and I would like to blog about how to place bets/make footballs/wash windows/create macrame art/etc…..” It’s easy to become a skeptic when you see that kind of email often enough.

So what about when it’s a client using the same tired lines?

If you’ve been at it longer than a year, you’ve probably come across one or more of the stock lines of bull that low-paying or problem clients use. It’s as though they’ve read from the same BS manual. Here are some of the more common lines:

I haven’t budgeted for that much, but I can promise future work. Why this sucks: if the client can’t pay your rate now, promising more of the same mediocrity isn’t going to make you any richer. Why sign on for crappy wages at the outset?

It’s an opportunity for you to increase your portfolio. Translation: you’re not getting paid. And if they say “In exchange, you get much-needed exposure”, you’re not getting paid. Why this sucks: your skills are worth money. If they want free, they’d better learn how to write.

! If there are any exclamation points in the note and they’re not telling you your house is on fire, be very skeptical. Exclamation points are often someone’s way of forcing excitement over a lousy offer. Why this sucks: besides being an inappropriate use of punctuation, it masks the fact that you’re about to be screwed over.

The last writer didn’t work out. In one case, I was writer number four. Yet they didn’t quite see the crux of the problem, which was their unrealistic expectations and lack of clarity. Why this sucks: we writers can’t make up their minds for them, nor are the majority of us clairvoyant. These are clients who are either impossible to deal with or who aren’t quite clued in to their own goals.

According to this book/guru/webinar/seminar/course… You’re about to be pre-empted by an invisible person or event that has cemented in this client’s mind the only way to do things. Why this sucks: you’ll be fighting an uphill battle to introduce new ideas to this client, who has become a disciple of someone else.

My brother/cousin/squash buddy/dentist found plenty of errors in the last writer’s copy. Oh, hell no. This client runs everything by unknown people for their input and approval. No matter how much he pays you, your word is going to matter least, and he’s going to fight you on payment the minute his nephew, who has an A in high-school English, says his teacher doesn’t let him use that kind of grammar. Why this sucks: you can’t please people who don’t know what you and your client have discussed,

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  • Devon Ellington August 26, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    Yup, if any or more than one of those flags start waving, get the heck out! Not worth it, on any level.

  • Jake Poinier August 26, 2013 at 5:13 pm

    I'd love to get my hands on the guy who wrote that BS Manual, ha.

    One time, I had a web content client whose payment was late. When I contacted her, she said it was because "a friend" had found lots of errors. (She wouldn't tell me anything specific, just that there were mistakes.) After doing some Sherlock Holmesing, I figured out that the web designer had mucked things up when importing the copy. The client ended up paying, if grudgingly; I would not work for her again, at any price, if asked.

  • Paula August 26, 2013 at 8:40 pm

    The strangest thing I ever encountered was early on in my career: A businessman who created such a convoluted formula for calculating payments that you had no idea if you were working on something that might pay $100 or $3,000. I did one thing for him, and by his very own formula it should have paid $3,000 but he quibbled about one little thing and came up with a far smaller amount. We settled at $1,000 and I never worked for him again. Thank goodness.

  • Lori August 27, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    Got that right, Devon.

    Jake, wow. She sounds like fun, eh? Too many of these people out there — if they find an errant comma, you're suddenly a lousy writer and not getting paid. That she was refusing because of something the designer introduced is even more ridiculous.

    Paula, I've had one of those, too! He told me he "rounded down" payment and would pay for what he published only. So if I sent him 5K words and he used 500, guess who just wasted time?

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