Are You Letting Sleazebag Freelance Clients Get You Pregnant?

You were so excited when you first met.

A prospective new freelance writing client!

The romance was on.

You got all dressed up, headed into town, and met up.

You were hoping it would be a brief get-acquainted thing and quickly lead to a serious commitment to hire you for some nice, steady writing work at an appealing rate.

Instead, the meeting took 90 minutes, during which they told you the entire history of their lives and their business…but couldn’t quite get around to defining their writing project.

It ends only with the vague idea that you should set another meeting to talk further.

After the next marathon meeting, it starts to dawn on you: You’re being used as a free consultant.

This client doesn’t know what they want written. They may not have much money, either.

They can’t commit.

And now you’ve invested hours in this client.

You’ve fallen for their hard-luck story. The owner is battling cancer! The business does such wonderful work and helps people!

You try to break it off, but it’s not easy.

You’ve fallen in love. You want this client! You’re hot for them.

In your head, you’re already in bed with them.

But the story on what they want written keeps changing. They drop hints that they have “budget restrictions.” They cancel phone calls at the last minute. You start to wonder if they’re talking to other writers, too.

Warning bells are clanging. But you don’t listen.

You’ve spent so much time with this client, you’ve just got to land them. Otherwise, you’ll feel like a sucker for wasting so much time.

The only way to justify the dates you’ve already gone on with them is to consummate the relationship.

Finally, the big day arrives. They tell you what they want you to write.

The um, size of their thing turns out to be disappointingly small. So is the price.

This isn’t the relationship you were dreaming of at all.

Still, you say yes.

Why? In your mind, they’ve already become your client.

What happened here?

You’ve let a sleazebag prospect get you pregnant with their project.

You bought their sob story. You tolerated their dysfunction, instead of cutting them off.

You let them suck up your time.

And now you’re stuck nursing the squalling, cranky baby that is their misbegotten, underpriced project through to its sorry conclusion.

How to avoid getting knocked up

This sad tale of business romance gone wrong is one I hear all too often.

Writers get sucked in by loser clients and end up making peanuts.

Here’s what you gotta know about freelance writing clients: There are a lot of users out there. If you don’t set boundaries for the relationship, they’ll walk all over you. Then, they’ll leave you broke and alone.

How can you avoid unwanted client pregnancy? Here are my tips:

  • Observe the 30-minute rule. I try not to let any initial meeting go longer than a half-hour before we move the conversation to defining the project and discussing rates. More than that, and I consider myself to be doing pro bono consulting work for them.
  • Ask them to define their project. Gently but firmly, bring the conversation around to what exactly they want done. Yes, you should interrupt them if necessary. A blowhard prospect can pontificate about themselves for hours otherwise.
  • Ballpark rates ASAP. As fast as they tell you what their project is, ask them their budget. If they won’t spill, give them a quick ballpark figure. “So, it sounds like 10 pages of Web content about your microbiology lab that needs interviews with your team and a few outside experts. Sounds like about $2000 or so of work. That about right?” If they were thinking $100 for the whole thing, you want to find that out fast, so you can ditch this loser before you get attached.
  • Offer to consult. If they don’t know what they want, tell them you are happy to help them conceptualize about what they need written at $100 an hour from here forward. You’ll be amazed how quickly this news concentrates the minds of most business owners and enables them to figure out what they want.

Have you gotten in bed with sleazebag clients? Leave a comment and tell us your story.

P.S. If you want to learn more about marketing, check out my friend Danny Iny’s new manifesto, Naked Marketing.


Do you have questions about how to earn more from your writing? Learn more in my community Freelance Writers Den — take ecourses, attend live events, ask writing pros your questions in our forums, and use our exclusive Junk-Free Job Board.


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