Do You Fall in Love with Your Writing Clients…and then Get Screwed?

It’s one of the most commonly asked questions I get from writers: What should I charge?

It’s hard to know, isn’t it? There isn’t one universal rate card freelance writers work from. Fair pay is determined by a million factors — how bad you need the gig, how easy it sounds and how pleasant the people are, how much you like the topic, how tight the deadlines are…and so on.

But lately, I’ve been hearing about one issue in particular that is stopping a lot of writers from earning what they truly deserve.

I’ve dubbed this problem Writer Client Crush Syndrome.

In other words, you fall in love with your client — before you find out what they might be willing to pay you.

The matchup between a writer and a client is a whole lot like dating. Ever get a mad crush on a guy (or girl) on the first email or phone call you had, before you really knew much about them?

Apply that to freelance writing, and you get Writer Client Crush Syndrome.

As in relationships, client love can strike when you least expect it.

It begins when you hear from a prospect

You love that they responded to your query or the resume you sent to their ad. You’re excited that you got an interview with them.

When you learn about the company, you fall hard for their story.

The owner is battling cancer. Their cause is amazing and wonderful and changes lives for the better. Their products are innovative and unique. The company is in an industry where you have great expertise. You’ve been wanting to break into social-media marketing and they’re going to let you run a campaign.

You know nothing about what your working relationship would be like yet. Maybe you’ll be gang-edited by a team of four, or have to pull night shifts to meet their deadline.

But you’ve got stars in your eyes, and you’re already fantasizing about how great it would be to add this client to your list. You’re imagining their clips in your portfolio already.

You haven’t taken the time to reality-check what you’re hearing with other writers you know. You don’t have a sense of what fair pay would even be for this gig.

You’ve jumped straight to the end of the love story and you’re imagining yourself already married to this client and their work.

The problem?

You’re a pushover when it comes to pay

You’ve let the initial-meet phase drag on too long, fallen in love, and now you’re a sucker for whatever offer they make.

They’ve got you right where they want you.

When they start telling you they’d like you to work for $9 an hour, the rationalizing begins. This is the equivalent of “Maybe he’ll call” after the first date.

Maybe they’ll offer me more work later, and I can raise my rates. It’s a foot in the door. It’s an opportunity.

The next thing you know, a big block of your time is being taken up by someone paying you peanuts. You’ve lost critical time you need for marketing to good-paying prospects, and you have a client that doesn’t respect you (in the morning or any other time) and doesn’t pay you professional rates.

Often, these dysfunctional, underpaid writer-client relationships can persist for years. It’s hard to break it off. You’re still not over that first crush you had on them.

How to prevent Writer Client Crush Syndrome

How can you avoid falling victim to WCCS?

Keep your heart in your chest when you first get a nibble from a prospect.

You want initial chats or meetings to be short, gather needed details about the project, and lead quickly to a question such as, “What’s your budget for this project?”

Before you have a chance to fall head-over-heels for a bum client.

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10 comments on “Do You Fall in Love with Your Writing Clients…and then Get Screwed?
  1. Very good post. Unfortunately, it’s something I can relate to. The sad truth is, in the business world, no one is looking out for you but you. Always find everything out upfront and get it in writing.

  2. Anne Wayman says:

    gang edit – great term for the d**n committee edit.

    I’ve got a client right now I’m about to tell he has to pay me more, although I’ll ask. I think he’ll be reasonable. We started out doing one thing and now have added to it. It’s up to me to watch this sort of thing.
    Anne Wayman recently posted…Overview of SEO For Freelance Writers – You Already Know How To Do ItMy Profile

  3. Edna says:

    Great analogy. I’ve fallen for the client relationship thing too many times and am just seeing the light lately. I started raising my rates with new clients as I bring them in and that’s a process I’m getting more comfortable with. I’ve joined a networking group where I’m the only marketing/writing person so I have a nice opportunity to more work. I have to get more comfortable about asking and negotiating, so I’m getting to know women in the group who are really good at asking about budgets and money. This is something I’m struggling with so thanks for laying out the relationship side of it.
    Thanks for the post!
    Edna recently posted…Standard Process ranks among top Wisconsin organic farmsMy Profile

  4. For starters, my favourite part of this post is the term ‘gang-edited’. I’ve never heard that before, and I LOVE!

    I’m not sure I’ve ever had Writer Client Crush Syndrome but I certainly favour certain clients over others. It’s a relationship, after all, and your feelings and impressions play into the equation. It’s very hard to standardize rates 100%; as you say, there are so many variables. The nature of your writer/client relationship is one of the variables – it’s inescapable – but perhaps the challenge is making sure that it doesn’t eclipse all else.
    Ruth – Freelance Writing Blog recently posted…9 Ways to Land Freelance Writing Gigs in the Technology SectorMy Profile

  5. Debra Stang says:

    I’ve had this happen to me more than once. In fact, there’s a client right now who is sending a lot of work my way but still paying my old rates (way below market value). I’ve been trying to gather up my courage to tell her that I’ve had to adjust my prices…every time I even hint in that direction, she sends another email about how she was so lucky to find such a “reasonably priced” edit, and my heart melts again. Help!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well, of course she does. She’d like to go on exploiting you for as long as possible. No surprise she sends you tons of work! Sending it to someone else would no doubt cost her more.

      The confusion that happens, especially for people who’ve been employees, is that we think the client’s interests and ours are aligned. And that they care about us as people. But they don’t. It’s BUSINESS. You have a business and they have a different business. And only you will look out for YOU. They usually won’t offer you a raise just because they should…you’ll have to ask.

      Don’t ask until you’re ready to walk if they don’t raise it. I think people have the impression that I’m a radical about kissing off low-paying clients, but in reality I’m very conservative. I believe in getting booked up with other, better-paying clients, and THEN lowering the boom on low payers, when you can afford to walk away if they don’t agree to a raise. That’s how I’ve done all my raises, slowly changing out one client at a time, trading low payers for higher payers.

      Occasionally, a client will come up in price, but you should be ready for the idea that they won’t. Especially if they’re ‘way below,’ it’s doubtful they’re going to go for a huge increase. The good news is I find as soon as I quit one low payer, a better-paying one usually comes along. But you need a solid base of other clients to make that leap.

      Hinting around about deserving a raise will get you nowhere. You have to state it flat out. And year-end is the perfect time…mid-November in my view is about ideal (note to self to do blog post then!). You want to give them a lot of notice and time to adjust to the idea, also time to budget for a higher amount. Springing a “Starting next week my rates double” type gambit is usually doomed.

      Say, “I’ve been with you for a while, and during that time my prices have gone up. All my other clients are now at X rate. So I need to let you know that beginning in 2012, my rate is X. Please let me know if that works for you.”

  6. K.D. Storm says:

    Thank you for the warning. I am at the beginning stages of freelancing where I run the risk of getting swept up in that sort of thing. I am going to apply your advice for sure.
    K.D. Storm recently posted…WoW Writing Prompt 17: Choose Your Adventure…. I RememberMy Profile

  7. Ali says:

    It has happened with me 🙁 there was a client from the UK. Actually, the budget for the first project was fairly reasonable but then I had this “Writer Client Crush Syndrome” because of the recurring work stream and her nice words. This got me stick to the same price for the next ten or so projects; while I was charging other clients nearly double.

    So I second Carol on this: DON’T fall in love with your clients.
    Ali recently posted…5 Sizzling Hot Female Writers You Should Hire, Admire and Follow!My Profile

  8. Elizabeth says:

    Ok, ok I hear you! Great post. I love analogies like these…