Client Language Warning Flags

Sometimes the blog posts practically write themselves.

Like when I get calls and emails from people looking for writers, for content, for freebies, for … fill in the blank. In most cases, anyone can see quickly how you’re about to be used (not hired — used), how this kind of “offer” for “exposure” will not benefit the writer at all, or how that phone conversation is going to go.

For some reason, this week has been one of those weeks for me. I get plenty of requests for backlinks and offers from places willing to “showcase” my work (meaning they’re trying to build a web presence without paying for it). I get calls from potential clients and the words they use reveal a lot more than they think.

Since a lot of you reading are new to freelance writing or are finding it tough to improve the career, I thought it would be a good time to go over a few warning signs that you should probably be heeding. Here’s how you know your instincts are correct:

They lead with price.

It was a call. The person introduced herself and mentioned her company (and thank you for calling and leaving a garbled message I can barely hear, so no, I can’t even look up your company). The very next thing mentioned was “I’m calling to get your pricing and see if you’re able to help …”

Pricing. Whenever a client leads with the price, the client is focused on the wrong thing — the price. I knew what to expect when I called and I nearly didn’t. But to prove my point before I wrote this post, I did just that. Sure enough, the conversation was all about the company and the price. Here’s what we do. How much do you charge for X? What about Y? And if we gave you both X and Y, would we get a discount? Oh, and what about your background?

Everyone has a budget, but when the budget is the primary focus, you, freelance writer, are never going to be able to negotiate a fair rate. When a potential client is asking for a discount without even contracting your services, you’re being taken advantage of. No one gets a discount without proving that:

  1. They’re able to pay your invoices on time
  2. They’re actually going to deliver on the workload they promise
  3. They’re worth your time and energy as clients

When they lead with price, every one of those items is called into question, and I would argue that point #3 is already proven to be false.

They don’t know your name.

So I received this note from not one, but three different people, two of whom actually followed up when — gasp! — I didn’t respond:

Hi there,

I just read Results from JXXX CXXX’s $5000+ Graphic Design Group Writing Project } Group Writing Projects, I’ve shown it to some colleagues and we think a collaboration between us could work well….

My name is not “there.” Is yours? Then don’t answer emails from people who don’t bother to look up your name. They’re spammers. Though I will say the temptation to write back and say

“Hi ‘Android’ — I think since you have no idea who I am, a collaboration would be just short of a nightmare. Since I’ve given up nightmares as part of my 6-step Idiot Removal Process, I’m more than happy to let you do your own work.

Ever so sincerely,


When they play Jekyll/Hyde on you.

Here’s the rest of the note.


I represent a digital marketing agency currently working with a leading technology company who operate in the same marketplace as Android. We would like to feature a unique piece of content on your site on behalf of our client. For the privilege, we’d be happy to pay you somewhere in the region of $65.

Let me know your thoughts. 

Best wishes,


So he wants to collaborate, but wait! No. He really wants to litter my blog with garbage in the form of heavily linked and possibly mashed-up content. For $65, he’s willing to let me compromise my values, insult my readers, and ignore my guest blog guidelines like he just did.

My thoughts? Oh honey, you really don’t want to know my thoughts. Really. Don’t. Want. To. Know.

They don’t communicate even with each other.

Hi there,

I came across Group Writing Projects while looking for resources for our next blog and I knew I had to reach out immediately, kudos on a fantastic blog. My name is Violet, and I’m reaching out on behalf of a leading financial advise company.

We are in the process of securing sponsored placements for our client and we are wondering if you are interested in featuring such a post on your site. For the privilege of being featured on your site, we would be happy to offer a fee in the region of $30.

Let me know your thoughts.

Kind regards,

Hey, Violet — talk to Peter. He’s offering me $65. You’d better step up your game. Moreover, your friend Nicola had sent her note before yours offering $50. You’re falling behind the other spammers!

Their requirements are extensive.

I nearly substituted “requirements” with “demands” because that’s what they become. The more hoops put in front of you, the more you’re expected to perform. And it’s a proven phenomenon that the more you’re required to do is in direct relation to how little you’ll be paid for the job.

They’re telling you what they’re paying.

You may be scratching your head right now. Why is it bad that they tell me how much the job pays? Because you’re no longer an employee. You’re a business owner. Would you tell your plumber how much you’re paying her to fix your leaky pipe? Would you tell your mechanic how much you’re going to pay for that oil change? Then why are you letting someone else set your professional rates? Negotiate, yes. Accept verbatim, no way.

Writers, what warning signs do you notice first? Was there a particular incident that caused you to be hyper-vigilant in that regard?

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  • Paula Hendrickson October 27, 2017 at 1:25 pm

    Oh, Lori, I wish you would have responded to them in the ways you wanted to. Maybe they’d learn a lesson. But they’d probably just assume they have a live lead and pester you more.

    • lwidmer October 31, 2017 at 9:32 am

      Oh, I don’t think anything I’d say to them would sink in, Paula. I suspect there’s a roomful of these people sending out the same messages. I remember one guy I knew who’d worked as a telemarketer. He was told that when a person hangs up on him or tells him to stop calling, he was to increase the call frequency. That was in 1999. Hopefully, that practice is no longer allowed.