Monday, May 28, 2012

Red Flags When "Hiring" a Client

I consistently see an attitude of desperateness among fellow freelance writers when looking for clients. Allow me to wax Steel Magnolia on you for a moment:


This grab-the-gold-first-before-someone-else-gets-it mentality is so carpetbagger. And it's beneath you.

Let me make things easy.

First of all, adopt the attitude that they're not hiring you. You're hiring them.

Call me arrogant, but it's the way I've always approached job interviews, and when I look at things through this perspective, I see things clearly.  For one thing, it rids you of that wholly unattractive stance of being the one who needs them more than they need you. And for another, it gives you strength of mind to cut through smoke and mirrors that may cloud your judgment on what working with them will be like in the future.

I've recently completed a divorce and am back "out there" among a sea of suitors. I realized that hiring a client is not dissimilar at all to dating. We all know the "red flags" we're supposed to heed when we go on a date. But how many of us apply the same rules to choosing clients?

Still scratching your beard in bemused puzzlement? OK, well at the risk of exposing too much about my personal approach to courtship, here are my guidelines to finding (and hiring) a compatible client:

Red Flag #1: They believe you're lucky to be with them, not the other way around. How do you know this? They say, "You'll get a byline" and 10 cents a word ... or worse than that, "You'll get a byline" and nothing else. If you want people to value your work, then act like a professional and demand fair compensation. Still confused about how much to charge? Go to for a list of suggested rates, or better yet, consult the U.S. National Writers Union for theirs.

Red Flag #2: They demand exclusivity immediately. It's one thing if you've written for someone for 11 years (like I have with one of my clients), and they're willing to pay you well in exchange for you not writing for a competitor. But if someone is demanding that you sign an exclusivity agreement for a first-ever assignment? Are you sure you want to commit so early?

Red Flag #3: They don't keep their promises.  I worked for a client for a couple of years who suddenly decided they were going to wait to pay me a grand until after the story ran. I asked, "When is the story going to run?"

They didn't know.


If you do a fair day's work for a fair day's pay, it's only fair they deliver as promised. Now if you worry that by severing the relationship, you'll be back out in the cold alone .... think of it this way: If you don't kick this client to the curb, you could be missing out on someone else who will pay you on time and pay you well. Don't assume (warning: Jane Austen reference coming up) that because you're being courted by Mr. Wickham that it means Mr. Darcy isn't waiting for you to come to your senses.

Red Flag #4: They find fault with everything you do. You might be surprised to know that many writers will actually continue to write for people who insult their work, browbeat them, change their copy into an unrecognizable monstrosity and otherwise abuse them endlessly. This may sound extreme, but these editors are alive and well and seeking the next writer's jugular on which to feast. Don't become their prey. Just say no. Is it worth your peace of mind or self-esteem? Do you know what that type of person does to another one's creative output? WALK. AWAY. I make it my personal mantra to only work for nice people, and I heartily encourage you to do the same. Life is too short.

I'd put up a red flag about bad kissing but .... oh, never mind. There should be a law against putting the words, "kissing" and "editor" in the same sentence, and we are not going there.

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