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. Christy

    I just had one of these tonight. TWO hours into the meeting, I had to cut them off and tell them the project wasn’t for me. I had trouble because it was a sweet old man. But man, no way. I don’t work for free. He had a start-up with a “unique pay structure.” Nope.

    • Carol Tice

      2 hours? He wasn’t sweet… he was abusing your time. You might want to read THIS post as a followup:

      And yeah, I advise writers against writing for equity in an unproven startup. If that startup turns out to be the next Microsoft, you’re going to hate me, but the other 999 out of 1000 end up stiffing you.

  2. Gary Jones

    No, I’m too busy sleeping on my own

    • Carol Tice

      LOL, read the post, Gary — we don’t mean it like THAT…

  3. Julie

    This post really hit home. There was a time when a would-be client asked me for a sample, about three times. I kept being told that my article was turned down. I wonder to this day what the deal was, and actually by the third submission I decided to put a link to the content on one of my own blogs. That way, the sample was live and they couldn’t steal it if they wanted.

  4. Sandhya Valecha

    Ohh my Gawd! This post completely resonated with me!

    I can’t believe I’m reading my story on this page.

    Just a week back a prospective client called me telling me he’d been wanting to contact me urgently. He said, “I found your number on your site. I liked the posts you write and I want you to write content for my website”.
    I asked him for his content requirements and budget. And what spiraled next was a series of non-stop of emails. He asked too many questions and I spent at least 30 minutes to 1 hour responding to each email. We did get around to discussing the budget part but his emails continued. After receiving 8th email from him, I sat back, stared at my screen and screamed at myself – “What the heck am I doing? Why is this becoming a never ending process? Why isn’t he getting started with the content” Am I offering free consultation here?” I invested over 5 hours worth of time in this project pro bono! The project finally did kick start but I learned a lesson – ‘never give free advice’. But I wasn’t really sure how I would go about the process and how exactly I’m going to streamline the process. I now know, thanks to this post!

    You just gave me so many brilliant techniques. The hourly consultation fee rule and the thirty minute timeline are remarkable approaches. Thanks for writing this terrific post. I loved the catchy and peppy title. I’m on my way to read other posts on this site…

    • Carol Tice

      Glad this was helpful, Sandhya!


  1. Are You Writing, or Are You Dreaming of Writing? on - [...] people always suck me in for a second before revealing how lost they really are, how much a waste…

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