The 8-Second Sniff Test
Red flags that signal a problematic project
What's one of the biggest challenges you'll face as a high-profit freelance writer?
No, not getting work. It's learning how to manage difficult clients.
When I started freelancing, one of the biggest lessons I had to learn was this: Not everyone you prospect will be a desirable client.
Some clients are just too emotionally draining to deal with. The time, energy and effort involved trying to please a client who is never happy just isn't worth the fee you're charging.
Then there are the ones who don’t pay their bills. Unfortunately, these clients have a radar for searching you out when you are at your most vulnerable and desperate to pay the bills.
With time, you’ll be able to determine if a client is going to be problematic – no kidding – within the first few seconds of your initial contact.
The 8-Second Sniff Test
Here is my "8-Second Sniff Test" -- important "red flags" that could signal a potentially difficult client. Be alert to these signals, and at least you can make an educated decision about whether you want to proceed further.
The Dangling Carrot.
You know these types. They say "Well, we can't pay you as much as you'd like, but there will be a lot more work after this one." Whatever you do, don't be fooled! These people want something for next-to-nothing, and will never pay you what you're worth.
The Bargain Hunter.
They say, "this project should take only a couple of hours, max. Why is your price so high?" Remember, when a client shops by price, they don’t value good copy—ergo, they won’t value YOU.
The fisherman tries to pick your brains but has no intention of hiring you. They just want free advice. You know a potential client is on a ‘fishing expedition’ when they ask a series of “do you think” questions like…
- So, what do you think we should do?
- What type of format do you think we should use?
- What do you think we should do differently?
- Do you think the copy/design is easy to read?
Sure, this could mean that the prospect respects your opinions and is seriously thinking of hiring you. But it pays to be on the lookout for situations where you teach the prospect what he has to do…then hires a less-qualified writer to implement your ideas.
Beware of situations where the client asks you to invest a lot of your time and talent, with vague promises of what you'll get in return. These are prospects who insist their project will "make you rich" or "you'll get a percentage of sales."
When you're dealing with a case of the fuzzy wuzzies -- in other words, when a potential client doesn't spell out exactly what the terms are (or avoids the subject completely) chances are good that the only thing you'll get out of the situation is ripped off! Save yourself a world of hurt. Walk away.
If you sense desperation, inappropriate urgency, or something else that just doesn't seem right to you--listen to your instincts. I've been in situations where I took on a project against my better judgement (usually because the mortgage or health insurance was due). And I wound up paying for that decision dearly. Believe me, it was never, ever worth it.
The Most Important Lesson
We’ll all have situations where we decide to work with a difficult client. How you manage them is essential to becoming a successful, high-profit writer.
Just keep your objective in mind: in the end, your goal is to get paid. Which means you must act professionally. Stand up for yourself. And understand there are many good reasons why should turn down a job ... and many reasons why it's OK to walk away.