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It’s Okay For Freelance Writers to Say No to a Client

say noIt’s sometimes hard for freelance writers to learn to say no to a client.

When I look back I remember how scared I was to offend a client or even a prospective client. My throat would tighten and I’d feel fear in my chest. No one ever said anything, but I suspect there was a quaver or two in my voice. I was so afraid I’d do or say something that would mean they didn’t hire me or they’d fire me.

Of course, this had a lot to do with my lack of self-confidence. Some of my lack of boldness also had to do with not understanding the unwritten rules of freelancing. I was under the impression that somehow I had to agree with most everything a client might want. I hadn’t yet come to understand that how much I’m paid, and how I’m treated, and what I actually do is pretty much up to me.

Setting boundaries

In self-help and self-care circles there’s a lot of talk about setting boundaries. The quick and pretty accurate definition of boundaries in this context is setting limits.

Let me give you an example:

Jane was a new freelance writer who had just landed her first gig. She was to generate a 10 page report based mostly on information the client would provide. She had two-weeks to get it done and had received a 25 percent advance to get started.

The first problem surfaced when her client called and berated her for not being available for a chat conference. Since this was the first Jane had heard of the client’s desire to be able to chat with her, she apologized and downloaded the chat application. The next thing she realized is the client wanted to chat multiple times a day. She came to the forum and asked what she should do.

Universally members suggested she set strict limits on such interruptions. Although Jane was reluctant at first, she finally told her client that she would only accept phone calls and chats by appointment.

That’s setting a boundary, provided you stick to it. Jane was saying firm no to her client’s desire to be able to intrude on her writing day at whim.

Times to say no to a gig

Here are some warning signs that you probably should refuse the job to start with:

An offer of low pay – your rate is pretty much your rate. Oh sure, you should be open to some negotiation and flexibility, but not too much.

Any statement about requiring frequent meetings – unless you’re paid for the meetings by the hour as well as for the writing, you probably should turn down or not even apply when it’s clear the client wants to control as much of your time as possible. In fact, when a client talks about repeated meetings, on the phone, on a chatline or in person, the quickest way to get them to change their tune is to say something like: “Sure. You do understand that I’ll bill you my regular hourly rate, don’t you?”

A gig that requires multiple people to approve – if the job is going to require more than one or two people to sign off before it’s complete and you’re to receive final payment, don’t go for it. You can ask that you deal with only one person, and spell out how many revisions you’ll do with out additional payment. Add to that a time limit for each revision – something like a week or two and you may have a workable contract. It will be up to you to spell out the conditions so they work for you, and to enforce them.

An offer to share the revenue instead of pay – while sharing revenue sounds great, if it’s the only way you’ll get paid, it’s probably time to say no. There’s no reason for you to gamble with your time that way. If it’s something you really want to do, suggest a lower percentage in exchange for an hourly or flat per piece fee. That way you’ll get paid, and who knows, maybe the company will drive a ton of page views so revenue share counts as a win for you. Just don’t hold your breath.

Times to say no once the gig is started

Sometimes the job will fall apart in the middle – the real reason every contract needs an escape clause. For example:

Failure to provide promised materials – if the client doesn’t provide what they promised to give you so you could do the work well, you’re stuck. Feel free to send them a notice that says something like: “If I don’t get the materials you promised by (date). the contract will be considered void and all deposit money will be forfeit.” Make it a reasonable warning time, but stick to your guns.

Any attempt to change the contract without notice or changing the payment terms – Sometimes clients have no idea what they’re asking when they change what they want. On the other hand, some are just trying to get more for their money. Say no to the extra work unless they are going to compensate you for it.

Babysitting – some clients need more hand holding than others. However, if you find yourself on the phone with them helping them solve their emotional problems, or reassuring them over and over again that you know how to write a press release, or any number of other time sinks, they need too much babysitting. You can try gently disengaging, but don’t be surprised if you have to be firm or even rude. Remember, you are in control of your own time and it’s really good business sense not to let someone use more of it than you’re willing to have them use.

Learning to say no to clients is a mark of a true professional. Go for it.

Write well and often,




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