How to Save Your Sanity When You’ve Got a Nightmare Freelance Writing Client

Carol Tice

It started out so great. You got a client nibble!

It sounded like a great freelance writing gig — perfect for your talents.

So you signed up and started to work.

Then, everything changed.

Now, your client is driving you out of your mind.

They want to IM you 24/7. If you’re not available for an hour, they freak out.

They’re never happy. Can’t decide exactly what they want.

When they get frustrated, they take it out on you. They scream. Rant. Complain.

Or they’ve got you reporting to three different teams, who each want your work rewritten their way.

They keep adding work to your plate, which you’re supposed to do at no additional charge.

It’s like that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where the beautiful spirit turns into the vengeful demon. This freelance gig is going south on you — fast.

Taming the crazy

When freelance gigs go bad, you’ve got to take control. These situations will not get better by themselves.

Here are my tips for getting your client back on track — before you lose your mind:

  • Read your contract. If your client is asking for things you think are outside the scope of what you agreed to, it’s time to dust off your contract and see what it says. Then, simply remind the client what you’ve agreed to do. Do they want more? You’re happy to negotiate some additional pay. Don’t have a contract? Now you see why you always need a contract. Make a note never to start work again without a signed one in your pocket.
  • Be unavailable. The only way to deal with boundary-pushers is to set limits. If they’re trying to get you to work nights and weekends when you want that for family time, just be clear — you will not work at those times. Then, be sure to never respond if they email or call you during those hours. Speaking of email, you don’t have to answer that email the minute it arrives. If you think they’re getting needy, leave it for a half-day or longer. Train them up that it will take a while for you to get back to them.
  • Just say no. When pushy clients want more and more, simply refuse to play. When they ask if you could bang out a couple of extra articles by Friday, tell them you’re fully booked. They can’t make you do it.
  • Stay professional. It’s very difficult to continue yelling at someone who is speaking calmly and quietly. Don’t sink to their level. Be the grownup here, always.
  • Vent. It can relieve a lot of stress to talk to other writers who’ve been there. Hit your favorite writer-support chat forums and share. Maybe the other writers will have some tips on how you can get your client back in line, too.
  • Ramp up your marketing. If you’re not actively prospecting for other clients, it’s easy to feel despair if a current client is becoming a disaster. Realize you may well want to replace this client, so you need to start beating the bushes.
  • Pull the plug. Sometimes, there’s nothing to do but end it. If you’ve tried your best to get the train back on the rails and it’s clear it is just not going to go, make your departure plan, give notice, and leave.
  • Look for patterns. Does this bad-client scenario happen to you a lot? If so, it’s time to ask yourself why this keeps happening. If it’s a self-esteem thing where you think you only deserve crummy, abusive clients, then work on it. If you’ve had a string of bad clients that weren’t a good match for your skills and interests, or were clients you jumped on out of desperation without asking enough questions, you may want to get a little pickier about who you take on. If you see a pattern to what all the bad clients have in common — like maybe they all came from Craigslist? — make changes to how you prospect and the questions you ask before you accept a gig.

Remember, when you’re a freelancer, no one client owns you and they’re not your boss. If they want 24/7 access to you or the right to rant and scream, they can pay you a fat staff writer’s salary and start picking up the tab for healthcare, vacation, and sick time.

Otherwise, make sure they know you’ll be fitting them into your busy schedule among the other clients and responsibilities you have.

How do you deal with nightmare clients? Leave a comment and tell us your approach.



  1. John

    This was really informative. One should actually try the above tricks.

  2. anne grant

    As you negotiate a contract or in casual emails, would it be appropriate to designate your working hours before you get too far in the process? Or have it on your voice mail greeting, just so there aren’t misunderstandings?
    Unfortunately, with all the gadgets for communication, there can be the assumption that we are available instantly and all the time.
    I have found that even if I think I’ve been perfectly clear, I should make it even clearer and then clarify it again!

    • Carol Tice

      I really don’t bring it up. I run on the assumption that people understand regular business hours. If they don’t, they will soon when they start working with me. 😉

      Even if I’m on in the evenings to work on something, I try not to respond to clients then. Don’t want them to get in the habit of thinking I’m around then.

  3. Thomas

    I have an online number that acts as my asnering service. It’s forwarded to my mobile, but I can shut that off after hours. It also keeps VMs in an email box so I always have a record of every message.

    Setting boundaries is easy. After hours, enjoy my VM & texts are ignored until morning. Out-of-Office on my email is set ANY time I’m out of the office. I don’t care if it’s to go shopping w/the family or to hit the beach for the day.

    There are way too many clients out there who NEED our talents for us to become their Bs.

    Don’t fall into their traps.

    • Carol Tice

      I have a cel that I just check once a day and otherwise leave shut off…works great as well for screening!


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