Freelance Writers – Say No To Impossible Client Requests

by Anne Wayman

Part of developing a successful freelance writing business is knowing when to say ‘no’ to impossible clients and/or impossible requests.

Much of my freelance writing business is ghostwriting books. Not too long ago one of my ghostwriting clients decided he wanted a major change in the direction of a book that was about 3/4 finished.

We talked back and forth and over the weekend I sent  yet another description of the different concept.

Monday, I got a reply saying I was on the right track but could a series of changes be made in time for a Tuesday conference. Yes, that was changes in the book. I was shocked.

You Are In Charge

My first reaction to the email asking for that kind of speed was anger. It was an unreasonable request, at least the way I understood it.

Then I remembered that I’m in charge of what I do, not a client. I also know this client pretty well and figured they really didn’t understand what they were asking of me.

I read through the requested changes again from a state of “well, how much can I get done?” point of view. There were two or three pages I could see I could change rapidly that  would most likely demonstrate some of the shifts he client wanted.

I sent an email back saying I could produce no more than three pages of writing for him in the time frame, which by now was less than 24 hours.

About half an hour later the client emailed back that whatever I got done would be appreciated.

Suggest An Alternative Solution

After I’d written, let it sit for half an hour, and did some editing, I sent it along with questions I needed answered before I could really tighten the thing up, and pointing out that there were errors, or misunderstandings, but probably enough to go on given the short time I’d been give.

I didn’t totally say no to this client. If, however, he had insisted on more being done I would have said flat no. Or if the request had come in on a busier day.


I am no longer willing to try to do the impossible. It wears me out and usually doesn’t satisfy the client either.

Often a client doesn’t realize what they’re asking. After all, they hired us to write because they can’t. Of course they don’t understand what’s involved. It’s up to us to teach them that.

How do you handle impossible requests from clients? Tell us about it.

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Image from http://www.sxc.hu

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Jenn Mattern March 18, 2009 at 6:20 pm

I’ve found that having that angry reaction first (privately) can help a lot. Sometimes you just need to scream internally before you can breathe and reason something out. Sounds like you handled it well and it all worked out. :)

Jenn Mattern’s last blog post..Do Established Businesses Really Need Web Content?

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Benjamin Hunting March 18, 2009 at 5:49 pm

Anne’s approach to dealing with this particular situation illustrates the fact that sometimes when a client makes a demand that at first seems unreasonable, it might be due to them not completely understanding the level of work that is required. Especially if you have been a competent provider to them in the past, they just assume you can get anything done because hey, you’re a great writer.

Communicating to them the level of effort involved in what they are asking usually solves the problem and gets them to understand that a different time table / fee schedule is in order.

Benjamin Hunting’s last blog post..How To Protect Your Car From Mice

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Devon Ellington March 18, 2009 at 3:10 pm

Anne, you handled it professionally and diplomatically.

If I know there’s no way I can get a ridiculous turnaround done, I’m upfront about it. However, if it simply means putting in a few extra hours — you better believe there’s a rush fee. There’s a rush clause in my contract anyway — anything expected in less than 3 business days has a rush fee attached. Period.

Kathryn, i suggest telling your client that the rate he’s quoted is an old rate. Your rate is now X and you can’t afford to work for him at the old rate. Simple and straightforward. If he wants your work and your quality, he pays. Otherwise, he goes somewhere else and you have more time for the clients that pay your going rate.

Devon Ellington’s last blog post..Wednesday, March 18, 2009

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Kathryn March 18, 2009 at 1:19 pm

I’m struggling with something similar myself. An old client asked me to do some work for him at the same rate he was paying me two years back. I did a piece of the project and showed how quickly I could get the work done and what level the writing would be. He still doesn’t want to pay any more. I’m going to have to say no because I can’t afford TO take jobs paying me a third of what I might otherwise earn. I’m just trying to figure out HOW to tell him. Glad I’m not the only one facing these difficulties. Thanks for reminding me that I am in charge of my writing career!

Kathryn’s last blog post..Procrastination Stole $200 from My Writing Income

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cyramiles March 18, 2009 at 1:13 pm

Hi Anne..

I like your conclusion and this one ‘I’m in charge of what I do, not a client’.

Indeed some clients are just irrationally demanding.

Cheers

cyramiles’s last blog post..Writer’s Marketing Exposure

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