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Removing Emotions from Your Writing Business

writing emotions

Last week a client came to me with feedback on a project I’d just completed. His words were something like this: “I had to revise it extensively for accuracy and it doesn’t appear to have been proofread.” What did I do? I slept on it, then replied with revisions to what he’d added (which had plenty of mistakes), then sent him the invoice. And I decided it was the last time I’d work with his company.

Sound harsh? That’s probably because you’re not used to the games clients can play when they’re trying to get out of paying. Because this was I client I’d had payment issues with before, I saw through his carefully worded email immediately. And because I went back over his changes to see what the devil I’d done wrong, I knew full well he’d not had to change anything for accuracy, nor were there any errors (on my part) that would indicate it wasn’t proofed. This was one more attempt by this client to avoid payment.

There are days when I wish I could drop the professional demeanor and really speak my mind. It’s on days when clients attempt to discredit my work to avoid the bill, or when they change contract terms randomly, promise “royalty” payments, expect 50-percent drops in fees, or make you jump through a dozen hoops just to find out the job pays a whopping penny an article. If you’re like me, you’ve had plenty of opportunity thanks to the proliferation of ridiculous to non-existent business practices of others. Don’t bite. As much as they dangle the carrot, attempt to incite argument, don’t reach for it.  Emotions do not belong in business interactions. So do this instead:

Remove emotion. They called you what? Unless they’ve come to your house and set you on fire personally, don’t respond to emotional ploys to get you entangled in a bitter war of words. Extract the emotions. Focus on the facts. When the emotional crud escalates (and it will, for all emotional control games escalate when the target won’t play), repeat only the facts. If it continues and it’s clear to you that things are over between you, don’t respond. Envision that client as the flame on the end of a welding torch. You’d not stick your hand over that, would you? Don’t burn yourself over a stupid, fruitless disagreement.

Suck it up and say…nothing. I’m not saying if your client changes the payment terms you should smile and accept it. I’m saying state your terms, firmly if you have to, cite chapter-and-verse of your contract, and clam up. Just as you’re not going to accept an emotional argument, you’re not going to create one, either.

Don’t fall for the nicey-nice. That sweet client who can’t seem to remember to pay your invoice is using emotional blackmail to keep you from sending out that litigation notice. Again, remove all emotion – you’re running a business. I don’t care if she’s your new best friend. She’s a client who owes you money. Act accordingly.

Reiterate your terms. It doesn’t matter that your client has just offered you royalties and that’s all they have to pay. If that’s not in line with your billing process (and it damn well shouldn’t be), restate that your fee per hour/project is X and that royalties are not accepted. Don’t respond with the “Are you JOKING?” line you’re dying to use.

Sleep on it. Many are the client curve balls I’ve been tossed that had I responded instantly I’d have fouled out on. When your client blindsides you with something unacceptable or just plain crazy, walk away from the computer. If you’re on the phone, excuse yourself by saying you need to consider what’s been said and refer to your files before responding, then hang up. Don’t answer when your emotions are high. Let it sink in, consider your options, then find the best way to respond that sticks to the facts and asserts your own boundaries.

When, if ever, have you dropped the professional demeanor?

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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{ 22 comments… add one }
  • I have to admit that the emotions get to me, although I don’t show it up front to the clients. I simmer and stew, do what I can to change things if I feel it’s needed, and then get it done, get paid, and move on to someone else. I realize I can’t please everyone, but they saw my style up front and hired me, so they knew what was coming. Irksome, and I can’t remove the emotions, but I can certainly manifest it in a more controlled manner to the client.
    Mitch recently posted..Blogging Step Seven – Staying MotivatedMy Profile

  • Sal

    “Don’t fall for the nicey-nice. That sweet client who can’t seem to remember to pay your invoice is using emotional blackmail to keep you from sending out that litigation notice.”

    Right on! I don’t want to come across sexist, but do men seem to have an easier time with taking the emotion out of their business? I ask this because I am not one of those men on an average day. I would rather let it go, beat myself up because I did a bad job and personally flame myself in my journal until I got over it. THAT being said, I have gently pushed back a few times and actually received a better response than expected.

    Lori, how often would you say you are successful in getting payment with these kinds of clients?
    Sal recently posted..Under ConstructionMy Profile

  • Eda

    Funny, I just experienced this! I am new to the freelance world and just getting my feet wet. Only my second client in and I was full of rewrites and criticism (he only told me what EXACTLY what he wanted after he told me what he wanted!). Then he expected me to write another whole batch before being paid for the first. “Oh I’ll pay you after all assignments are complete.” Yeah right. Mind you he had already posted numerous blog posts I had written. I maintained my composure and I did get my money but what a fiasco! As such, it was a short lived relationship…

    • Good for you for dumping him AFTER you got paid… way to go.

  • A month ago, a publisher told me my writing wasn’t up to his standards. This sent me into a tizzy. After I calmed down, I realized he told me this AFTER I sent him an invoice for my articles. He stated that he had to “fix” my articles. Lo and behold the articles were printed word-for-word. I recently found out that a printing company filed a lawsuit against him in September because he owes them money. I wonder if I’ll ever see payment…
    Rebecca recently posted..Why You Need to Write a Print on Demand BookMy Profile

    • Oh man, that’s low, Rebecca! But thankfully you found him out before your self-esteem was damaged irreparably. What’s awful about this is that it works sometimes, and they know it. Some clients figure if they fuss loudly enough, they’ll get it for free. It reminds me of a time when I worked behind the counter at a fast food place. A couple came in, told me they’d been there several times before and had received shoddy service, and if we didn’t please them, they wouldn’t be back. The manager gave them a free meal. And I swear to you none of us had ever seen them before. But they got what they wanted – a free meal.
      Lori recently posted..Stick a Fork in MeMy Profile

  • Great post! I have definitely been through this a few times. And have learned to not take it personally. It’s validating to know that some clients do it just to get out of paying. When I first started, I was crushed whenever I worked my darnedest only to get feedback that I wasn’t working hard at all. Now that I have better clients, I know better. And you’re definitely right. It’s much better to pull out early and without emotions to prevent more heart ache than necessary. Thanks!
    Brandi recently posted..The Reality of WritingMy Profile

    • Someone said something like 50% of success is knowing when to quit. 😉

      • Amen to that, Anne. And YOU said that the higher your rates, the better your clients treat you. And it’s been true all along.

        Brandi, so true!
        Lori recently posted..Stick a Fork in MeMy Profile

        • I suppose there’s a limit to the higher I go the better the treatment, or maybe not… haven’t found it yet.

  • Thank you for this honest and HELPFUL post. While I’ve been pretty fortunate thus far not to encounter too many of these types, this was a great reminder on how to deal with curve balls because curve balls happen. One other thing I’ve noticed in the world of business writing is that freelancers don’t often enough receive from their clients the praise for a job well done. Maybe that is partly due to the fear that we’ll reply with increased fees? I feel like I’m part of the team when I’m contracted and I like to hear those wonderful words just as employees do, and it makes me want to work harder for that client!

    • Hmmmm… I wonder how we train them? Actually, I’ve been known to ask… usually they become quite effusive with their praise.

    • Monica, like you, I’ve wondered too where the “atta girl” is sometimes. But I’m content with them paying the invoice promptly. 😉
      Lori recently posted..Stick a Fork in MeMy Profile

  • GREAT post, Lori. RT’d.

    I mostly do great. But I’ve had a couple editors where I did finally lose it. It pretty much always means the same thing — a quick end to the relationship.

    You give up your power when you lose emotional control…that’s the thing to remember. Keep your cards in your vest, and keep your clients…until the minute YOU decide to cut them loose.
    Carol Tice recently posted..10 Writing and Blogging Gurus Who Actually Know Their StuffMy Profile

    • I was thinking about anger and rage this morning in meditation… not at clients or editors, but in traffic… when I’m raging I feel powerful somehow, but the truth is I’ve given away whatever power I might have had.

      • Exactly that, Anne. I’ve felt that, too. Surrendering my desire to flip out is somehow calming. Weird! LOL
        Lori recently posted..Stick a Fork in MeMy Profile

    • Carol, thanks for the RT!

      I’ve come close myself. One in particular was so inept I was correcting his corrections. I held my emotions in check, but it was tough. 😛
      Lori recently posted..Stick a Fork in MeMy Profile

  • Oh, this was your post, Lori! That’s what I get for not reading the author info. Makes sense now after reading your blog this morning.
    Ashley recently posted..at a loss for words let me helpMy Profile

  • Ashley, that’s what I did in this last case. I turned off the monitor and walked away. The next morning, I was able to address the issue without the emotion. Better, I didn’t rush into thinking he was right and frame everything from that perspective. That would’ve been a license for him to snowball me on payment.
    Lori recently posted..Stick a Fork in MeMy Profile

  • Anne,

    I’m often guilty of letting my emotions get the best of me, and I find that “sleeping on it” is the best way to let things calm down before saying or doing something I would regret. Thanks for the great post.


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