Sunday, February 16, 2014

3 Signs It's Time to Put Your Foot Down With a Client

If there's one thing I hated about working retail back in the day, it was the way the customer was pretty much always considered to be right. If they wanted a discount or special treatment, they didn't even have to come up with a good reason why half the time. It didn't even matter if it was obvious the customer was lying to you through their teeth or blatantly trying to take advantage of the establishment you worked for. You as the service provider were always expected to find a way to make whatever they were after happen for them.

The same went for your boss. If you didn't like your schedule, didn't think you were being paid enough, or were otherwise being forced to accept treatment you didn't think was fair, that was too effing bad. Of course there were limits to be sure, but you more or less had to basically smile and say "yes, sir" to whatever your boss or their customers decided to dish out in your general direction.

When I originally had to return to work for financial reasons (years ago at this point), I chose to become a freelance writer instead of just going back to retail for a reason. I was tired of living my life based on someone else's schedule and pretending I didn't mind being paid very little in exchange for putting up with other people's abuse. I wanted to do something that put my natural skills and intelligence to good use, as well as something that might give way to some sort of future one day, so I decided to do that with my writing.

I generally assume that other freelance writers started doing what they do for similar reasons. Exactly why it surprises the hell out of me when they let clients take advantage of them and treat them like they're still working retail. Don't get me wrong. Nine out of ten clients are generally really cool and really fair... but it's important to realize right out of the gate that freelancers have to worry about the occasional rotten apple trying to take advantage of them. It helps to know when it's officially time to put your foot down.

1. Pay That Just Doesn't Cut It

Just about every client is going to have a budget in mind as far as what they're willing and able to pay in exchange for your services. That's perfectly fine. What isn't fine is pressuring writers to take less for their work than it's worth. Make sure you're charging clients in a way that reflects the full value of the writing you produce. Some factors you can and should take into consideration include the following:

  • The time it actually takes you to produce the work
  • Your experience level, both in regards to writing and the specific subject matter you're writing about
  • What the work you're producing will be used for
  • Whether or not the client expects "extras" to be included -- like images, graphs, or link embedding 
  • How much research and prep work will be involved
Generally speaking, you as the writer need to be collecting compensation that makes it worth your while to sit down and actually complete the projects you're taking on. If you're like most of us, pay that's equal to or less than what you'd be making to flip hamburgers at your local McDonald's is only going to lead to loads of resentment down the line. Resentment leads to serious burnout. I've been there and it's not pretty.

Don't let your clients browbeat you into believing minimum wage or below is all you deserve in exchange for your work. Seriously, you're not making Big Macs or doing any other menial job a monkey could do. You're creating content that will have a pretty sizable impact on your client's SEO campaign, public image, or bottom line. If you're good at what you do, you bring even more benefits to the table that people need to be compensating you for. Hold out for clients that not only realize this, but are willing to pay accordingly. 

Don't tolerate clients that expect to flip-flop in regards to what you've both decided that you'll be paid for your work either. I've had clients that expected to decide for themselves what they were willing to pay on a per project basis based on criteria known only to them. Others have been willing to pay the rates I asked on an initial project, but expected the price to go down by as much as 50% for future work for no particular reason. The thing is we're writers, not rug merchants at a Persian flea market. It's important to demand consistency when it comes to pay and when clients can't honor that, it's time to put your foot down.

2. Unrealistic Expectations

Deciding what you'll be paid for your work is one thing. Figuring out what the client has a right to expect in exchange for what they're willing to pay is another. Sooner or later, you'll wind up with one or more clients that are completely out of their minds when it comes to what they expect to get for their money. However, such clients can be difficult to spot out of the gate unless their unreasonable expectations are so high, they're actually comical.

Some writers feel differently, but I wholeheartedly believe one of the easiest ways to avoid getting stuck with unreasonable clients is to avoid taking writing projects that pay by the hour. In my experience, someone who expects to pay a writer by the hour doesn't have any understanding of or respect for what the act of writing actually entails. They literally think they're just paying someone to sit in front of a computer and type when you and I both know writing is so much more than that.

They also tend to employ backwards thinking when it comes to how work should be priced. A client that expects to pay a writer $10 an hour to write web content not only expects to get higher quality content from a better, more experienced writer, but he expects to get more of it for his money, since a better writer is also presumably a faster writer. It doesn't take a genius to realize that this makes zero sense, since it means the better a writer becomes at what they do, the less they should expect to be paid for each individual piece they write. 

Writing isn't and shouldn't be considered by-the-hour work, as you're talking about something that couldn't possibly be easier to itemize. Clients should be paying per page, per 100 words, or per word -- possibly with adjustments for projects that are unusually difficult or that need to be rushed for whatever reason. By-the-hour pay is for personal assisting, consulting, marketing, and other types of services that really are about paying people for their time. 

Also, the more experienced and skilled a writer becomes, the more they should be charging for their work. It's an issue of overall value we're talking about here... and the value of a piece of writing goes well beyond the time it took to pound a few keys. 

3. Too Many Revisions

How revisions should be handled is an area that a lot of writers forget to consider when they're deciding what their business policies are going to be, but it honestly shouldn't be. Many clients really have a tendency to take advantage here, so it's important that you set some limits and stick to them. 

Decide what the word "revision" actually is going to mean in regards to what's covered by your fees and what's not. I personally tell clients that I will perform up to two minor revisions on a piece for free. By "minor", I mean simple rewording in regards to parts of the text, simple reformatting, and other tweaks that can make a big difference in how a piece reads, but don't take up a massive amount of a busy writer's additional time. 

It's well within a client's rights to request things like this and I don't mind doing them at all... but even that I'll only do within reason. I won't revisit something again, and again, and again over multiple days or weeks. (Clients are required to request revisions within three business days of receiving their finished content.) I won't tolerate nitpicking either. I have actually had picky clients return items to me "for revision" literally for the sake of adding a single period or changing a single word in a specific sentence. Yes, really.

I also don't do full rewrites for free and here's why. To begin with, that lets wishy-washy clients think it's perfectly OK to change their minds in regards to what they want done mid-project or waste your time having you "try" article idea after article idea until you hit on something that blows their hair back. (Yes, people actually do this.) It also makes it easy for dishonest clients to scam free articles out of content providers by simply calling each one they ask for a revision request on a previous article. They get to pay for one article, but walk away with five or six.

Make sure your clients understand the importance of really knowing what they want right from the get-go. Believe me, if they know they'll have to pay for rewrites, they get a lot more diligent about coming into projects fully prepared as far as keywords, subject matter, and so forth. This not only makes your job easier, but it helps you deliver great content more quickly and efficiently as well. 

Also, make sure you set and communicate clear limits as far as what you consider a revision to be, how many you're willing to do, and within what time frame. Never, ever, ever offer clients (real or potential) unlimited revisions of any kind as part of the package. That's the best way I can think of to attract the most disrespectful, opportunistic clients roaming God's green earth today.

Never Be Afraid to Say "No"

When I was younger, I not only had a hard time realizing that it was not only OK to let my "no" mean no and my "yes" mean yes, but I also failed to realize that it was perfectly all right to say "no" to things, people, and situations I didn't want in my life. I eventually learned that if I didn't want to be taken advantage of both coming and going, it was essential that I learn how to say it in professional situations in particular. Really, "no" is one of the most glorious words in the English language and I have yet to hear of one that has the power to buy you more freedom and peace of mind if you learn how to use it properly.

That said, you shouldn't be afraid to use it with your clients. You're under no obligation to take on every single project a client offers you or to take less for your work than you know it's worth. If a client's being unreasonable in regards to revision requests or they're bothering you on your days off when you've expressly asked them not to, put your foot down. You went into business for yourself for a reason and it wasn't so you can put up with the same garbage you had to when you worked for someone else. Make the most of it.