Signs of a Less Than Perfect Client

I’ve been applying for freelance writing jobs as an independent contractor for over a year now. In this time, I have come to recognize some reoccurring signs of less than desirable clients. I’m not talking about what is written in the job ad, although sometimes that in itself can be a telling sign. What I’m talking about is what happens between when you apply for the job and then start working with the client for pay. Usually there is a certain amount of back and forth emails and phone calls before you actually start to work. This can be very telling of the type of client that you have on your hands. From my experiences, here is what I’ve learned and hopefully it will help you avoid the less than perfect clients out there.

Unorganized
If a client comes off as unorganized from the beginning, then chances are they will be unorganized for the duration of your working relationship. For example, I once had someone email me about a job. They gave me a list of their writing needs and asked me what experience I had. Fair enough. I sent them a detailed email back including what I could do for them and samples of my work that related to the work they were needing done. The next day they called me and we had a chat about those same experiences and I was told a decision would be made in the next few days. I followed up our phone conversation with an email thanking them for their interest and highlighting my interest in working with them. Then things got a little weird. I received another email from the client a few days later asking me what I had experience writing and asking if we could have a phone conversation about it. I sent them another detailed email and offered to speak to them over the phone again. They never called. A week later, way after they had originally said they would make a decision, I received another email asking for the same information. At this point I caught on – they were highly unorganized. I decided that I didn’t have the patience or time to enter into a working relationship like this and nicely let them know that I was no longer interested in the work. While some clients do make occasional mistakes and mix-ups with writers, right off the bat and repeatedly seemed like a bad sign to me.

No Contract
Another sign of a potentially bad client is when they don’t have a contract or want to sign yours. In another example I applied for a project that seemed perfect for me. It was right along the lines of what I write and the pay was good. After a few emails I had a phone conference with the client. It became apparent that they would not be giving me a contract to sign even though they claimed to work with many different writers. I thought, okay maybe the writers they work with just give them their contract. So I asked them if they would be willing to sign my contract. They gave me a roundabout answer that ended up being they don’t sign contracts. Um, red flag – no thanks. I abruptly ended that conversation.

Pushing for Work
A final reoccurring sign of a potentially bad client is where they just jump right in and start demanding work without working out the finer details such as pay. In responding to one ad for an editor, I asked several questions and for specifics of the project. In the response email I received I didn’t get a single one of my questions answered. Instead the potential client sent me several projects with instructions. I emailed them back to ask what the pay rate was, if they would sign a contract, how much work a week the project would take, etc. In response, they emailed me that they needed my first project the following day. They still didn’t answer any of my questions. Needless to say I felt justified in telling them I wouldn’t be taking on the work.

Have you encountered any of these types of clients? What did you do about it? What signs do you think indicate a less than perfect client?

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Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone

If I had my choice, I would never leave my comfort zone – that place where I can work happily along every day without ever having to feel the least bit nervous or awkward. But, nothing is ever that easy. Over the past year, freelance writing has really pushed me to step out of my comfort zone on a daily basis and while going there is often nerve racking to say the least, going there is essential to improving myself as a writer and businesswomen. Here are five ways I’ve had to step outside of my comfort zone:

Talking about money. I hate discussing rates and giving quotes. I am always worried that I will quote a client too high and they will run for the hills never to be heard from again, or I will quote too low and then I’ll be unsatisfied with what I’m making. Either way, talking about money is terrifying to me, but in this career it’s completely unavoidable.

Following up. A close second to discussing money and rates is following up. This I find myself doing for a few different reasons.

  • First (and I’m lucky, I’ve only had this happen once or twice) is following up to get paid. You know those clients who you do the work for and then wait weeks to get paid. To me following up to ask for money is almost as bad as quoting my rates. It’s awkward, but completely unavoidable.
  • The second scenario is when I have to follow up after quoting my rates or when I do work on spec and hear nothing back. This too is awkward, but if I have learned nothing else, I have learned that persistence is a key to success in this field.

Cold calling/emailing. I know that I won’t get work unless I put myself out there in many different ways. That being said, cold calling makes me nervous, I’m always worried about saying the wrong thing or sounding stupid. When I cold call or cold email a business I always try to think to myself: What’s the worst that can happen? So they might say no, but they could also say yes. Or they could say no, but remember me a few months down the road when they need a writer. Or they could just say no and I can move on to someone else. No big deal

Saying no. Okay, this one probably sounds weird, but I am a yes person. I don’t like disappointing people. However, I have come across some really bad offers while looking for writing gigs. A potential client offering to pay me a whopping $2 per 500 word blog post – no way will I even consider that, but it’s still awkward saying no.

Writing on topics I have no experience in. I like a challenge, so I tend to take on challenging work and often that means stepping out of my comfort zone. If I’m not experienced in a topic, I’m always afraid that I’ll come off seeming like I don’t know what I’m talking about. But you know what? That has never happened. With good research, I’m learning I can write on almost anything. Still, that doesn’t mean I don’t get nervous with the unknown.

Like it or not, I can’t deny the fact that most of what I’ve learned has come from stepping out of my comfort zone. The comforting part is that the more I step out my comfort zone, the easier these things become, and while I may not ever be completely comfortable discussing rates or asking for payment, it is getting easier. I know that no matter how nervous or awkward I feel, it’s worth it in the end.

When do you step out of your comfort zone?

My Progress

Progress

While I was out and about this weekend, a couple of people asked me how everything is going with my writing. Since I haven’t given an update in a while and the main point of this blog was to document my transition into the freelance writing world. So for those of you who are wondering here we go:

Clients
I have done pretty good getting new clients. I am still applying for 5-10 writing projects a day, although I have to admit that it gets a little old sometimes. I have managed to get quite a few projects this way and a couple of times lately, I have had so much work, that I haven’t had time to apply for jobs every day. Just last week I signed a contract with a new client that will keep me pretty busy through December which is exciting!

Financials
My money situation is better than I thought it would be at this point. That being said, I am only making about half of what I was making in my full-time job. One of the reasons for this is that I’ve taken some lower paying jobs, just to have something to fill my time and bring in some form of income. Now that I am having a lot more work come my way, I am trying to narrow some of the lower paying jobs down and only take higher paying gigs so I can hopefully bring my income level up.

Published Work
A while back I said that I was going to start sending queries to more magazines. That is still hit or miss for me. I feel like querying magazines takes a long time. It’s something that is worth it, but it’s certainly not paying my bills right now. However, I’m happy to announce I do have an article that will be published in November in a local publication. To see my name in actual print again will be awesome and I can’t wait!

Overall, I am finding my weeks more and more full –I even have some projects lined up for the future which is great! I am definitely becoming more comfortable telling people what I do, giving my rates to clients and in general with running my own business. I even have business cards now! Most days I really feel like I am on my way to success and that right there is an accomplishment.

Hire Me Please

Thumbs upHave you ever come across a job ad that just screams your name? You know what I am talking about, that job ad where every word is just dripping with a description of you and your talents. I’ve came across several of those seemingly perfect jobs before and I just came across another one today in my daily writing job search. The most frustrating thing is to just know you are a perfect fit for a client only to apply for the work and not hear anything back. Well, rather than immediately writing the client a “hire me please” note begging to be hired, here are some tips to actually help you hear back from that client that you really want to work with:

Apply for jobs that you actually qualify for.

Okay, okay, I know that a lot of my fellow freelancers will tell you that you have to apply for many, many jobs in order to land one. And I’m all for that, but the real truth here is that you have to apply for jobs that you can actually do. While it is impressive to apply for 25 jobs a day, are you really completely qualified for all of them? It makes much more sense to take your time and apply for a handful of projects that you are sure you qualify for rather than rushing through and applying to tons of jobs that you don’t necessarily qualify for and really couldn’t do even if you got the work.

Follow the directions.

This should really be common sense. We are taught from a very young age how to follow directions, so why some people still can’t do it is beyond me. Really, the concept is simple: a client writes an ad for what kind of work they have and what you need to give them to be considered for the project. Make sure you give them everything they ask for in the way that they ask for it. If they say don’t send attachments, then don’t. If they say to send three samples, then send three samples, not two. Seriously, what are you saying about yourself and your work ethic if you don’t even follow the directions when applying for the project?

Use a conversational tone.

One thing that I have found in my months of looking for freelance writing work is that email, the Internet, blogging, Twitter, Face Book, all that changes the tone of applying for freelance work. Back when I used to apply for full time jobs (and I have applied for a lot!) it would be with a formal, by the book cover letter, a resume that was also straight out of career services and that would suffice. But with the boom of social media everything is more casual, especially in the world of freelancing. Many clients these days are looking to hire a contract worker that can communicate in a functional way, not necessarily by writing Dear____ and signing off Sincerely _____. Be friendly, give the information they ask for and do it in a conversational way.

Don’t be overly friendly.

Okay, this might seem a little contradictory, but there is a line. Don’t cross it. You don’t need to tell a potential client that you sleep until 11 A.M. every day and work until midnight, or that you need to make some extra cash to take a trip. There is just no need for this. Tell them what they need to know in a nice way that doesn’t cross that delicate line.

Be clear and concise.

In my early days of applying for freelance writing jobs when I was asked to provide a rate I would give one rate for a blog post or I would give a flat rate for a project. But silly me, I forgot to include what that entailed. Now I try to be very clear. If I quote a flat rate for a project I say that it includes an x number of rewrites or a certain amount of interview time. For blog posts I now quote my price based on the number of words.

Ask for feedback.

I’ll admit that this is a little tricky. You can’t ask for feedback on every job that you apply for – chances are you don’t hear back from all of them. But I’ll bet that you have heard back from some for possibly clarification on something and have still ended up not getting the client. In this case I always wait a few days and then send a quick email asking for feedback on my resume – or my portfolio web site which I now use, my clips, my correspondence, etc. On a few occasions I have had responses that were very nice and most importantly very helpful in making me more efficient at applying for future freelance work.

Did I miss anything on this list. What do you do that works when applying for freelance writing work?

A Plan is Forming

I’m terrified. Sitting in a meeting today I was suddenly flooded with doubt about whether I could really leave my job. How will I survive? How will I pay my mortgage? It’s very scary to be so use to a paycheck and then have it suddenly disappear. What if I don’t get writing jobs?

Tonight, I decided I had to make a plan. It’s one thing to say you’re going to do it, and it helps to want to do it very badly, but every good idea needs a plan. Here is mine: The way I see it, I need to save up enough money to make it through at least six months. After six months if I’m not making ends meet, I will have to find a part time job to help supplement my income. I’m happy to report I am well on my way. Without giving any numbers away, I think I have at least three months banked.

My husband and I went over the plan tonight at dinner. He is more confident than me. He tends to think in more simple terms, and insists that we will be okay. Plus, I have already started writing for a content producing site and been there for almost a month. All that money is going directly to my savings for the big transition. I have also been implementing other save money tactics. I’m not shopping or spending extra money on anything. We have changed our budget and taken out everything that isn’t a necessity. All said we are able to save a lot of money a month. I’m feeling more hopeful about the whole money thing now.

I’m also looking for ways to increase my monthly income while I still have a job. The plan is to look into eHow and other similar sites. If I can build up a portfolio there and make money on a monthly basis with little effort, it’s worth a shot. I know it will take a while, but my goal is to have a strong start before I leave my job.

With all that planning, I still haven’t narrowed down a date to leave my job. Obviously, it would be nice to put in my notice tomorrow, but that isn’t realistic. I have a project I am working on for May and another coming up in August that I have already started working on. It would probably be acceptable to leave in the beginning of June, and better to wait until the beginning of September. It’s not that I owe my company anything, but I don’t want to leave them in a lurch. I want to give them plenty of notice and be sure they can still be successful without me. As I have said before, I don’t dislike them; in fact I truly want to see them do well, with or without me.

And of course, with all of this I am searching daily for additional freelance jobs. Anything that I can take to make extra money, get my name out there and fine tune my writing will help me immensely with this transition.

It’s a start, a work in progress, stay tuned to see how it all works out!