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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.

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