Freelance Writers: Are Sleazebag Clients Getting You Pregnant?

Carol Tice

Here’s a question for freelance writers, you probably haven’t thought about. Are sleazebag clients getting you pregnant?

Sounds ridiculous, right? You wouldn’t do that.

You’re smarter than that. You wouldn’t fall for some sleazebag taking advantage of freelance writers.

Here’s the thing. Most freelancer writers don’t go looking for sleazebag clients. It kind of just…you know…happens.

One day you’re trying to stand out in the sea of freelance writers to land a gig, make money writing…even a little money.

And then one day, you realize you’re screwed.

I’ve seen this happen to freelance writers over and over. And I’m sick and tired of watching freelance writers get played, taken advantage of, and stripped of the money they deserve.

Have you ever been screwed by a sleazebag client? Want to avoid the pitfalls of making this mistake?

In this post, I’m going to show freelance writers what a sleazebag client looks like, how they try and use you, and what you can do to tell these losers to get lost so you can move up and earn more.

The fairy tale of the freelance writers and sleazebags

You were so excited when you first met.

A prospective new freelance writing client!

The romance was on.

You got all dressed up, headed into town, and met up.

You were hoping it would be a brief get-acquainted thing and quickly lead to a serious commitment to hire you for some nice, steady writing work at an appealing rate.

So many freelance writers would be jealous!

Instead, the meeting took 90 minutes…

  • During which they told you the entire history of their lives and their business.
  • But couldn’t quite get around to defining their writing project.

It ends only with the vague idea that you should set another meeting to talk further.

This is what freelance writers do, right?

After the next marathon meeting, it starts to dawn on you:

You’re being used as a free consultant. This client doesn’t know what they want written. They may not have much money, either.

They can’t commit

And now you’ve invested hours in this client.

  • You’ve fallen for their hard-luck story.
  • The owner is battling cancer!
  • The business does such wonderful work and helps people…even freelance writers like you!

You try to break it off, but it’s not easy.

You’ve fallen in love. You want this client! You’re hot for them.

In your head, you’re already in bed with them.

But the story on what they want written keeps changing…

  • They drop hints that they have “budget restrictions.”
  • They cancel phone calls at the last minute.
  • You start to wonder if they’re talking to other freelance writers, too.

Warning bells are clanging. But you don’t listen…

You’ve spent so much time with this client, you’ve just got to land them. Otherwise, you’ll feel like a sucker for wasting so much time.

It’s a trap too many freelance writers have fallen for.

The only way to justify the dates you’ve already gone on with them is to consummate the relationship.

  • Finally, the big day arrives. They tell you what they want you to write.
  • The um, size of their thing turns out to be disappointingly small.
  • So is the price they’re paying for freelance writers like you.

This isn’t the relationship you were dreaming of at all.

Still, you say ‘yes’

Why? In your mind, they’ve already become your client.

What happened here?

  • You’ve let a sleazebag prospect get you pregnant with their project.
  • You bought their sob story.
  • Then you tolerated their dysfunction, instead of cutting them off.
  • You let them suck up your time.

And now you’re stuck nursing the squalling, cranky baby that is their misbegotten, underpriced project through to its sorry conclusion.

Freelance writers and the sad tale of getting knocked up

This sad tale of business romance gone wrong is one I hear all too often.

Freelance writers get sucked in by loser clients and end up making peanuts.

Here’s what you gotta know about freelance writing clients:

There are a lot of users and losers out there ready to take advantage of freelance writers. If you don’t set boundaries for the relationship, they’ll walk all over you. Then, they’ll leave you broke and alone.

How can you avoid an unwanted client pregnancy?

Here are my tips for freelance writers:

  • Observe the 30-minute rule. I try not to let any initial meeting go longer than a half-hour before we move the conversation to defining the project and discussing rates. More than that, and I consider myself to be doing pro bono consulting work for them.
  • Ask them to define their project. Gently but firmly, bring the conversation around to what exactly they want done. Yes, you should interrupt them if necessary. A blowhard prospect can pontificate about themselves for hours otherwise.
  • Ballpark rates ASAP. As fast as they tell you what their project is, ask them their budget. If they won’t spill, give them a quick ballpark figure. “So, it sounds like 10 pages of Web content about your microbiology lab that needs interviews with your team and a few outside experts. Sounds like about $2000 or so of work. That about right?” If they were thinking $100 for the whole thing, you want to find that out fast, so you can ditch this loser before you get attached.
  • Offer to consult. If they don’t know what they want, tell them you are happy to help them conceptualize about what they need written at $100 an hour from here forward. You’ll be amazed how quickly this news concentrates the minds of most business owners and enables them to figure out what they want.

When you take this approach with freelance writing prospects, it’s easier to spot the losers before you get sucked into their lies and dysfunction. And you’ll be one step closer to landing clients ready to pay you pro rates.

Have you gotten in bed with sleazebag clients? Leave a comment and tell us your story.

Recession Proof writing: free video - How Freelance Writers Double Their Income. Presented by Carol Tice, Freelance Writers Den Founder and Coach. WATCH NOW



  1. Inga Brereton

    Carol: just posted on LinkedIn.

    Thank you SO much.

    This article has really helped me summarise some of my thoughts/ideas for my fledgling writing business that I’m working on getting up and running, so – Cheers.

    Best wishes for a far more humane and compassionate 2021.

    PS My blog is just a personal one; however, don’t yet have my business website up and running – yet..

    • Carol Tice

      Try starting with a LinkedIn profile, Inga — it’s faster easier, and free, and then you instantly have somewhere clients can start finding you.

  2. Anna Katharina Angermann

    Very useful summary, I will definitely apply the 3o-min rule!

    • Angie Mansfield

      It definitely cuts down on some wasted time, Anna!

  3. Patricia Sutton

    I am susceptible to this type of interaction, so thanks for the warning and the tips. The “consult” tip is priceless/

  4. Christine Osterwalder

    Thanks, Carol! This was really helpful, especially limiting the initial conversation time, clarifying ballpark rates, and the tip about offering to consult, if clients don’t know what they want.

    • Carol Tice

      It seems like lately there’s a real epidemic of startups who know they want some kinda content, but have no real clue — sell them consulting, I say! You may know there’s been a new-business boom this year, up 43% from the previous year in new-biz starts… so it may be a function of that. Lotta brand-new businesses. Make them pay for strategy and don’t be milked for free consulting!

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