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Sometimes You Simply Can’t Educate a Freelance Writing Client

Educate a freelance writing clientYou’ve heard me explain that part of our job it’s freelance writers is to educate our clients. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised at how few people who hire freelancers have any idea what actually has to happen to get the right words on paper.

On the other hand don’t know how to run a paper mill, or build an airplane, or even manage a team of hundreds or even thousands.

Give me the right information however, and like you I can write well about almost anything. I’ll bet you are the same.

Often we educate a freelance writing client

Often we have to teach clients the kind of information we need in order for us to do a good job. That doesn’t mean they have to write up for us in rough draft. Usually we’re looking for links to pages that explain the specialty, as well as some background on the client or client’s company.

Typically the client says something like:

“Oh I get it. I can’t expect to know how to do that but once you learn about it you can write about it, right?”

When a client really understands this, they’re usually pretty easy work with. When I send them a draft they’re not all upset that they have to re-explain something or point me to yet another resource.

Before long we’re on the same page and they’re getting the kind of writing they wanted and are expecting. It becomes a satisfactory relationship for both sides which is how it should be.

An exception that proves the rule?

Sometimes, however, it doesn’t work like that.

I accepted some writing from a client in a esoteric industry – at least esoteric to me. I explained that I would need resource information. As I recall I even used an example saying, “I don’t know a thing about XXX. Am I right you already know some links that would give me the information I need?”

The client responded giving me two answers. The first was a rather breezy “Sure I can provide that.” The second turned out to that than a red flag that I ignored. He added, “but I don’t want to have to babysit you.”

I should have taken the babysitting comment as a warning.

The information he has provided is minimal. Essentially, he wanted to have longer posts on his site, but they provided only their site as the source of information.

Suspecting I was in trouble I wrote the post using the minimal information he had sent. They were short In truth, I wasn’t surprised he said they weren’t long enough.

I asked for the additional information that he had promised and got back the tedious details I needed for one post. There are more than 20 to go.

I took two of what I had done, the short versions, and did the research necessary to take them to the required length. The truth is it’s not difficult, but it is boring, really boring. It also takes time.

I’m right at that place where I can either finish it and collect pretty decent pay, or dump it and kissed the client off royally. I’ll probably do the former – in fact I’m quite sure I will.

It can happen to pros

The only reason I’m telling you this tale is to let you know that even real professionals, writers with years of experience, occasionally just blow it when talking with a potential client.

It’s not the end of the world. I’ll finish this in a day or two maybe three and get a nice paycheck.

But today, I wish I’d listen to the red flag and turned him down and did some more marketing.


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Write well and often,






{ 5 comments… add one }
  • I don’t get it either…

  • Thanks for this post, Anna!
    Actually, I don’t get why some clients don’t want to provide extra information if they have it. As for me, when I work with freelance writers i always appreciate when they try to get a clue what they write about. I think that person can’t know everything.

  • Somehow I don’t think he’d get that one, but I do, Helene.

  • ‘Babysit you’? Ouch!!
    Vulgar, he was.
    Doing research of your own commands high prices — however, you’d have to fact-check with an expert (additional cost) or with your client, anyway.

    Why not tell a story to a client — he’s at a faraway ranch alone and has to prepare Thanksgiving dinner for 36, or shame will befall him. He’s left in the kitchen with a cookbook, a PC connected with the ‘net (good luck with your searches), and a note saying, ‘You’ll find everything you need in the pantry.’

    (how likely is he to volunteer next year as help in the kitchen?)

  • Trying to be aware of the red lags of clients and see them well in advance is something I am constantly struggling with and it’s definitely not easy. As you said Anne, you can’t always know beforehand when a potential client might prove not to be trustworthy. It requires a difficult decision making that we can’t always do successfully (at least I can’t).

    Thanks Anne!
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