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Should You Refuse a Red Flag Writing Client? Maybe Not!

red flag writing clientIn an article written years ago I suggested that you should refuse what I call a red flag writing client.

I may have been wrong.

I was listening to business coach Mark Boresma when a freelance editor friend of mine on the same mastermind call asked how she could protect herself when a client she had hoped to land was giving every indication of becoming one of those red flag clients.

Mark didn’t know that I had already suggested to my friend she might want to avoid the job completely because that’s been my only strategy when it comes to clients who are too controlling,

Boresma suggested a different approach. Close or almost close the sale and negotiate away the problem areas before the final contract is set.

Duh! It was a true light bulb moment.

Let the agreement help manage a red flag writing client

For example, if a client says in the ad or in person they want frequent meetings, I tend to immediately label them a red flag writing client and run. I could, before I give up, ask them what that means to them. It’s at least in the realm of possibilities that they think of weekly 15 minute sessions as frequent, not the every-other-day nightmare I’m picturing. My hunch is we can come to an agreement about the number of needed meetings and add that to the contract.

Or take the job posting that says something like they want you available by instant messaging throughout the day. I could again, ask exactly what that means to them and/or explain I can be available by appointment between 7 and 6 pm or whatever. It wouldn’t hurt to tell them how distracting instant messaging is when I’m writing. They might go for it. A clause like this would work well in any agreement I think.

No free samples?

I note I said no free samples – ever! Yet the other day I answered an ad that wanted a headline writer and I made up a short handful of usable ones to include in my email response. I gave away some headlines and they hadn’t even asked me to! Obviously there’s a place for them and I can trust myself to know when those are.

About those committees

If offered a writing gig that wanted a committee involved with the approval process, I’d first urge them to find a single person to handle it. Assuming that didn’t work I’d listen carefully to what they thought committee approval brought to the process and I’d truly try to understand.

If it looked like I’d have to live with the committee and I thought I wanted to, I’d do these things:

  • Quietly up the price, and
  • Make two revisions a matter of contract.
  • Insist that any feedback from the committee had to be given in X days or it would be assumed accepted.
  • Any money owed me would become due when I completed the contract even if the committee hadn’t performed.
  • I’d submit the schedule of approvals – and the dates and attach it to the contract.

With each of these items understood and in place it seems it would be a workable situation.

We can be smart about how we handle red flag clients

I still won’t work with someone whose belief system collides with mine ways that will show up in the writing I do  And  I probably won’t work for free, and I will certainly honor my intuition,

I realize I can trust myself to first have a discussion with the client about potential problems and then, if I choose, write an agreement that helps smooth those difficulties over.

Oh I kept a red flag writing client or two on my list, but that list is shorter. My mind is also more open to really understanding their needs before I back off.

What do you think? Would this approach shorten your list of red flag clients?

Write well and often,



{ 5 comments… add one }
  • I have had many red flag clients. I always carry forward with them in a careful manner to see how they respond to certain queries, and then I decided based on their responses. True, they may have a reason for the way they work with contract workers, and I find out what that is, but I will not let the client take complete control over the way I work.

    I vie for mutual control at best: 50/50.

    As for free writing samples, I feel uncomfortable with this, and I generally don’t practice it. First, many website owners seek free content, so they request free writing samples so they can “evaluate your ability” to write. Why wouldn’t samples I have already written work just as well to demonstrate my capabilities? Second, why should I conduct extra work without getting paid for it? I allow up to fifty free words.

    In fact, I am currently involved with a prospect who says “I am a great fit,” yet has requested I write a 300-500/word sample for him. He italicized this word-count range as if it were inconsequential. Sorry, but writing 300-500 words without compensation would, in fact, be providing him an entire article–for free.

    So, yes, listen to what the client has to stay, but let her or him know you have your own way of working as well. If the two of you can work together with mutual respect, all the better; if not, you move on.

    By the way, Anne, would you consider 300-500 words acceptable or extreme? Why or why not? Just curious.

    • IT’s such a judgement call… 300 words isn’t extreme for me and if I felt I was a good fit and it was something I wanted to do and I could either verify the guy was legit or just came to trust him I might… might not. If I did I would put a copyright notice on the article and I wouldn’t hesitate to use it or most of it elsewhere.

      Another thought, does your website have article he can look at, or I guess, come to think of it you could say,
      ‘sure, and I’ll put it on my website and send you the url until you’re ready to pay for it… might work.’

      • Hi Anne,

        Actually, I do have some articles online, and I could write one for the potential employer and then post it elsewhere. Never has there been a stipulation I couldn’t do that, and that would keep the copyright in my name. So, yes, that is an idea!

        As for other alternatives, I could merely send samples of my own so the employer could get an idea of my writing style. I do that all the time, and it seems satisfactory.

        Many companies and agencies offer payment for sample articles written for them, so I know that requesting payment for said sample isn’t unreasonable. Some don’t even ask for a sample to be written for them.

        As you have said: it’s a judgement call, as each case is different.

  • That certainly is food for thought. Lately I have had a few that scream red flag and, like you, I just say no. I had one client who I may have been able to use your method to take more control of the interview process and iron out the bugs. So thank you for sharing this golden nugget.

    • It tickles me how often I learn things about myself and others even after years… and taking control of the interview… ah yes, maybe I’ll try that on the tuesday article. Interviewing clients… or something.

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