8 Habits of Bad Writing Clients

What I’m listening to: Whiskey in the Jar by Metallica

Wow. It’s mid-March already? I don’t know how you’re doing but my March has been filled with project deadlines and new-client talks. Just as the pile of work starts to dwindle, more work comes in.  While it was frenetic at first, now I’m seeing a good pace and spacing of work.

In a few conversations online, I was reading some pretty strange client stories. I had a few of my own recently, but I keep those offline. It’s just smart not to spout off about clients who have done you wrong.

But these stories of Clients Behaving Badly seem to have similar themes. The same complaints crop up (and I’ve had similar complaints myself) about those small numbers of clients who like to push the boundaries. It wastes your time and hampers your ability to earn money.

There’s a lesson in those similarities. I think there are enough warning flags in any writer-client relationship for us to know when the romance is gone and it’s time to move on. Here are a few ways you can tell if your writing client is no longer a good fit:

Scope creep. It happened once. You mentioned it to your client and said “Just this once” you’d do the extra work for no extra pay. However, it’s now happened three more times. If you’ve reminded your client twice that additional work equals additional compensation, there’s little reason to doubt you’re being taken advantage of.

A few too many revisions. Clients don’t always know how to express what they want. It happens. The experienced writer will know how to draw out the right information through what I call the “interview” phase of any project. But if you’ve done your due diligence and your client is now on revision three or four, there’s a good chance you’re just not meshing. Or it could be a case of a client changing his or her mind (see scope creep above for how to handle that) and wanting something completely different. If you’re doing a good job interpreting and the revisions are still too numerous (even with twelve people signing off on it), it could be you two aren’t meant to be.

Paying after much prodding. It’s not rewarding to work for someone who waits months to deal with your invoice. So why do it? If your clients don’t pay with the same attention to time as they have with when they want those projects, it could be they’re not respecting you as a professional.

Dead silence. We’ve all been subjected to dead air when we inquire about the status of projects, revisions, payments, additional info…. you can’t be expected to deliver a great draft within the deadline if you have no cooperation from your client. Likewise, if your client isn’t getting back to you and you’ve tried more than one method of reaching them, it’s time for a frank talk. It could be they’re busy, but multiple emails and calls signal a problem. Either they’re unhappy and unwilling to say so, or they’re dodging payment.

Putting you on the back burner indefinitely (and without a word). Like I said, people do get very busy and project priorities do change. But since their schedules affect your time and availability, clients need to communicate what’s going on. Best way to solve this is to start with your own habit of sending updates every week. Ask for the same. “How are things on your side? Anything that may delay or change the deadline?”

Disorganization. I’ve had this particular habit kill a relationship or two. If your client schedules calls he never shows up for (and never acknowledges), if he can’t get you the necessary information to you so that you can start (or finish) the project, if he’s not cleared the project with his superiors, you’re about to waste a lot of time chasing someone who doesn’t know where he is.

No clear direction. That client who spends an hour trying to explain her business (and who fails to make it clear) may not really know what she wants. The same goes for clients who want broad overviews that would fill books, but she wants just a page and a half. Or the client who can’t describe, after being questioned, what point she wants to make. Also, beware the client who says “People either get us or they don’t.” That means they’re doing a lousy job explaining or (and here’s where it’s dangerous for you) they don’t know themselves who they are and what they do. And yes, that happens. It happened to me.

Promises never kept. “Sorry for the delay — I’ll have that information to you by Monday” said that client three months ago. And still you wait. And with each email or call, the same promise is repeated. You can push back: “I understand how busy you must be. Still, I can’t progress without the info, which will put your project behind even more. Could you make time for a five-minute call this Friday afternoon so we can get the details sorted?” If that doesn’t work, look for a different client while that one sits in limbo.

Writers, what other examples of clients behaving badly have you seen?
What did you do when a client’s bad habits got in the way?

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  • Sharon Hurley Hall March 15, 2016 at 12:07 pm

    So true, Lori. I'm dealing with a "back burner" client now. 🙂

  • Lori Widmer March 15, 2016 at 12:49 pm

    Isn't it frustrating? I've been waiting since December for edits (and payment). Hopefully the payment will arrive this week since I asked for it. But the edits are still in limbo.

  • Paula Hendrickson March 16, 2016 at 5:17 pm

    Ha! I recently had a new-to-me client managed to do more than half the things on your list! My "favorite" was when she asked for a revision, saying two sources weren't "experts" and another was a "spokesperson," not an expert.

    Um…she's also the person who referred me to the two non-expert experts, and had told me the spokesperson was a great source when I ran it by her before doing the interview.

    Not a word from her since sending the revision in (did I mention she also cut nearly a week off my deadline to get the changes in?). The piece hasn't run yet, but it's evergreen. And of course, they haven't yet paid. I'm waiting to see if she alerts me to when it will run, because I'm afraid if I push she'll scrap it entirely. After all, she insinuated I was being unprofessional after I said I would do my utmost but couldn't promise I could find new sources and do the revision once she changed the deadline from "next week" to "tomorrow." (Did I mention she sat on my copy more than two months before even requesting the revision?)

  • Lori Widmer March 18, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    More than half? Wow. Sounds like micro-management hell to me. Anyone who would call you unprofessional — right there, she'd be history in my book. No way I'd take that from someone whose actions clearly show her lack of understanding of the meaning.

    How did it turn out, Paula?