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Is Your Writing Client a Pain? 5 Tactics that Stop the Agony

Carol Tice

Is life with your writing clients a few sandwiches short of a picnic?

Maybe your client insists you attend their staff meetings without pay. Or they pay 90 days after checks are due, only after you nag them a half-dozen times.

Then there’s the screamer. The company that has your work gang-edited by an eight-person team. The magazine editor who sends back your work covered in red ink. The solopreneur who wants to instant-message you at all hours, seven days a week.

And, of course, the one who pays you one-tenth what you should be getting paid.

Whatever the particulars, it adds up to one thing: Your client is a Pain In The Ass.

It can be sort of fun to complain about your PITA clients. “Can you believe they did this?” you moan to your writer friends.

But even more fun is resolving your PITA problems and having only pleasant, productive, positive relationships with your clients.

Here are my five tips for keeping your client list PITA-free:

  1. Make initial contracts short. I like a 60-90 day initial contract. This gives you a natural opportunity to redefine your working relationship after a short period of time. Once you find out your client is desperately needy or really wants 750-word blog posts, not 250, this is your chance to raise your rates — or to bow out and move on.
  2. Clearly define boundaries. Without exception, PITA clients are boundary-pushers. Whatever they should reasonably expect from you, they want more. So make sure you spell out exactly what you are doing for the money. You want to know when things are due, how soon they pay, the length of your piece, how many interviews they expect, when you’ll need to be available for calls or meetings…the works.
  3. Ignore them. Often, PITAs want loads of your time. Simply be unavailable, at least sometimes. You don’t have to answer that email, phone call, or instant message right away. You want to communicate to them that you are busy and they are not your only client (even if they are). Make it clear you are not going to be their 24/7 on-call staff writer at freelance rates…or you’ll find that’s exactly what you’ve become.
  4. Charge them more. It’s amazing what doubling your rate can do for your feelings that a client is a PITA. Suddenly, their annoying foibles don’t seem as oppressive. Whenever you feel frustrated, you can always take a look at your bank balance to remind you why you put up with them.
  5. Say goodbye. In the end, you’ve got to weigh all the factors: How bad do you need the income from this client? How stressed out are you by them? If you asked for a raise and they’re not going for it, and you feel like you’re gonna puke every time you have to talk to them, it’s probably time to give notice that you’ll be moving on. The bonus? Often, as soon as you do, a better client comes along. You’ve just made room in your life for something better, so it has a chance to appear.

No matter what strategy you use to rein in your PITA, remember the most important rule: Stay professional.

Yes, I know they throw tantrums and talk nasty. But don’t you do it. Leave all your doors open and bridges unburned — never know when you might want to use them again.

Have you had a PITA client? Leave a comment and tell us how you dealt with it.