There are a lot of mixed emotions when you land your first freelancing client. I was absolutely ecstatic because I was going to get paid to help someone write a fiction book. I couldn’t believe someone was actually going to pay me money to do the thing I loved most. But there was also an overwhelming and almost crippling desire to not only succeed, but excel at the work. When I turned in the first assignment, I felt like I might puke waiting for the client to tell me what she thought; I wanted so desperately to make her happy. And making the client happy should be one of your top priorities, or else you’ll never stay in business. Your client’s are entrusting you with important work that they can’t do on their own, and you should always try your very best to deliver the best end product you possibly can.
However, when you first start out, it’s hard to wrap your head around the idea that your clients should make you happy too. As briefly discussed in last week’s post (What Is a Work-for-Hire Contract?), your client isn’t your employer. You’re your own employer; the client is a like a fellow business person that you are collaborating with. You must each treat the other with equal respect. Some clients don’t understand this, and they will try to make you do work that isn’t required of you. Many clients will understand and make an effort to shift their attitude if you simply explain that you are a work-for-hire business owner who must be paid for any new additions to the assignment. However, there are clients out there who don’t seem to even think of you as a human being and resort to bullying tactics. I’ve worked with only one. Clients like this will try to get more work out of you by telling you what you delivered was subpar or “unacceptable” to try and make you insecure and desperate to please them. Now, you must always take time to consider if the client is right. If you delivered crappy work, the client has a right to complain. However, there is a simple test for this. Ask the client exactly what was wrong, saying that you would like to know so that you can avoid the mistakes in the future. That client I mentioned had loved the editing sample that I did for him to get the job, but when I did the exact same thing on the real assignment, he berated me, saying that what I had delivered just “really was not good at all,” and he was shocked I’d turned it in that way. I asked what was wrong, and his explanation made it very clear that he was trying to get me to rewrite the piece (which was deplorably written, by the way. I had slaved over it just trying to make it speak real English) rather than just edit it. I didn’t do a rewrite, and I parted ways with him immediately. If your client can’t tell you what was wrong, or if their explanation shows that they just want more unpaid for from you, stick up for yourself and get out of that relationship.
You’ve become a freelance writer because you want to make a career doing what you love and only what you love: writing. Your clients should never make you cringe at the idea of writing one more word for them. Now, not every client needs to be your best buddy, but they must always treat you with the same respect and courtesy you show them. Likewise, not every writing assignment needs to make your jump for joy, but it does need to be worth your time.
I write product reviews for an online company. That job isn’t exactly thrilling, but I love it. My contact is very kind, always prompt, and works with me when I have questions. I get paid consistently, and I get paid well. That weekly payment into my checking account makes me very happy.
The best thing in the world is when you find clients you really connect with. My contact for the product reviews and I only talk business, but I have made lasting relationships with other clients. I edit author’s prized possessions: the work that sprouted straight from their own head. That’s an intimate thing, and it’s one of the most rewarding. I have formed strong bonds with a number of authors I’ve worked with. There are two authors in particular who’s work I greatly admire, and though I’ve never met them in person, I feel they are friends. Intimate friends? No. But friends. One of those clients recently emailed me, ecstatic, to tell me that the book I’d proofread for her got picked up by a publisher. The fact that she thought of me in that moment and wanted to share her celebration with me made me feel great.
Ghostwriting a book for someone is also very intensive and requires a connection between myself and the client. If we don’t click, the book isn’t going to work. I am currently writing a book for parent’s of drug-addicted children for a man who runs a rehab center and has personal addiction experience. He provides all the info and all his ideas, and I turn them all into a cohesive work. This requires phone calls. It also requires me to ask him personal questions about his own battle with addiction. As a result, I probably have a stronger relationship with him than any other client. When we call, we mostly talk business, but we also casually talk about crazy stuff that happened to us that day (his life is hectic and sometimes hilarious, let me tell you). He’s the kind of person who infects you with his consistently upbeat attitude. He talks faster than a chipmunk on coffee (Hoodwinked, anyone?), and I always hang up the phone feeling both incredibly pumped and a little like I just ran a marathon.
Freelancing is damn hard. You run everything. You have to take charge of every aspect of your business, and it can seem never-ending. It can also be downright frightening to swap a steady, secure job with benefits for a constantly fluctuating (even if just slightly) income. That uncertainty of income is always going to be there as a freelancer, though it will decrease over time. So why do it? It lets you do what you love from the comfort of your own home. That’s damn sexy. But if your clients make you miserable, it really puts a damper on the pleasure of that independence. Drop those bullying clients and start crafting rewarding with relationships with people who truly appreciate what you do for them.