Do You Attract Bad Freelance Clients? 3 Fixes

Freelance writer attracts clients who pay penniesNearly every freelance writer I’ve ever met has had a bad client.

You know the types:

  • The control freak who wants to instant-message you 24/7.
  • The dreamer who wants the moon, but doesn’t have time to tell you how to fly there and get it for them.
  • The dysfunctional nutjob who doesn’t really know *what* they want…until they see what you wrote. Then they know, that’s not it.
  • The fly-by-night who disappears with your final payment.
  • Last but certainly not least, the super-low payer.

Hopefully, terrible clients are a rarity for you.

But some freelancers find themselves with a steady stream of bad clients. It’s nothing but bad clients, one after the other.

If you’ve had your fill of bad freelance clients, there are three changes you may need to make. Fortunately, they’re fairly simple. Changing these up should help you start getting clients who pay you well and are a pleasure to work with.

 

1. Looking for gigs in all the wrong places

When you get a lot of loser clients, you are probably spending most of your time fishing for clients in the wrong pools. The shallow, overcrowded ones where rates are low, because 1,000 other writers are there with you.

What types of places do I mean? Examples include:

  • Elance (and other intermediary platforms)
  • Craigslist (and other free online job ads)
  • Small-town networking meetings (mostly solopreneurs with no marketing budget)

Instead, you’ll need to hang out in better neighborhoods. Ways to find better clients include:

  • Qualifying your own prospects and targeting them directly with your marketing
  • Niche/paid job boards
  • More sophisticated in-person marketing (better groups, Skype 1-on-1s, bigger towns)

Personally, I couldn’t seem to find a good client through local networking — until I put on my big-girl networking suit and went into downtown Seattle. All of a sudden, I was meeting editors of top magazines and marketing managers at Fortune 500 companies.

If you’ve got a lot of loser clients, make a list of where you found them. Then, don’t fish in those pools anymore. Realize that didn’t pan out for you.

Move up to the bigger, less easily accessible, less fished-out lakes where there are big lunkers nobody’s hooked yet.

2. It’s your smell

No, not the smell under your arms. I cannot smell your B.O. from here. I promise.

I’m talking about the vibe you’re giving off in your marketing.

Let me give you a few examples of messaging I’ve seen recently from freelance writers:

“I would be honored to write for your nonprofit.

“I would be willing to offer you a reduced rate if you’d agree to hire me.

“I don’t have any clips, but I’d appreciate it if you would give me a chance!”

“I would love to write for you.”

Did you catch a whiff of that smell? That’s right — it’s desperation.

It’s not just in marketing emails, either. It’s in your website copy and your LinkedIn profile. It’s in what you tell clients in first meetings, how you negotiate rates (or don’t even try to), and in what you say when you follow up.

It shows if you’re not self-confident, and you don’t come in with the attitude that freelance writing is a useful skill and you provide a valuable service. Clients can smell it. And it attracts the ones who pay pennies, just like that guy in the cartoon above is doing.

Crummy clients l-o-v-e to connect with insecure writers they can treat like doormats. So if you’re putting out that whole “I’m not sure I can do this” vibe, you are like spilled fruit punch. You’re unappetizing, and you’re only attracting hornets.

By the same token, good clients are looking for self-confident writers who communicate that they have useful expertise and are ready to jump in and do the gig.

If you project that you can deliver, it helps get those better clients interested.

What if you really don’t feel confident? Bulletin: You need to fake it until you do. Confident actions tend to build confidence. Try it out.

3. You’re in over your head

Sometimes, writers are nervous and insecure in their marketing because deep down, they realize they don’t actually know how to do the type of writing this prospect wants.

For instance, you’ve never written an e-book for a client before, and suddenly they want one.

Or they want you to write a white paper, when you barely know what that is.

Often, freelance writers jump in and start applying for anything and everything, hoping something will stick. This leads to a lot of awkward situations.

It’s hard to project confidence as you explain that you haven’t covered an event and filed same-day before. Or when you’re revealing how little you know about the sorts of retirement plans your client sells.

Instead, try looking for gigs that are a natural fit for you. For instance, I was once a legal secretary, and my dad sold insurance. Guess which industries I pitched?

If you see a niche you really want to get into but don’t know about yet, then it’s time to learn.

That’s my 3-step antidote to crummy clients. Look in better places, act like you know what you’re doing, and learn what you need to know.

Do you have bad clients? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

Tagged with: , , ,
41 comments on “Do You Attract Bad Freelance Clients? 3 Fixes
  1. Beth says:

    All very pertinent points, Carol. I would like to share another one for the list; selling yourself too low and short can also attract bad clients.
    Beth recently posted…5 Must Have Skills For Online Marketing FreelancersMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Indeed — I’ve seen writers post rate sheets with crazy-low rates. That’s one of the most obvious ways to attract bad clients.

  2. I love this thread, Carol. It’s very timely for me, since I’m in the midst of a big transition in my own mind (where it has to happen first, before it happens in the world) and it sounds like this, “I’m not a commodity, I’m a specialty.”

    I’ve been ghost blogging for years, and lately for lawyers. Content mills for lawyers are a big thing now, since lawyers have no time to blog. Or as it’s called in the profession, “blawg.”

    I’m still a commodity blogging for legal content mills, even though it’s a specialty and I have a law degree. Content mills are content mills. Period. I’m not hired because I’m ME, I’m hired to produce content, and treated accordingly.

    Treating myself as a specialty, a valuable resource and coveted “destination,” as they say in retail, is new for me. Your posts are so encouraging for those of us making this transition, Carol!

    • Carol Tice says:

      You hit it on the head, Mia — the secret is getting beyond the ‘commodity’ world to clients who want quality/authority content, rather than quantity content, and need specialized knowledge. At one point, I was doing quite a bit of that sort of blawg copy — I’m a former legal secretary.

      I hadn’t heard that phrase before, but it’s so perfect!

  3. Same holds true for those of us on the freelance copy editing end of things, Carol.

    I may be on the flip side of your [freelance writing] coin, but I’m no exception in the ‘bad client’ experiences. I’ve lumped those adventures together and labeled them my “learning curve.” 😉

    Along with wearing my copy editing hat, I love dipping my toes in the art of rhyme. After reading your post and ensuing comments, I crafted a few stanzas for you and your readers. Enjoy!

    “The Bad Client Blues”

    Bad clients are like a fever
    A pain that burns your buns
    They can drive you up a wall
    You want to scream and run

    They suck up all your energy
    They intend to ruin your days
    Trapped with a horrible client
    Is like a scary inescapable maze

    Nothing you offer will please them
    Jumping through hoops won’t work
    You behave like a true professional
    In turn, they treat you like a jerk

    If only you were a bona fide witch
    And held the powers to cast a spell
    That garners respect and proper pay
    And obliterates the clients from hell
    Melanie Kissell recently posted…The Mainstay of My Business is Not a Tool or Technique or Tactic or Even a ThingMy Profile

  4. Tara says:

    One of my favorite comments? “If you reduced your rates, we’d be more than willing to hire you.”

    • Carol Tice says:

      Yes, right up there with, “We have a lot of work and are looking to hire writers right away!” Which is code for: We can’t find anyone good willing to work for our crap rates.

  5. I agree. It’s best not to come across giving off the vibes of Oliver Twist- “Please, sir, I want some more.” I try to give the impression of “I’m so busy, and I may be the right fit for you. We can see.”

    • Carol Tice says:

      Yeah, I’m the queen of, “Let me look at my calendar and see if I can make room for this project.”

      (Even if I’ve got all the room in the world right now.)

  6. Mary Clark says:

    Great timing. I found what I thought would be a great client. He started to get weird and honestly, a bit rude when I mentioned a deposit. Did he think I would do work for free? I’m not sure. For a second, I wondered what I did wrong. Then I realized there’s no way I want a client who balks at a deposit! Red flag.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Oh, yeah.

      The deposit is a real litmus test. Companies that understand freelancing and have worked with freelancers don’t blink and just send that 50% right over. When they push back on that…I walk.

  7. Cherese Renee' Cobb says:

    Carol,
    I read your comment to Kathrine. I’d never thought about how using the word honor or love would make clients think they’re on pedestals. It makes sense that these clients become dreamers, nut-jobs, and super control freaks (I mean those phrases hand the clients control.)

    I guess writers need to think of clients as partners with equal footing. You’re offering a service, whether it be blogging, writing white papers or articles for magazines (which is also my ideal client). If you’re a regular contributor, you end up feeling like your clients business, website and copy are also yours.

    • Carol Tice says:

      You’ve got it, Renee! They want to feel you are busy, successful, highly competent — and someone they can offload a task to and feel confident it’s taken care of.

      And — never get confused and start thinking like you’re client’s business is yours. It isn’t. They’re going to sell it, and you’re not going to get a dime. Always remember that you need to stay focused on where YOUR bsiness is going.

      • Cherese Renee Cobb says:

        Carol,
        Thanks for the great insight. You’re totally right that businesses move on–they merge, sale and go under. I’ll try to remember to focus on my own business.

  8. Terri Cruce says:

    I love this post, Carol! I’m just launching my freelance writing business and know these are holes all to easy to fall into. Great advice!
    Terri Cruce recently posted…How To Find Your Way In a Sea of NoiseMy Profile

  9. Cherese Renee' Cobb says:

    Carol,
    I really needed this. Thanks for all your tips. I’m guilty of all three, especially #2. I always say that I’d be honored to write for you or that I’d love to write for you. (I’ll be nixing this phrase from my LOIs.) I use to “fish” around on Elance (and I’m still guilty of scrolling Craigslist), but I’ve stopped and have managed to land one “good” client, and I’m close to snagging another.

    • Carol Tice says:

      See my note to Katherine above about what “I’d be honored to write for you” means to clients.

      Great to hear about the good client, Cherese!

  10. kate says:

    It would be great to get an idea of the proper tone to take when pitching new clients. I think I have been guilty of sounding either too desperate or too overbearing.

    • Carol Tice says:

      It’s right up the middle between those two. “I’m happy to be here. I’m qualified to do this project. I can solve your problems.” That’s what you want to project.

  11. As a side on “smacking of desperation”: if you’ve ever been tempted to send a spam-style blitz to every e-mail you can find in the expectation that one out of 1,000 will bite and that will be enough, consider this cautionary tale: an interviewee on a business broadcast boasted that that approach had made him thousands of dollars. His second mistake was using his real name; someone entered HIS e-mail address AND snail mail address into every junk-e-mail-sender they could find, and at last report he was on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Never, EVER choose any marketing approach that is likely to make you enemies by its very nature!
    Katherine Swarts recently posted…Seven Deadly Sins of Self-AbuseMy Profile

  12. On point #2: could you elaborate on how such seemingly rapport-building phrases as “I would be honored to [or ‘would love to’] write for you” smack of desperation? And how DOES one convey the attitude “I believe strongly in your mission and would be enthusiastic to help promote it”?
    Katherine Swarts recently posted…Seven Deadly Sins of Self-AbuseMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Yes, it’s a fine line to walk, isn’t it?

      Unfortunately, you have to be careful how you express your enthusiasm for working with a client, or they get that ‘desperate’ smell, and it’s a quick ticket to rock-bottom rates.

      That’s just not how pros talk to prospects. It’s not an honor — it’s my job. It’s what I do.

      I might love to work with you, but I’m probably not saying that because I’m too busy asking my client questions and learning how I can solve their problems. And also, because clients don’t really care what I’d love to do — they care about their own problems, and how I can solve them.

      I tend to say things like, “I can totally handle that for you. I’ve done this topic/type of writing before, and I enjoy the challenge of this type of project.”

      Sound like you talk to prospects every day, and it’s routine. And like you have a busy schedule, but you’re interested, and think you can fit them in.

      “I would be honored to write for you” does not build rapport. It establishes that we are people on two different levels — your prospect is on a pedestal, and you would do anything just to be near them.

  13. Oh boy – I needed that laugh, Carol. I have just finished working for a Number Three, AKA
    “The dysfunctional nut job who doesn’t really know *what* they want…until they see what you wrote. Then they know, that’s not it.”

    Not only that – they think they can do it better. The client who drove me nuts by continually saying “To all intensive purposes” decided to give me a lesson on Copy Writing. Apparently, you have to “Make the customer work hard to find the solution.”
    Who knew? That’s where I’ve been going wrong all this time…me and my silly sales funnels…doh.

    It gets better. When I started to build his new website, he informed me that the telephone number on the old one had “been wrong for as long as he could remember” and then I discovered that the email address didn’t work. Guess what? He had just made one up in his head and put it onto his website. I swear – you couldn’t make this stuff up.

    At that point, I lost the will to live, finished the website asap and got the heck out of Dodge.
    Mary Collings recently posted…Writer’s Block – Advice From WritersMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      LOL, Mary — classic story!

      I think many new freelance writers don’t realize that just because you’re in business, it doesn’t necessarily mean you know what you’re doing. Business owners are also just so overwhelmed, with the 100 crisis-level things they’re doing.

      I *love* people who think site visitors will be willing to click 8 times to find the key info. NOT.

  14. I think every writer has had a terrible client at one stage or another and agree that this list covers the most likely and the reasons that you’re getting them.

    When you’re starting out, confidence is a big issue and I found that there’s plenty of clients who will, if you give them the opportunity, cynically exploit you if you suffer a lack of it. It’s important to stick to your guns and not allow them to push you down in price or you’ll end up stuck in a business that never makes more than the bare minimum.

    When it comes to rewrites, it’s essential that you include how many you’re willing to carrying out in the contract, in the first instance. As Daryl points out above, there’s nothing more frustrating than being stuck in an endless loop with a client who is so full of their own self-importance that they change the goal posts after each draft – it happens to all of us but only once if you’ve got any sense!
    Kerry Butters recently posted…Broadband Genie: ‘Plusnet The Best Broadband Provider For Third Consecutive Year’My Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Kerry, the entire content mill industry was built on the backs of writer insecurity. Some of the founders of these platforms made mega-millions because writers are too scared to go pitch their own clients.

      The low self-esteem of writers is a bonanza for startups — go to their conferences, and their gurus are happily advising them to find a writer on Fiverr who’ll do their blog or social media for a song.

      One of the big things freelance writers need to understand is that only you care about you earning a good living. Businesspeople are trying to make a profit, and they’re going to underpay you if you let them. It’s your job to draw healthy boundaries for your business, and find clients who appreciate the value you deliver.

      I’ve actually gone the other direction on revisions — my revision policy is, “I write until you’re ecstatic.”

      In fact, I never do more than two revisions, and more than one is rare. Because I listen hard to clients and ask tons of questions. I think if you know how to do this job, you don’t get stuck in that rewrite loop. And clients love hearing that you’re in it to win it, and you’re confident you can deliver what they want, and not concerned that they’ll need to ask for many revisions.

      You need to know what you’re doing to pull this off…but it’s been a great strategy for me. I know many others do the 2 revisions limit, which is fairly standard in copywriting contracts. If you’re having a problem with dysfunctional clients who want you to rewrite many times, it’s probably a good policy.

      • I agree completely with all of that Carol. I also rarely do more than one draft quite simply because I rarely get asked, but it’s important for newbies to understand that some *bad* clients will maximise on their insecurity and ask again and again, just because they can.

        I started my business which is now an agency, rather than just freelancing with myself involved as I thought that content mills would soon become obsolete once Google updates came into force to penalise poorly constructed content and it’s paid off.

        New writers are very unsecure creatures all round and I like being in a position now where I can pay a decent wage to a writer where very little opportunity exists in my area.
        Kerry Butters recently posted…Broadband Genie: ‘Plusnet The Best Broadband Provider For Third Consecutive Year’My Profile

        • Carol Tice says:

          Awesome success story, Kerry! I also saw the content-mill implosion coming from far off in the distance…I’m actually just surprised it’s taken this long.

  15. J. Hamilton says:

    Great tips. Thank you so much for the advice and how to start going about fixing it. I’m excited to continue to learn more.

  16. Daryl says:

    I think identifying clients who know what they want BEFORE you start the work is critical!

    Ironing out exactly what your client wants before you start seriously working will help save lots of time, both for your client but especially for YOU.

    No one wants to be stuck in the “endless re-write” loophole, so that clarity of what your client is searching for is definitely essential.
    Daryl recently posted…No Gigs, No Problem – How to Make Money From Your Freelance Blog Without Freelance Writing ClientsMy Profile

  17. Sure, Carol, I attract my fair share of bad prospects. But I now rarely make the mistake of letting them become clients.

    The problem I do have though is that I still waste too much time weeding out these duff prospects in the first place.

    Most of my enquiries come through my website and I do, at least, try to reply to them all.

    But all too frequently you just know they’re time-wasters.

    Often they give you little or no information to base your quote on. They’ll say something like ‘I need content for a 10-page website’ and that’s it. So you know you’re going to have just the same trouble when it comes to working for them – else pluck the copy out of thin air.

    Or they’re only interested in price and will try 10 or 15 websites to get the cheapest quote.

    Then there are the ones who suddenly lose interest the moment you mention a deposit.

    It’s very time consuming servicing duff inbound queries. So I’m curious what early filtering mechanisms other writers have.
    Kevin Carlton recently posted…Why reading books sucks if YOU want killer copywriting gigsMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      Kevin…I’d look at the copy on your site, in this situation. You might put up a ‘minimum rate’ type sheet that clarifies your bottom rates — I know people who’ve done that to send away these bottom feeders and stop wasting time on them.

      But you can also do it by creating a strong authority stance on your site, that you’re very experienced, write for top names…give off that vibe.

      • Hi Carol

        That’s pretty well the answer I was hoping for.

        It’s funny how most people think your contact page is easiest one to write. After all, all you need to do is include your address, telephone number, email address, social profiles, etc.

        But I find it the hardest page of all of them, as it’s the place where you manage expectations.

        And like you and Daryl, I ask loads of questions upfront. So I used to spell this out in a ‘How we work for you’ section on my Contact Us page.

        I got rid of it because I felt it made that page too bloaty. But I may now reinstate a streamlined version of it.
        Kevin Carlton recently posted…Revealed: The marketing tactics six successful copywriters use to build a better incomeMy Profile

        • Rachel says:

          I also think a good enquiry form can help your prospects clarify what they want, whether you’re who they need and is a good starting point to filter at your end. You might even want to consider asking them what the issue is they’re trying to solve – broad, open question that focuses their mind and gives you context.

  18. Heather says:

    Thanks for this Carol. I am just starting out and would probably have committed several of the above mistakes. Actually, I already have in my former career (as a non-profit consultant). Small town networking has definitely wasted a huge amount of my time over the years with people who can’t afford to pay me – but funnily enough, I was considering it for my new writing gig. Crazy!

    I’ve joined the Den, so hoping to learn what I need to know. Thanks for the advice (as ever!)
    Heather recently posted…Top 10 small business blogsMy Profile

    • Carol Tice says:

      I did it too, Heather. Then one day, someone at a networking meeting asked me the classic networker question: “Who’s your ideal client?”

      And I realized, I didn’t know. And when I went home and thought about it, I realized it was a bigger magazine or company than I would ever find at those meetings. And that’s when I started going to better, bigger networking events, and trying out different ones, until I found the ones my ideal clients hung out at.