Nearly every freelance writer I’ve ever met has had a bad client (and sometimes multiple bad freelance clients!).
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.