Professional Writing Advice: When to Say “No” to a Client

Grammar Chic Writer's Block Blog Post

No matter if you are starting out as a writer or if you are a seasoned professional, the need to satisfy clients and retain their business never goes away.  Writing, as a profession, is hard work; it is often time consuming and research intensive.  Rewards are definitely there for professional writers who do it right, and indeed, the majority of the time, you are looking to please the people who pay you by saying “yes” to their requests.  However, there are times when “no” is the only correct answer that you can give to a client or a prospective client. Follow these tips to identify situations where you could be taken advantage of as a professional writer.

Professional Writing Client Red Flags:

  1. Demanding availability via phone, Skype or IM all day, every day.  I realize there are times when my client needs to get in touch with me, and I am happy to oblige.  However, it is also completely unfair for a client to think that just because they are paying me to complete work for them that they own me and, therefore, can interrupt me just because they see me on Skype.  As such, it is fair and completely reasonable to set boundaries from day one. As both a professional writer and business owner, I am very frank about when I am available.  This comes down to telling clients that if they need to talk to me it is best to set an appointment.  Realize I am not trying to put anyone off; rather, I am working to ensure that a client has my full and undivided attention and that I am also able to honor my daily deadlines.  If I know that you need to talk to me about revisions or edits, it is much more productive to say, “Amanda, I really need about 30 minutes of your time,” and allow me to schedule it accordingly.  On our office line, I have even gone as far to have the message state that we do not have a full-time receptionist and that the caller should leave a message.  It is important for clients and prospective clients to realize that a writer’s focus is essential.  When I am in the zone I can’t answer a call, because if I lose concentration it impacts the quality of my work.  At the same time, for every person who calls, their message is returned.  State your terms regarding communication from the get-go and set your boundaries. Remember, there is no need for a client to have unlimited access to you as a writer.  The only thing they are looking to satisfy is their own need to control you as they would an employee.
  2. Requesting a rush job without paying extra.  It is necessary to tell a client “no” if they call you up and request that they need something by the end of the day, but don’t want to pay extra for the rush service.  Remember, as a writer sometimes you need to demand respect and it’s not fair to your other clients if you push their work and ignore their deadlines simply to let someone cut in line without paying more.  Your options here are to say, “No, I can’t get your project done by the end of the day because of my current deadlines” or “Sure, I can do that. The rush fee is $X.”  At that point, they can choose either option A or option B, or they can negotiate a different deadline with you.  Remember, lack of planning on their part does not constitute an emergency on your part.
  3. Requesting you provide fresh sample writing to “determine a fit.”  You should never provide free sample work with terms dictated by a potential client. This is oftentimes a ploy to receive free content.  Remember, the moment you send anything out you lose all control.  If a prospective client asks for sample work, provide that person something from your portfolio; do not create anything new if they are not willing to pay for your time.  Moreover, don’t be afraid to say no to this request.  This is a huge red flag that they are not willing to pay you for your efforts and do not respect your skills or your craft.
  4. Refusing to provide a deposit on the work they request.  At Grammar Chic, we regularly ask for a 50 percent deposit upon project commencement with the balance payable upon project delivery.  This is not a crazy request, as I expect my clients to have some “skin in the game” if they want my team to dedicate time and effort.  Of course, for long-term clients, we are happy to work out payment plans, invoicing systems, etc.; but this comes after trust has been established.  Again, this follows the belief that “once you send out work product, you lose all control.”  If you don’t request a payment up front you run the risk of not getting paid at all.  If a client refuses to pay a deposit, pass on the project.  Anyone who respects your ability as a writer is going to be fine with a deposit.   Or, if the client worries about paying first without seeing the work, ask that the project funds be escrowed (freelance sites like Guru.com provide this).  Remember, much of the relationship between a client and a professional writer is built on trust and mutual respect.  Make sure you can deliver what you promise in order to make your client happy and come back, but also make sure that your interests are protected.
  5. Asking for major project changes without considering modifications in compensation.  Consider this scenario: someone calls you after a project has been completed per their specifications and suddenly says, “My boss just looked at the newsletter you created and said that he actually wants to focus on X topic now.”  Ultimately, if X topic wasn’t discussed when the project was originally contracted, then new charges are going to apply.  At Grammar Chic, we regularly have extensive conversations with our clients on project terms.  We record conversations (with client permission) and make sure we are well aware of what is required for the project to be considered complete.  We send confirmation emails stating what the project scope is and ask for confirmation prior to beginning the project.  If we do all of the work that is required, and then have the client come back and decide they want something different because of a change in direction, internal miscommunication on their end or some other issue, it is in our right to tell them, “No, we can’t do that without extra charges.”  I am willing to work with anyone to make sure that they get what they want and if it is my error or I misunderstood something then, of course, I make it right without charge.  However, if I was provided the wrong information, I won’t be penalized.  Remember, your time as a writer is valuable and it is fair to enforce these rules.  However, to make sure that you are in the right, insist upon a set of checks and a confirmation process prior to beginning a project.  It’s very hard for a client to argue with you on additional charges if they have signed off or offered written confirmation on the original terms.  As a writer you are no doubt good at what you do, but none of us have a crystal ball (I wish!).

At the end of the day, you are in business for yourself, and regardless if it’s just you or you have a team of writers to direct, you need to make sure your efforts are not taken advantage of or exploited.  The choice is yours.  However, it is the savvy writer and business owner who will make sure they have the terms and conditions in place that protect their interests and their business in the long run.

The team at Grammar Chic specializes in a variety of professional writing and editing services. For more information about how we can help you, visit www.grammarchic.net or call 803-831-7444. We also invite you to follow us on Twitter @GrammarChicInc for the latest in writing and editing tips and to give a “like” to our Facebook page. Text GRAMMARCHIC to 22828 for a special offer.

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2 Comments

Filed under Writing

2 responses to “Professional Writing Advice: When to Say “No” to a Client

  1. Great advice! It applies to content writers, and to service based businesses in general. Heck, construction has used this model for ages!

  2. Great delivery. Sound arguments. Keep up the amazing spirit.

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