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Peaceful Resolutions With Freelance Writing Clients

Freelance Writing - PeaceBy Lori Widmer

Too often in the freelance life we come across client situations that frustrate, infuriate, or serve as life lessons on what not to exclude from a contract. While the majority of our clients are gems, there are some client situations that just don’t work. That doesn’t mean we can’t make them work. Let me explain:

For a number of years I was working on a recurring project that seemed to be a wad of chaos wrapped in layers of stress. The project lead would send me numerous emails in a row – “Where’s this?” “Ohmygawd, what did you do to this?” “I can’t find the file!” “Where are these squiggly lines coming from?” At the worst point, I’d received seven of these in 30 minutes. If I didn’t respond instantly, my phone was ringing. Worse, I would finish project sections according to the lead’s directions only to have another project manager shoot them down or worse, ask for a complete rewrite. This went on for two years in a row. I swore on my mother I’d not take that project a third time.

Then an odd thing happened – the next year, the project lead did get in touch, and reluctantly, I took the project because I needed the work. I decided that if these people weren’t going to organize themselves, it was up to me to devise a process and make them follow it without telling them they were following it.

That’s right – I did some covert communication management. Since there was a high level of control jockeying going on behind the scenes, I knew my suggestions would be shot down or argued over without any decision. So as I received each project section, I repeated back to both leads the expectations, in bullets. Also, I answered their questions before they asked. Anticipating the now-historic overreactions, I trumped them with another bulleted list – this one containing what work was about to be completed and what sections were still in my hands, along with my expected delivery date. The frantic emails practically disappeared, as did the frantic phone calls.


I’m five years into the project that I nearly dropped. Things have improved so much that the project lead no longer sounds stressed. Moreover, one of the leads left the company, which made a huge difference in how the remaining lead and I work together. Last year’s project, which took eight months the year before, took only three.

The point is not all client situations are relationship-ending events. If there’s a way for you to take control of the communications and fix the problem, do it. It goes without saying that you should own your own work process, but some owning of the communications may be in order, too. Sometimes clients are controlling because they don’t understand your level of competence, or your work process. If you sense that, spell it out for them. Look at all difficult client situations in a new perspective. Understanding their motivations and the pressures they face may help you devise a better project outcome for everyone.

Have you taught your clients how to behave?

Lori Widmer blogs at Words on the Page. You can learn more about her at her business site, and if you want to follow her on twitter it’s: http://twitter.com/LoriWidmer

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{ 11 comments… add one }
  • Lauri, I agree completely! My resume clients can often be so difficult! I’ve had some flak for not guessing what isn’t included in their information. ESP is not part of the job, I’m afraid. 😉
    .-= Lori´s last blog ..Worthy Tip: Don’t Pay =-.

  • Lauri

    “Sometimes clients are controlling because they don’t understand your level of competence, or your work process. If you sense that, spell it out for them.”

    This is so true. Helping people understand what you are capable of is very difficult – it’s the reason why resume writing is such an art!

  • Thanks for the comments, one and all!

    Cathy, that’s superb training, isn’t it? It teaches not only organization to save your own hide, but tact.

    Roy, perfect examples of the beginnings of nightmares. 🙂 When they don’t know, we’ll never please them. When they do know, we’ll never give them what’s best for them. I like the clients who put their trust in my background to some extent. Makes for a great partnership.

    Rebecca, I hope you never do, either! I suspect you will, though. Corporate clients especially are used to panicking in order to keep superiors from coming down hard on them. Can’t blame them, but you can alleviate the pain a little.

    Go get ’em, Anne. 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing! I haven’t had any clients like this, and I hope I never do. I’ll write up a quote and submit it. I’ll also create a proposal that outlines the scopes of work and it addresses rewrites. I also include a time line in the proposal. To be safe, I think I’ll create an affirmation around clients that I only attract those that are for my highest good or better!
    .-= Rebecca´s last blog ..What do Freelance Writers and Snakes Have in Common? =-.

    • Anne

      Affirmations and good contracts… I feel another post coming on. 😉

  • I am always scared of two kinds of clients – the ones who do not know what they want and the ones who know exactly what the want. It happens sometimes that the hired and the hirer have differences of opinion, but they are generally ironed out before the final product is out for public consumption.

    I have had difficult situations because of both of these reasons, and it is only now that I have the wherewithal to interact with such clients!
    .-= Roy DSilva´s last blog ..Taking a New Client: Tips to Remember =-.

    • Anne

      Good thoughts, Ron. Yes, the client who thinks they know exactly what they want and when we know they are flat wrong or that there is a truly better way to do it… I don’t like those either. The clients who don’t know what they want have to go through a process with me that results in much more clarity for them… another post I ought to do.

  • Great post, Lori. I think we can all relate to this one. One of the things I am very thankful for from my Corporate consulting days was some of the structure it provided me.

    I do a formal project proposal or Statement of Work (if it jumps over the proposal stage). It contains the Scope of Work-very specific, bulleted items and often what it does NOT include and the number of rewrites. It also has the statement that services outside the scope will be negotiated separately.

    It has timelines, including the client’s time commitment-e.g., Within 2 weeks after receipt of X info. from Customer B.

    And I always do follow-up “Memos to File” on discussions we have – just like you did here – because we know you can have the best contract in the world and still have problems like you encountered. Mutiple bosses is definitely the pits. It stunk when I was in Corporate America and it does for freelance projects.

    Great way of dealing with it & making it work.
    .-= Cathy Miller´s last blog ..Is Unique Business Writing an Oxymoron? =-.

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