Do You Fall in Love with Your Writing Clients…and then Get Screwed?

Carol Tice

It’s one of the most commonly asked questions I get from writers: What should I charge?

It’s hard to know, isn’t it? There isn’t one universal rate card freelance writers work from. Fair pay is determined by a million factors — how bad you need the gig, how easy it sounds and how pleasant the people are, how much you like the topic, how tight the deadlines are…and so on.

But lately, I’ve been hearing about one issue in particular that is stopping a lot of writers from earning what they truly deserve.

I’ve dubbed this problem Writer Client Crush Syndrome.

In other words, you fall in love with your client — before you find out what they might be willing to pay you.

The matchup between a writer and a client is a whole lot like dating. Ever get a mad crush on a guy (or girl) on the first email or phone call you had, before you really knew much about them?

Apply that to freelance writing, and you get Writer Client Crush Syndrome.

As in relationships, client love can strike when you least expect it.

It begins when you hear from a prospect

You love that they responded to your query or the resume you sent to their ad. You’re excited that you got an interview with them.

When you learn about the company, you fall hard for their story.

The owner is battling cancer. Their cause is amazing and wonderful and changes lives for the better. Their products are innovative and unique. The company is in an industry where you have great expertise. You’ve been wanting to break into social-media marketing and they’re going to let you run a campaign.

You know nothing about what your working relationship would be like yet. Maybe you’ll be gang-edited by a team of four, or have to pull night shifts to meet their deadline.

But you’ve got stars in your eyes, and you’re already fantasizing about how great it would be to add this client to your list. You’re imagining their clips in your portfolio already.

You haven’t taken the time to reality-check what you’re hearing with other writers you know. You don’t have a sense of what fair pay would even be for this gig.

You’ve jumped straight to the end of the love story and you’re imagining yourself already married to this client and their work.

The problem?

You’re a pushover when it comes to pay

You’ve let the initial-meet phase drag on too long, fallen in love, and now you’re a sucker for whatever offer they make.

They’ve got you right where they want you.

When they start telling you they’d like you to work for $9 an hour, the rationalizing begins. This is the equivalent of “Maybe he’ll call” after the first date.

Maybe they’ll offer me more work later, and I can raise my rates. It’s a foot in the door. It’s an opportunity.

The next thing you know, a big block of your time is being taken up by someone paying you peanuts. You’ve lost critical time you need for marketing to good-paying prospects, and you have a client that doesn’t respect you (in the morning or any other time) and doesn’t pay you professional rates.

Often, these dysfunctional, underpaid writer-client relationships can persist for years. It’s hard to break it off. You’re still not over that first crush you had on them.

How to prevent Writer Client Crush Syndrome

How can you avoid falling victim to WCCS?

Keep your heart in your chest when you first get a nibble from a prospect.

You want initial chats or meetings to be short, gather needed details about the project, and lead quickly to a question such as, “What’s your budget for this project?”

Before you have a chance to fall head-over-heels for a bum client.


  1. Terri Huggins

    Very good post. Unfortunately, it’s something I can relate to. The sad truth is, in the business world, no one is looking out for you but you. Always find everything out upfront and get it in writing.

  2. Anne Wayman

    gang edit – great term for the d**n committee edit.

    I’ve got a client right now I’m about to tell he has to pay me more, although I’ll ask. I think he’ll be reasonable. We started out doing one thing and now have added to it. It’s up to me to watch this sort of thing.

  3. Edna

    Great analogy. I’ve fallen for the client relationship thing too many times and am just seeing the light lately. I started raising my rates with new clients as I bring them in and that’s a process I’m getting more comfortable with. I’ve joined a networking group where I’m the only marketing/writing person so I have a nice opportunity to more work. I have to get more comfortable about asking and negotiating, so I’m getting to know women in the group who are really good at asking about budgets and money. This is something I’m struggling with so thanks for laying out the relationship side of it.
    Thanks for the post!

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