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Talk Turkey To Your Freelance Writing Clients

talk turkey to your writing clients

In American English to talk turkey  to someone means to be up front, to speak your mind. It also has the sense that we’re speaking firmly – even setting a boundary.

Not long ago I was working on a project through a broker.

I rarely do this, but I ran into the company completely by accident.

Most of their work is actually done in India for American clients and they needed someone to write in an American accent. I was so intrigued that the outsourcing was coming back around, agreed to do some writing for them.

When it’s time to talk turkey

Recently I’ve been hammering together a series of short posts on some pretty esoteric machinery. The owners of the company offering the machines haven’t been exactly forthcoming with the information, so I’ve raised the rate to include my research time.

That was the first example of when to talk turkey to my clients. While there may be writers who understand the ins and outs of the machinery there dealing with, I’m not one of them and I’ve never said I was. I can, however given the right kind of information. put together decent articles about almost anything. Most writers can. However it does require that I get solid information.

It only makes sense that if they’re not willing or able to provide that info, I should be compensated for my research. They agreed.

I was much relieved when I sent off the work and invoiced the broker.

I have pretty good rapport with the broker. For all the work I’ve done before they’ve paid me within 24 hours when I’ve invoiced through PayPal.

Ten days went by and I hadn’t heard a thing. I asked and was startled to be told  the client hadn’t yet taken the time to even look at the document I’d sent. I’m always happy to edit my stuff, but I also expect a timely turn around.

I put my foot down saying that if we didn’t have edits back by the end of next week, I’m going to ask, and insist, on half up front.

You see, you can get in trouble all sorts of ways. I’d assumed that since I’d gotten paid maybe dozen times within 24 hours that would always be true.

The first response I got from the broker was they couldn’t pay me because they wouldn’t received pay from the client. I didn’t respond to that comment and when the time elapsed, I canceled the first invoice and sent one for half the amount. In the note to the client section I explained that I had done the work that I was prepared to edit but that I wasn’t prepared to wait for at least some of my money because it had added up to multiple weeks.

By the end of the next day I had received the half payment I’d invoiced for. I sent him a thank you note. I assume some edits will come wandering in in this month sometime. I just sent an inquiry asking if they had taken if the client had taken time to read the work.

The takeaway

You could take away the idea that you should always get paid up front. In fact I endorse that idea entirely.

I think however, the real take away from this story is that we can set boundaries with our clients even in the middle of an assignment if we need to. We don’t need to be afraid that they will say no.

If, for example, the broker had refused to pay me half I would have been no worse off than if I hadn’t asked at all. I did ask and they value me enough to pay me up front money even though they haven’t collected from the client.

It never hurts to take a stand with the client. If they hadn’t paid I wouldn’t do any more work for them and I shouldn’t. Since they did pay, I expect I’ll continue to get work for them and we will have a mutually profitable relationship.

What’s happened when you’ve taken a stand with a client?

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Write well and often,




(Okay, so how did the turkey become code for talking frankly with someone? Lot’s of suggestions at English Language and Useage but I’m not sure I believe any of them. And isn’t that wild turkey in the pix just gorgeous?)



{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Anne:

    I think some of the reluctance to talk about terms with the client has to do with the (incorrect) perception of the nature of the relationship.

    When I started, I was terrified of losing a client – any client, even the really awful ones. Which is also part of the problem. When I finally realized that the compensation-to-BS ratio was never going to be high enough with one particularly awful client, it was a real epiphany.

    Until freelancers starts seeing themselves as a solo professionals – and believing it – we fall into the trap of thinking that the client has all the power, which is simply not true. Our services have great value. The ability to withhold those services until that worth is acknowledged – by paying us in a timely way – is absolutely a tool that we should be willing to employ when circumstances warrant it.

    On the other hand it’s always a good idea to state turnaround time (for both parties) and payment terms, in writing, before the start of the job. And probably having the client send a deposit with acknowledgement of those terms so everybody is clear that the work has started and what is expected. Because in my experience it’s a lot harder to get out of trouble than into it. 🙂

    • Mark, you’re sooooo right! And yes, terms up front, turn-around times, all are great suggestions.

      And I also recognize your story about being afraid to confront clients as well as your epiphany – wonder why this isn’t obvious in the beginning?

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