I’ve got a question for you today, writers. How do you feel about your freelance writing clients?
I ask because today’s topic is just that — the feelings we have for our clients. Because business isn’t all dollars and cents. It’s also relationships. Our clients are people, too.
Some of the feelings we have for them are appropriate and useful feelings, such as enjoying a client’s easygoing personality or the feeling of satisfaction that comes from successfully completing a complex writing assignment.
But some feelings freelance writers have are sadly misplaced, and really hurt your ability to earn a good living as a freelancer. Check out what a couple of writers said to me recently, and I think you’ll start to see why I’ve put that big-eyed dog up as the photo for this post:
“My client is great and has given me a rave review on LinkedIn. I’ve worked with him for years, and continue to out of loyalty, even though the pay isn’t the best.”–Shari
“I’ve been writing for a ‘content mill’ and I do enjoy the work. It’s varied, the people who run it are genuinely lovely, and the man in charge has been happy to give me advice, and permission to email examples of work to clients, even though we publish without our own names on the work.
“Of course the pay is very low. I earn a penny a word (in the UK). But I have some loyalty to them, because they’ve really helped me out.
“I’m a qualified librarian (my degree is in English linguistics and literature, and my postgrad librarianship qualification is in information management). I can write well. Any suggestions?”-April
Yes, April, I have suggestions. Let’s start with this:
Don’t be misled
As you can see, some freelance writers are highly susceptible to the problem of misplaced loyalty.
We fall in love with our clients and stick with them, even though if they are radically underpaying us. When we should run for the hills instead.
We say they’re lovely people, even as they compensate us so little we couldn’t buy a bag of groceries with a week’s pay.
Let me drop the scales from your eyes, folks: While you are doggedly sticking with these clients out of “loyalty,” your client has no such similar feelings for you.
Try asking for a raise to an appropriate professional freelance wage, and you’ll see just how loyal your low-paying clients really are.
Then you’ll see this has been a one-way relationship all along. It’s you, being used by a crummy client. It’s a dysfunctional relationship like an abusive marriage.
It will only end when you decide to quit. Because the client has a great deal — a wonderful writer they’re getting for a song!
If they find another writer who will work for less, they’ll drop you in a minute. Make no mistake.
Why we cling
There’s one other point to consider about why writers hang onto to crummy clients.
Often, it’s because getting rid of them would mean admitting that you’re just spinning your wheels here. You’re filling your time with work that’s not paying your bills, and often isn’t even building your portfolio.
Also, that you need to be out marketing yourself to find better clients. If you really hate marketing, you tell yourself loyalty is the reason you can’t do any right now.
After all, loyalty is such a wonderful quality, right? You wouldn’t fault yourself for being loyal.
But you should, when it’s aimed in the wrong direction — one that could cost you your dream of earning a living as a freelance writer.
Where your loyalty should lie
Anytime you catch yourself experiencing feelings of loyalty to a low-paying client — wishing you had better clients but feeling you should stick with this loser just because they’re already a client, and you have all this history together…stop.
Take a step back.
And ask yourself this important question: Why are you in business?
I’d bet it’s to pay your bills, or to feed your family. The people in your life who depend on you — they are the people who deserve your loyalty.
Your business that helps those people is what you should be loyal to. If you don’t care about it and make it grow, nobody else will.
You need to act in the best interest of your business, before you run out of money and have to take a day job. That is priority one.
Otherwise, you’re not a business, you’re a charity. And soon you might be a charity case, too.
How to move on
Don’t delude yourself that nice people who underpay you are still good clients. They’re not. They are sucking the life out of your business and putting your freelance writing business at risk of failure.
I know…but they’re so nice! Maybe when you chat on Skype they are. But really, they’re screwing you.
If you need to, here’s an exercise that may help: Put up a poster next to your computer with your low-paying client’s face and a little talk balloon that says, “I don’t pay you fairly, and I don’t care about you.”
Then remember that every minute you spend on a low-paying freelance writing client is a minute you’re not out finding the clients who will pay you what you need and deserve for your hard work.
Are misplaced loyalties holding back your writing career? Leave a comment and tell us about it.