Is Your Writing Client Having a Crisis? Here’s How to Stay Sane

Carol Tice

Freelance client management is a challenge, especially if your client has a crisis.

If you’re a freelance writer, this is going to happen:

You get a freelance writing client, and you’re all excited. You think this is going to be great!

Then, the wheels come flying off. Everything changes.

Your client has a big problem — and they want you to drop everything and solve it. Next, if you’re not careful, you end up underpaid and overworked. Here are some freelance client management tips to resist the pressure, keep your head, and turn this situation to your advantage:


Emergency! Emergency!

Sometimes, a prospective freelance writing client’s first gambit will be to breathlessly announce that they have an emergency. Other times, an existing client suddenly starts losing it.

Either way, they’re looking to you to mop up the mess — and they usually come at you like a whirlwind. It’s easy to get sucked into the drama and stop thinking rationally about your best way forward.

Take this situation one writer recently wrote to me about:

At 7 pm on a Friday night, my client asks me, “So, are you available to work on this during the next 24 hours?” She wasn’t offering any more money.

This is what dysfunctional clients do — they’re disorganized and don’t know what they want. Then everything always needs to be done rush-rush…and they’re looking for a sucker they can pay a pittance to fix it.

It’s sort of like in The Cat in the Hat, where the stain is on the dress, and then the wall, and then the rug, and so on. The problem doesn’t go away, it just gets transferred to another spot. That’s what happens with your client’s problem — unless you bring the spot remover.

Is it real?

First off, ask your client questions to identify whether this really IS an emergency. Some clients freak out a lot, and it’s not always justified.

Could this deadline be changed, for instance? Do all these blog posts or articles have to be written now, or perhaps just one? Is the printer not really going to have time to produce this for another week?

Do they really, really need this by Monday at 9 a.m., or is the big meeting to review it actually not taking place until Wednesday?

Often, the best-case scenario is that you’re able to help the client reclassify this project as “not a crisis.” Sigh. Problem solved.

3 Possible outcomes

If you can’t find a way to get this project out of the crisis category — it’s really a sirens blaring, put-on-your-oxygen-mask emergency — then there are only three possible ways this turns out:

1) You turn your client’s problem into your opportunity. Rush work should pay more — a lot more. I used to charge 50 percent more, when I was a script typist and a lazy screenwriter needed his late draft to look pretty by tomorrow night for a meeting. Charging double works well, too.

2) You say no. Even with an established client, you are not obligated to take every assignment they ever have, under any and all circumstances. Yes, you worry that if you don’t do it, they’ll fall in love with the writer who takes their crisis gig and never use you again. But you can’t run your life based on paranoia. You’re their contractor, not their slave. So turn down gigs that aren’t a fit for you.

By coincidence (or not?), I turned down a $600 article assignment this month, because I would have had to scotch my vacation plans and sat inside researching and writing while everyone else in my extended family was bodysurfing on a California beach. No, thanks!

3) You let your client’s problem become your problem. That is, you drop everything and take their rush work, on their terms. You don’t get paid more. Now, you are this client’s dog — they realize you’re desperate and will do anything they say, at any time on any day, at any price. Don’t expect a raise here, ever.

Offer choices

Often, the “crisis” is caused by something the client didn’t do — like send you research materials, or give you a source’s name. In situations like this, you can offer options, rather than simply refusing, or quoting a sky-high price off the bat.

This makes the client feel more in control of the situation, when in fact you’re really calling the shots and defining what you’re willing to do, and at what price.

As in:

“I wanted to check in because your source never got back to me, and now your deadline is one week away. Did you want to move that deadline out and keep trying him, or maybe give him a ring and ask him to respond to me? Or did you want me to choose another source that’s available now? Beyond this point, this will be a rush project for me, and the fee will be higher, so I wanted to give you a chance to plan here.”


“I’m sorry your deliverables were held up, but I do have other bookings, so that’s put us substantially behind. Did you want to pay more to turn this into a rush project, now that you lost that time on your end? Or would you like to set a later date?”

Be diplomatic and keep it professional, and with luck you’ll be able to arrive at a course of action together. If it’s to do this on a rush, hopefully, you’ve now built in the awareness that this will need to pay a higher rate.

Don’t be a doormat

Remember, you are in charge of your business, and you get to decide whether you take assignments or not. Client management is a big part of this business.

If it isn’t already your mantra, repeat after me: Rush work should pay more. Rush work should pay more.

Otherwise, you’re letting your client’s problem become your problem. And you’re going to be a broke, unhappy freelancer without much of a personal life.

Have you ever had a client crisis? Tell us what you did in the comments.

Get Great Freelance Clients



  1. Kevin Carlton

    Yep, Carol, this has sure happened to me.

    Like you say, a client will typically ring up on a Friday afternoon with an urgent request. They’ll say something like ‘We desperately need this on our website for Monday afternoon’.

    So you work all weekend on it. And you wear yourself to meet their emergency deadline of Monday lunchtime.

    Then what happens?

    The content doesn’t appear on their website for weeks.

    Something tells me that rarely are these so-called emergencies a crisis for the company. They’re merely a vanity crisis for one particular individual.

    • Carol Tice

      Oh yeah — definitely been there! Or it appears…never.

      I believe some crises really ARE crises — this brochure or white paper or whatever has to be presented at the trade show that starts on Thursday. But it’s worth asking questions and trying to get a sense of whether there really IS a hard deadline before you buy into the hysteria.

      • Kevin Carlton

        People don’t quibble over your rush rate when they’re genuinely desperate. So I guess this is one way to tell when there’s a real crisis,

        • Carol Tice

          Right on — once the news that you’d like 50% more to get it done instantly comes down, sometimes they change their tune on when it HAS to be done.

    • lindsey

      Yeah, that happens all the time! Clients demand something ASAP, then don’t get around to actually reviewing the work until days or even a week later. I’m definitely starting to take note of who does this, and avoid them.

      • Kevin Carlton

        I once had one so-called desperate client who took two years to review their content. I did do some work for them again, but reminded them about what happened last time.

        They weren’t so pushy after that.

  2. Abdul Jawula

    This has happened to me before. It is worth saying no sometimes; in my experience it makes the client respect you more. It is easy for a client to think that you are at their beck and call 24/7. They should understand early on that you have other clients, projects and a social life.

  3. Daryl

    I used to upload some content straight to a WordPress blog (my work was subcontracted). Then one day I got an urgent email/Skype call saying from my client that the blog posts were wonky (the formatting on the screen went crazy) and that I needed to fix it NOW. I had no idea why the posts were being displayed like that, and in fact it had nothing to do with what I did!

    At the end of the day, I ended up simply moving away from that client because they paid peanuts (for example the editors were paid $1 per each edited document – you can imagine that they didn’t last very long!).

    I quickly learned that the neediest clients are often the cheapest and simply not worth working for.

    • Abdul Jawula

      Your statement about low paying clients being the most demanding is spot on. When I first started out I was working for low paying clients, but after ‘moving up’ I have noticed that clients just leave me to get on with it. Higher paying clients tend to be more trusting and respectful.

  4. Karen Briggs

    Thanks for the heads up! When this situation arises, I will know how to handle it. Sometimes, people play this game just to see if you will go for it. Doubling your rates for the rush job should tell you, pretty quickly, just how much of a rush it really is. People tend to pay for what they actually do need.

  5. Kayla

    Great article! I have had this happen a couple of times, and like you suggest, I either ask for more money or I tell them I can’t do it with that short of a deadline. That’s a “rush job” in my book and is subject to my higher “rush rate” of pay.

  6. Maddie

    I needed to read this post! As much as I love my job and freelance writing, sometimes being a writer can be difficult and customers are not always a pleasure to work with. Thanks for the advice!

  7. Theodore Nwangene

    Awesome stuff as always Carol,
    And this is really relatable indeed. Of cause, if you want me to work for you at my own detriment, that means you should be able to pay more. This is business for Gods sake and not a charity. You can’t just punish yourself just because a client needs a rushed work with little or no pay.

    If i must make such a sacrifice then, there must be something big in it for me, this will actually serve as a motivator and driver, this is why the third option above is a “NO GO AREA”.

    Finally, its always better to say NO and walk away rather than accepting what you might not be able to do. If you say NO and the client lets you walk away, just know that the job is not yours.

    Thanks for sharing Carol.

  8. Amel

    I really like how this article included examples of specific professionally-worded responses one could offer clients in a rush. As usual, a useful post with lots of very solid advice.

  9. Laurie Stone

    This is great advice. Keeping cool and not getting caught in the drama is key. The confidence needed in this case is the difference between a professional and a lackey.

    • Carol Tice

      EXACTLY. Once you’re in lackey mode, it’s so hard to get the client to respect you.

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