You may think of freelance writing as an entrepreneurial endeavor, but that does not mean that you are your own boss. Your clients, ultimately, are your bosses. However, many freelance writers do not think of it this way, which is how a lot of problems can occur. Whether you are working directly with clients, agencies, or third party content sites, you still have to interact with someone to discuss business. So, it is essential that you learn how to communicate with clients in a positive, effective way, rather than in a negative and hindering way.
While each client communicates differently, there are some basic commandments that you should follow. These are unbreakable rules that can be applied to every client interaction. I have worked with hundreds of clients with a range of personalities, issues, and problems. I developed these rules based on years of seeing what works and what does not. I have also watched as other freelance writers have screwed themselves over by breaking most or all of these rules. While they have worked for me, they are merely suggestions for you to consider. However, if you find that you are having difficulties dealing with clients, losing business, or just not finding success, then you may want to rethink your client communication skills.
10. Thou Shalt Never Argue
This might seem obvious, but you would be surprised by how many writers I see posting on freelance boards about the fights they’ve had with clients. Remember, no matter what problems you may be having with a client, they are your boss for that assignment, so you need to treat them with some level of respect. Getting into an email argument with a freelance client is a waste of time and the quickest way to lose work. So, do yourself a favor and just comply with their requests and move on after the job is complete. Clients are not paying you for your opinion. They are paying you to write what they requested. This can be a tough pill to swallow, but trust me, you will have much better results by keeping your opinions to yourself.
9. Thou Shalt Never Complain
There is never, ever a reason to complain to a client about how busy you are, how difficult an assignment was, or why you did not follow directions. Clients do not care about your complaints, and the only thing you will achieve is lost revenue. Even if you are working with an agency that is openly complaining to you about their customer, do not get lured into this negative interaction. You never know who is reading the emails between you and your contact, so just stay neutral and avoid boarding the complaint train.
8. Thou Shalt Not Complain About Money
We’ve all been there. You agree to do a job for X amount of money, calculating that it will take X amount of hours to complete. When it’s all finished, you spent twice the time allotted, resulting in an embarrassingly low hourly rate. These are the days you seriously consider a career in fast food because McDonald’s is paying more per hour than you made on that one article. While this can be frustrating, remember that it is what you agreed to, and a client will have little sympathy for miscalculated rates. So, take the loss, learn from the experience, and adjust your rates accordingly. If you are working with the same client, explain that the work took more time than anticipated and agree to a new rate before the next assignment. This is not complaining; this is negotiating!
7. Thou Shalt Never Discuss Personal Problems
Believe it or not, everyone has problems. I know your problems are the important ones to you, but no one wants to hear about them, especially your boss. I’m not trying to be friends with my clients; I’m trying to make money, so I never, ever discuss my personal issues with them. While freelance writing can be a lonely business, it is a business and should be treated as such. This is not to say that you cannot engage in pleasant chitchat on occasion, but even this should be kept to a minimum. This can be challenging, especially with long-term clients, but they really don’t want to hear your personal problems either. Bottom line, business is business, so keep it that way.
6. Thou Shalt Never Overwrite
In the freelance writing world, every word is money, so don’t give any of them away for free. Even if you are not charging per word, you need to stick to the word count. As soon as you start giving clients more than they paid for, they will start expecting it. This will only lead to you doing more work than you’re being paid to do. I see a lot of other writers complaining that they cannot possibly edit the 1,200 words they wrote to the 700 words that were requested. If this sounds like you, then you need to seriously reconsider working as a freelancer because you are writing for you, not the client. Editing down is the most important part of professional writing, so you need to be able to objectively chop your pieces up like kindling for the fireplace.
5. Thou Shalt Never Underwrite
On the other hand, there is no excuse for turning in fewer words than the client is paying you to write. If you are not able to reach the minimum word count, then you probably have not done enough research. While there might be the rare client who asks for something ridiculous like a 10,000-word essay on how to brush a cat, this is rarely the case. Whether you don’t know the topic well, or you’re just not feeling it, there is always more you can write. Personally, I never have this problem. I tend to overwrite most articles, and then I edit without mercy!
4. Thou Shalt Not Over-Communicate
I keep communications with clients to the bare minimum. This means a couple of sentences with just the facts or questions that need to be addressed. If I find myself writing long paragraphs, I am probably breaking one of the earlier commandments. Clients who want to overly communicate with you is usually a red flag that they are going to be super needy. I don’t have time for needy clients, so I keep the communication short and sweet from the start. If this is a problem, then I usually just let them know that I’m not the writer for them and move on.
3. Thou Shalt Never Give Out Personal Info
I learned this the hard way when I first started freelancing a decade ago. I was using my personal email address and phone number for business because I didn’t know any better at the time. Long story short, I was writing website copy for a cleaning company in New York. I don’t remember why, but the client became upset with me and started calling me at all hours of the night. He would leave these crazy, belligerent, threatening messages, and I was convinced that Tony Soprano himself was on his way to my house to make me sleep with the fishes! It was a scary, but a valuable lesson was learned, one that I never forgot.
2. Thou Shalt Not Be Scammed
Most clients are perfectly honest people who are willing to pay for good writing. However, there are always a few bad apples who want to take advantage of overly accommodating writers. They may try to convince you that exposure is more important than money. I don’t know about you, but exposure never paid any of my bills. Others will try to get a large amount of work out of you and then disappear when you finally get around the sending them the invoice. All I’m saying is, don’t be so trusting that you become a victim. If you are new to the game, it is easy to get taken advantage of by unscrupulous people, so do not waste any of your time with clients who are sketchy about paying you. If something seems fishy, don’t waste your time. They will move on to their next mark, and you will move on to a legitimate client.
1. Thou Shalt Never Miss a Deadline
This is the golden rule of freelance writing. Aside from hospitalization or a death, there is no excuse for missing a deadline. While emergencies can happen, they should not become your client’s problem. This is why it is a good idea to work on assignments as soon as you get them and turn them in ahead of time. I started out in magazine publishing, and it was drilled into my head that there was no such thing as a missed deadline. It stuck with me, and it is my mantra. Missing a deadline is unprofessional, shows a lack of concern for the client’s time, and will only lead to the death of your freelancing career.