5 Things That Should Send You Running From a Client or Job

Finding work can be difficult as a freelancer; there’s no doubt about it. If most professionals at 9-5 type jobs were treated like freelancers and artists are, nobody would be making any money, it seems. What if someone went up to a lawyer and said “You should take this job for free, it’ll be great publicity for you.” Exactly. But I’m preaching to the choir; we all know the hoops we must jump through and the guff we have to deal with as freelancers. Payments that never come in, clients that want the next award-winning novel by yesterday, people who don’t understand the meaning of a contract and want to change it after it’s been set up…the list goes on and on. But for all the insanity, there are some things that poor clients do that should tip you off. Whether you’re on a job board, Elance, Textbroker, People Per Hour, or any other avenue for finding jobs, what a client says can often be a good indicator of what that client will do should you take the job. 

1. “My budget is low, so bid accordingly.” 

This is the sentence that always makes me feel as though I’ve just heard nails running down a chalkboard. Really? My budget is low, bid accordingly? This is the number one sentence, in my book, that should send you running out the door faster than a squirrel that just met your family dog. When I see this, all I hear is “I’m paying you almost nothing, so don’t expect a decent wage.” These clients usually don’t want top quality content. And since you provide top quality content, you don’t need to be bending to someone else’s “low budget”. 

2. Horrible writing style from the client. 

I’m not talking about someone who made a couple of typos. Or someone who isn’t in your country. I’m talking about people who post descriptions that leave you wondering what exactly they want because the grammar and spelling is so bad. I’m not being judgmental here. I get that they’re hiring a writer for a reason. But most professional clients, no matter what profession they’re in, have to be competent in their language. If you can’t even understand the job post, what do you think ongoing communication is going to be like throughout the project? I skip these. 

3. Long-term work for the right writer. 

Mmhmm. In other words, we’re going to pay you absolute peanuts, but we’re going to do it on a long-term basis, so at least you can rely on our peanuts coming in on a weekly basis. Right? Unless the fee is listed at something you could pay rent from, don’t bother. Most of the time, promises of long-term work are there to offset the fact that the fee is really low. Some of these are actually long-term clients that pay rather well. But those are few and far between. I would start asking a lot of questions before I accepted/applied for the job. 

4. The job description reads like a school assignment/prompt. 

Because most of the time, if it reads that way, it is. My very first job on Elance I ended up having to cancel because it was for a girl’s writing assignment, which I wasn’t aware of until after we had started the job. Sometimes it’s easy to pick up on. One job posting I saw was nothing more than a copy and paste of the writing prompt from the person’s professor. Not very sly. Others are more subtle. But if you ever start getting the feeling that someone is compromising the integrity of an academic institution, or another company, stop right away. Not only is it against the policy of most places like Elance, but it should be against your professional policy, as well. 

5. Requests for free “sample” articles. 

I’m not talking about a request to see something you’ve already done before; that’s typical and completely acceptable. I’m talking about people who ask you to write one of their articles for them at no cost. This is completely unprofessional, and you should say no every single time. When I first started freelancing, I didn’t know about these tricks, so I thought it must be industry practice. Of course, the guy ended up taking my free sample, deciding not to use me, and then lo and behold I found my sample online, published. You learn quickly by being undermined by a client, but it’s best if someone just tells you that upfront. So there you go. 🙂 

These are just a few of the things you can look for when you go to apply for a job. I know that when you’re first starting out, it’s tempting to work for little to nothing because “it’s experience” or “at least it’s something”. But working with poor clients is like traveling close to a black hole. Once you get sucked in, you’ll never get out, and you’re setting a precedent for how your business is going to be run. If it wouldn’t work in any other profession, you shouldn’t tolerate it, either. This is a business, not a charity, so seek out the clients that will treat you with the respect you deserve. 

Do you have any client horror stories? Sound off in the comments! 

Until next time, happy writing!


5 Comments Add yours

  1. I’m freelancing for a big newspaper, so I don’t have any horror stories to offer about the said issue. I really enjoyed your article, though.
    Note to #4: I can’t believe that some people would hire a writer for assignments!? Geez 🙂


  2. Heather says:

    I strongly suspect that one guy I was talking with took the writing and ran. How do you find out? Did you just paste some of your writing into a search browser? I mean, I am not going to sue him, but I want to know!!

    1. courtneyherz says:

      Unfortunately, Heather, it happens all the time. :-/ If you go to Copyscape.com and sign up for a pro account you can purchase credits to scan chunks of text. It’s a plagiarism detector, and it’s very inexpensive. If your guy took the content and published it online, it will show up. 🙂 Sorry that happened to you. Never agree to a free sample unless you’re the one that initiated the offer as a marketing tactic. That will help you avoid scams like that. 🙂

      1. Heather says:

        Thanks. I will definitely keep that in mind next time. One blogger had suggested sending samples and writing for free as a means to get hired.

      2. courtneyherz says:

        It can work if it’s done right. If you want to break into a target market or write for a certain company, sending a writing sample is completely legitimate. (A sample you’ve already written – not a custom one.) And even if you want to offer a free article with their first purchase or something that’s fine. But if you see a job ad that requires free samples, or someone you prospect requires a free custom article, I’d think twice. Professional companies expect to pay you for your services. Writing free customized samples for every company you want to be hired to write for can quickly turn into a career of working for free. 😉

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