Clients who expect you to read their minds

By Katharine Swan On Friday, September 28, 2007 At 12:12 PM

I have had a couple of problems lately with clients who don't tell me the full story of what they want, yet expect me to know it anyway.

Client #1 was someone who hired me to work on a personal letter. Aside from the obvious problems that arise when someone else is writing a letter that is supposed to personal, this client was continually unhappy with what I wrote, but gave me little or no direction as to why or what could be done to fix it. Usually, the client simply said, "This doesn't work for me."

As you can imagine, after going through both of the two revisions I include in my project rate, I was mighty sick of hearing "This doesn't work for me."

Client #2 has been an ongoing issue. They hired me many months ago to write some web copy for them. As they were a new client, I requested 50 percent of the project fee up front, and they agreed. I did everything right, yet they still have been a pain in my you-know-what.

First it was nonpayment. The project stalled at 80 percent completed, because they were supposedly waiting for keyword research they'd ordered in order to complete the remaining web page. I clearly stated that I was willing to wait a few weeks, but if it took longer than that I would need to be paid for the work completed so far. They completely ignored that email — no response whatsoever.

Some time passed, and with no word at all about the project, I emailed them again. And again. And again. Finally, I sent an email letting them know I expected payment for the work already done, and that if I did not receive it by a certain date (two weeks out, I believe it was), I would report them as nonpaying clients — and the first place I would contact would be the company they are affiliates of.

That finally received a response: I had an email from them within just a couple of days. They claimed they were "on holiday," and whined about why I had to be like that. They said they'd pay me when they got home, which was supposed to be in less than a week. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it didn't happen.

What is surprising is that a week or two later, they unexpectedly did pay me. I had been too busy to follow through on reporting them, so imagine my surprise when I received payment! It was in full, too — I had told them that, in light of the payment issues, if they wanted me to finish the project they would need to pay me for the remaining work in advance.

At last they sent me the keyword research and asked me to write the final page of copy. I did, as per what they had told me about what they wanted and the keywords they had given me. When I turned it in, however, they informed me that it was not what they wanted. I explained that there was no way to change the copy to what they wanted and still use the same keywords, as the two targeted entirely different markets.

This is when it gets really fun: They decided that they wanted to make the page a "double" page. Basically, they wanted to use the copy I'd already written and have me write what they'd originally wanted, and put it all on the same page so that they could get double the copy for the same price.

In hindsight, I could have refused. I could have stated that I had written the copy as per the information that they had given me at the time, and that giving me different information entailed a change in project scope. I could have charged them for the additional work, or refused to do it altogether. But I didn't. Instead, I told them I would write the additional work at no charge, but that any future work would need to be renegotiated.

Here's a big surprise: When I turned in the new copy, they didn't like it. They want me to rewrite it, but are only giving me vague directions on what it should include. They might be offering to pay me to fix it, but then again they might be demanding their money back — their English is so atrocious I can't tell. (The line says, "send me the pay for this page!" and in the context I can't decide whether they meant "payment" or "invoice.")

I decided to say NO. I really don't want to work with these people anymore, not even if they do pay me to fix the page. I had taken the job assuming — from their description — that it would be fairly quick and easy, and priced it accordingly. Months down the road, the job has entailed much more of chasing payment and waiting for the client than actual writing. A big fat NOT WORTH IT!!!

The moral of the story: Before providing a quote or accepting a gig, make sure you get complete details about what the client wants. Ask them to clarify anything that seems ambiguous, and don't take the job if they can't.

Furthermore, never assume a project for a new client is going to be "easy" — always build a "pain-in-my-a$$" fee into quotes for new clients. You can always adjust your quotes later if the work does turn out to be exceptionally easy.

Update: After receiving my email declining further work, Client #2 responded, calling me "moody and emotional." (Oh, is that what it's called when you "fire" a client who has been nothing but trouble?) With that in mind, I'd like to update the moral of the story to say: Never work with a client who patronizes you!

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Anonymous Amy Derby Says:  

Sounds horrible. I like the pain in the a$$ clause.

I've recently started offering what I call a "free consultation" for anything I determine will take me more than a few hours. What it really is is my opportunity to assess the project's details (and the personality-disorder level of the client) before I'll make a quote.

I've had one too many "easy" projects turn into nightmares lately. Especially when it's like your personal letter guy with his "this doesn't work for me, but I'm not gonna tell you what does work" kind of game.

I also had one guy who I did a small job for tell me he had a big project for me "in a few weeks" but was waiting on keyword research. The few weeks turned into three months, which was fine because I was busy. But then he had the nerve to email me with a huge "RUSH!" request (just after I'd assumed he'd decided he didn't need me) and ask me how soon I could deliver... then proposed one week... for over fifty web pages. I told him (as politely as possible) to grow a brain. He hasn't written back to call me moody yet, but I'm sure it'll happen.

 
 
Blogger Katharine Swan Says:  

The "free consultation" is a good idea. Thanks. :o)

Your keyword research client sounds like mine. They also had the attitude that they could be me on hold as long as they needed, but as soon as they were ready for me to work I was supposed to be ready to crank it out ASAP.

 
 
Anonymous Amy Derby Says:  

I think with mine it was a case of the keyword research took their firm a long time, so they wanted to make up for it by getting the writing done fast. Sorry, but that's not how it works. No matter how much I would have raised my rate for their rush, there is no way I could have written 50+ quality pages in a week.

 
 
Blogger Irreverent Freelancer Says:  

It must be in the air. I've fired a few pain-in-the-a$$ clients lately too. If, after two revisions, a client still doesn't like my style but can't give specifics as to why, I tell him or her that we're obviously not a good match and call it a draw. I do, of course, make sure I get paid for the work I completed. Anything beyond two revisions is an extra charge for me anyway. What I don't get is how these clients like our style enough from our samples to hire us in the first place!

 
 
Blogger Jessica Says:  

I've had issues with 2 incomplete paying clients, and 3 problem payments in which I received PORTIONS of my payment lately.

What's in the water ?

Hahahaha :)
I just posted a rant about stuff...Check it out.

 
 
Blogger Katharine Swan Says:  

I'd love to read it, Jessica, thank you. Can you leave a link? I can't seem to be able to get there through your profile.

By the way, Client #2 is still being a pain in the a$$. Apparently they haven't yet understood that I'm declining any further work with them.

 

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Katharine Swan is a full-time freelance writer with more than 5 years of professional writing experience. In addition to maintaining several personal blogs, she writes a variety of online marketing materials for clients, including company blogs, articles, and press releases. In her free time, she spends time with her horse, reads, and writes fiction.

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