Hang around the water cooler with writers, and you’ll hear a lot of gripes about their freelance clients.
Since we have a “Water Cooler” forum in Freelance Writers Den, I get to do that a lot.
The stories are colorful:
“Get a load of this guy’s laundry list of requests for my content — which he wants done for a pittance!”
“Can you believe how little this website offered me?”
Yes. Yes, I can.
The world is full of business owners looking to see what they can get for nothing. The problem is, many writers suffer from low self-esteem — and are only too happy to oblige.
Writers like to blame their clients for their low pay or dull assignments. They love to skewer clients’ annoying personalities.
What writers don’t seem to love so much is doing the work to get better clients. Because mostly, it’s work you have to do on yourself.
Do you see a pattern?
Now, anyone can get one bum client. If you freelance for very long, it’ll happen. We all make mistakes.
But if you find it’s happening over and over again, then you’ve got a problem. It’s time to look at your attitudes towards your freelance writing career, and make some changes.
What do I mean by changing yourself to get better clients? Here are a few big reasons why writers end up with crummy freelance clients, time and time again.
You don’t trust your gut
Ever get a writing offer, and have a strong feeling, in the depths of your soul, that the gig will be a nightmare — but you take it anyway?
Then it’s time to get in touch with your feelings. Your gut-check on a prospective client is probably right on.
If you have a viscerally negative reaction to the idea of a gig, it’s unlikely to pan out well. You need to pass!
You may feel desperate for work, but remember, taking a bad gig robs you of marketing time to find better clients. It also often sucks you dry of self-esteem.
Instead, take a page from Bonnie, a Den 2X Income Accelerator student who recently described to me why she turned down one writing gig:
“It was for a national organization that depends in large part on volunteers who are changing constantly. No, thanks!
“I do think it’s a great opportunity for someone who’s into communications strategy, audits, surveys, etc. For someone who thrives on turning chaos into clarity — and working with multiple personalities — it would be ideal. I’d rather my energy go into growing my business.”
Bravo! This writer took the time to do a gut-check, and realized this organization’s chaotic structure wasn’t something she wanted to deal with. She guessed it would lead to lots of wasted time. So she moved on.
Shortly after passing on this gig, she got another offer, with a company with more stability.
Good thing she didn’t ignore those inner alarm bells and sign up with the ever-changing staff of the first organization.
You get stars in your eyes
If you get offered a big lump of work, do you get all giddy and excited and say ‘yes’ right away? When you hear a big number, it’s easy to start counting chickens, and assume this will be a great situation.
But remember, it’s all about your hourly rate. Time is your most precious commodity.
If it’ll take you forever to earn that lump, the hourly rate may still work out to pennies.
So I was proud recently to see another Den member — after getting some coaching in our forums — pass on a $9,000 offer to ghostwrite a full-length memoir.
I know, seems like a big number! But we’re taking about an assignment that could easily take six months of that writer’s time. Or could take longer than planned, or never finish (many book projects sputter out, I’ve found).
That’s a grim prospect with a gig that should pay at least $20,000, and likely much more.
The capper for this writer? The offer was through an agency that was no doubt taking a big cut — and the end client was a very wealthy woman.
Laura asked herself an important question:
“If I’m resentful [of the pay rate] at the start, how will I be in six months?”
Rightfully guessing that she could well end up wanting to kill this client and feeling exploited, she passed.
You’re a softie
It’s sad to say, but many writers attract low-paying clients because they’re a sucker for a sob story.
Chat them up, and you hear about the endless string of volunteer or low-paid gigs they take for wonderful causes…all while they struggle to pay their bills.
Janet recently told me she’d accepted a pro-bono gig to write and pitch a placed article in a magazine for one charity — a task that should pay $1,000 or more. This volunteer gig came on top of a $15-an-hour regular monthly gig doing all of her church’s marketing work!
Giving back is great, and we should all do some of it. But remember that if you don’t leave room for good-paying gigs, you’ll soon be working a day job.
You’re easily pleased
Many writers have a poverty mentality that leaves them rejoicing in any small pittance they earn. They even actively seek out writing gigs they know will be low-paid.
Another Den 2X student recently reported that she had pitched a print-book publisher a $2,000-advance book idea. She had done a couple other books for this publisher, and thought it would be easy to line up another one.
But why would you do that, I asked, if your goal is to double your writing income in the next year? Few print books earn a writer more than the advance, and writing a book, as I noted above, is a TON of work.
“It’s work I enjoy,” she said.
If your goal is to earn twice as much, how could you “enjoy” writing a book for a pittance?
This is one of those scenarios where the writer has a crummy client they self-selected for, and doesn’t even realize it.
It can be easy to get writing gigs that pay little, as compared with working harder and doing more marketing to find truly lucrative gigs.
Nothing against having a passion writing project you do on the side — but don’t lose track of the goals of your freelance writing business and go down too many side trails where the writing may be fun, but the pay just isn’t there.
Time for a mindset reset
If you want to earn more as a freelance writer, begin with your mindset. What do you think you deserve to earn? What sort of people do you want in your life?
Make a commitment to turn down offers that don’t fit your vision for your business, and keep marketing. You’ll soon find better clients come your way.
Do you have a crummy client? Let’s discuss why in the comments.