By Lori Widmer
Recently, I was asked by the client to complete a project section that had been missed when we’d first put together the client’s major project. I agreed. Only afterward did the client mention it was unpaid as the budget for the entire project had been spent. My options were to complete it as agreed (with no pay) or back out.
Because this is a long-time client, I agreed to help out gratis. I spent the rest of the day putting together the project, mirroring the same styles I was presented on the last project. I put my own time into it and gave it my best per usual, sending it off to the client the same day. Imagine my surprise when the client came back wanting changes – major changes. And that’s when I pushed back.
I’m not a stranger to compromising a little in order to help out a client. It’s a good way to build goodwill and to show teamwork that may be remembered later. Likewise, I’m not a stranger to a few clients expecting more free work. For that reason, I’ve learned to draw my boundaries thick and strong. In this particular case, five hours of my billable time is enough. I may lose the client, but in the case of any client who puts me in an uncomfortable situation like that, I’m okay with it.
But when clients ask the impossible, we writers are faced with what we think is a painful decision. Do we agree to terms that don’t suit us in order to appease the client, or do we turn down the work and risk the relationship? Clients ask, inappropriately, for free help all the time. That doesn’t mean we have to honor the requests. But sometimes our motivations get in the way.
What is your primary motivation for saying yes? If any of the following is your reason, you need to be saying no:
- I don’t like confrontations
- I’m afraid of losing the relationship
- I feel I owe them my loyalty
- I have nothing better to do
A caveat: If the relationship is one where the client funnels plenty of work to you on a regular basis, the answer to the question would depend on the value you’re getting from the relationship. For example, if your magazine editor asks for a sidebar to your latest article and you’re able to do it easily from your notes, it may be okay. If, however, the editor expects you to research and write a rather comprehensive sidebar for no extra pay, you’d be perfectly within your rights to ask for additional pay or say no.
But how do we say no? All it takes is a little tact. Here are some ways to say no and perhaps salvage the relationship:
- I’m afraid I can’t
- I’m sorry, but I have too many paying clients whose projects must take precedence
- I can’t do this, but I can complete it if you are able to find the budget to pay me for it
One thing I would never do is say “I can’t do this at this time.” That opens the door to the client returning with the same request in the future. State what you mean – you can’t do it. You won’t do it. Whatever wording works for you, be cordial, but firm.
Some clients will push back. However, if there’s a guilt trip attached (“But I need to get it done or I’ll be in big trouble!” or “But you should have figured I wanted this in the first place!”), add a final, firm “no” and don’t engage in that conversation again. That’s a client who doesn’t respect you as a professional.
In many client situations, we’re faced with compromises. In every case, we have choices. Practice saying no. Know that the decision is not a personal one, but a business one. That little change in perspective can mean the difference between working for free or commanding the respect you deserve.
When was the last time a client asked you for a freebie?
Lori Widmer is a veteran of standing up for her business and letting pushy clients down gently. She blogs about writing at Words on the Page.
Image from http://www.sxc.hu