It’s going to happen at some point in time or another, if it hasn’t happened to you already. A client, either one you’ve been working with for a while or one who’s completely new to you, is going to come out of the woodwork with a ridiculous request. I get it. Clients have needs, and things don’t always go as they planned. They might suddenly find themselves in a bind and want (or worse case, expect) you to bail them out.
Although you do want to be helpful as much as you can, this is your career and your business, and you don’t want anyone taking advantage of you. If a client asks you for something that’s just a bit too much, there are ways to deal with it without necessarily burning any bridges.
1. Work for Cheap
I’ve had clients ask me my rates, then come back at me with a quote that was a 25% of what I charge. That put me in an awkward position, as I hate to turn down work, but a quarter of my usual rate for what seemed to be a substantial amount of work just isn’t going to cut it.
Obviously, we all have to start somewhere, and I’ve done my share of $5 for 500-words pieces in the past. But, working for cheap or working for less than you’re worth won’t help you improve your writing skills in the long run. You’ll end up broke, burned out and you might not even want to write any more.
What can you do? One option is to politely turn down any client who low balls you. Sorry, but earning pennies on the dollar just won’t cut it. Another, more diplomatic option, is to negotiate with the client. Work on a trial basis for less than your usual rate; call it an “new client special” if you want. If they like your work and want to keep working with you, bump up your rate to your usual amount at the end of the trial period. Get all of this in writing and be ready to walk away if the client balks, of course.
2. Take on a Huge Project – With a 24 Hour Deadline
We’ve all been there – a client has a freelancer drop out of a project last minute or miss a deadline, so they come to you. “Can you find and interview X sources and have something on my desk tomorrow afternoon?” Unless you have nothing to do for the next 24 hours, the answer to that should be no. But, say “no” as politely as you can. Yes, it’s an out-there request, but you probably want this client to come back to you with more work, later on.
If you can accept the fast-turnaround piece, make it worth your while. A rush fee should be a completely reasonable request. Even if you’d just be sitting and twiddling your thumbs without the project, the client doesn’t need to know that. Take the work, but negotiate a rush fee, too. If the client hesitates, that sends a strong signal to you that they don’t really value what you do or your time.
3. Taking Care of Non-Writing Issues
Sure, some people are writers and web designers or writers and graphic designers, or writers and administrative assistants. But, if you want to focus on your writing and you’re a freelancer, you really shouldn’t have to be worried about “other duties.” One way to avoid having a pile of unrelated work dumped on you is to lay out what you will and won’t be doing on a project from the beginning. You can also charge extra for any non-writing related tasks a client expects you to take on. If they want you to promote your content on social media, tack on an extra 5% of the price. If they want pictures, go ahead and charge more.
Remember, this is your business and life. You want to work well with clients and be seen as a reliable team-player. You don’t want to be the writer that clients feel they can walk all over.
Amy F has an MFA in theater criticism and has worked in many capacities on- and off-stage. She’s also an avid baker, vegetarian cook, gardener, and reader. Favorite authors include Zadie Smith, Margaret Atwood and Ben Marcus.