7 Tips for Dealing With A Freelance Writing Client’s Complaints

in Business of Writing

Over in the 5 Buck Forum a member told of getting harsh complaints from a client after the client had paid.

It happens, although usually not after the client has paid in full.

Writer’s often feel an immediate sense of panic, sure they’ve done something wrong. Although that’s certainly possible, it’s more likely the client was either not clear about what they wanted or doesn’t understand the process or both.

Don’t panic. It’s always shocking and distressing to have a client complain about your work. It’s tempting to assume you’re wrong and immediately agree to almost anything to appease them. Don’t! You’re emotions are running high and that’s always a poor place to make decisions from.

Breathe! Seriously. It’s absolutely amazing what a couple of deep breaths will do – while real calm may not be restored so quickly, that extra dose of oxygen like apt to clear your head a bit and let you think with less reaction.


Listen. Listen carefully to what the client is actually saying. You need to understand the complaint. What exactly are they complaining about? Is it the writing? Is it the editing? Is it the whole assignment or just part?

Ask questions. Usually when a client complains they are also upset so their communication isn’t exactly clear. If you can ask questions calmly and hear the answers about the complaint, do so. If, as is likely, you’re upset, just listen for now and agree to get back to them in 24 hours – don’t agree to anything more than this. That will give you time to think about what you heard them say and review your understanding of the assignment. Call them at the agreed time and ask your questions. Repeat back your understanding of their answers so you can surface any misunderstandings at this point.

Review your contract or letter of agreement. You do have a written agreement,  right? Now is the time to review it carefully. Sometimes this will reveal what went wrong. More often, however, it will simply assure you that you were writing exactly what you thought you should be writing.


Insist on any edited copy. If you discover they’ve marked up your copy or had someone else do so insist on seeing a copy of the mark up before you make any other promises. Although it shouldn’t happen, clients often have someone else vet the writing project. They do this mostly because they don’t trust themselves, but it puts you in the position of unknowingly writing for more than one person – an almost impossible situation. You need to see what’s been done before you can respond in any reasonable fashion.

Consider what’s happened carefully. If there’s edited copy, compare it. Even if there isn’t, re-read what you sent as final copy. Did you somehow blow it?  Even a little bit? If you did, be prepared to admit it and make the proper adjustments. If, however, you didn’t blow it, say so. Stick to your guns and submit your normal invoice. You deserve to be paid.

The client or customer isn’t always right, particularly about writing and editing. Even hard boiled copy writing is more art than science. People who hire writers do so because they haven’t a clue how to get the writing they need done.

Some clients can’t be satisfied. They will run from person to person seeking approval of the writing they ordered and as a result will get a variety of complaints, all of which will be aimed at you. If you suspect the client is, well, nuts, you’re probably right.

Clients also often think the solution or idea you provided that saved the project is really their idea. I’ve had this happen more than once with the client usually wondering why they paid me so much.

Although you can never completely avoid client complaints, make sure your agreements with them are clear and in writing. And don’t assume you did anything wrong just because you’ve gotten a complaint.

How do you handle complaints from clients?

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Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by Jim Linwood who acknowledged the idea of a ‘large friendly button’ comes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams


{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Kimberly October 18, 2012 at 9:51 am

I second Amandah on having an agreement in place. Another writer was telling me she felt it was unnecessary because legally a simple email confirmation is as good as getting a signed contract; but as Amandah pointed out, in an agreement you can get more detailed on your terms of service (number of revisions, specify who the writer will communicate with, etc.). Great post.
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annew October 18, 2012 at 10:09 am

Totally agree, Kimberly, totally.

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Amandah October 10, 2012 at 6:42 am

Great advice!

The most important piece is the contract. Please make sure you’ve covered everything. Believe me, I’ve had my share of slips ups because little things like deadline dates were not in my contract. Duh! I’ve learned some painful lessons as a freelance writer. But I’ve learned from my mistakes.
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annew October 10, 2012 at 11:56 am

Learning from our mistakes is one of our better strategies I think.

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Sabrina S. October 9, 2012 at 10:13 am

Awesome article and advice! Thanks! :)

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