It’s going to happen. There will be a moment when you’ve accepted some kind of writing job, you’re knee deep into it and you’ve realized that your client crawled up into this world through a gateway from hell. You just can’t avoid all the crazies. Some will slip under your radar and appear completely nice and friendly, right until they’re screaming in your face and the spit is flying everywhere because you used a comma ‘incorrectly’.
That said, you can avoid an awful lot of them. And though a great deal of knowing what red flags to watch out for is a matter of experience, you can avoid a lot of problem if you take the time to figure out what your ideal writing client would be and then comparing that to the actual people you’re working with.
Then, the further this client is away from that, the more cautious you should be.
Can they pay you what you’re asking?
That goes right at the top. Your ideal client has to be able to pay what you’re asking for.Be careful about accepting work for less even if you’re desperate. The thing is, if you’re going down too far then you’ll find yourself slogging along, resenting the client (and you will) and not keeping your eyes open for other jobs. What’s more, you’ll try to hurry through the job (as you’re trying to get at least close to what you think is your hourly wage) and end up doing subpar work.
Also, the less they pay, the worse they often are. People that don’t pay enough are often not professional. They’re new to the market and they make insane demands. I myself once wrote a 10,000 word ebook for a client in less than a week and he pointed out a misplaced comma on the first page and refused to pay me.
Is the job ongoing?
Do you want it to? I sometimes prefer on going work and sometimes I prefer individual contracts. It all depends on how busy I am. The great thing about ongoing work is that if you get along with the person then you’re set for a time and don’t need to be looking for new jobs.
There are some bad things to consider, however. The first problem is that if you don’t actually like the person, perhaps because they micromanage, that can put you in an awkward position where you hate what you do but don’t want to give up on the money. The other point is that if the job takes over, then you can become over-dependent on that job and let other jobs slide. That can be hell if the contract suddenly ends.
Do they like your voice?
This is a vital one. If they don’t like your voice, you’re in trouble. Your voice is your voice and trying to write in somebody else’s is very hard (and often deeply unsatisfying). The best way to know if they’ll like your voice is by sending them work samples and specifically asking if they like your writing style.
Even then, a lot of people don’t know much about writing and will simply say ‘yes’ and then start demanding changes the moment you start submitting in that style for them. That’s highly frustrating.
The best advice I can give is to get people to approach you through your writing blog. That way they’ll only approach you if they actually like what you’ve written. Of course, that means having a blog, getting it rated for the right keywords, and maintaining it. Still, it can be a valuable resource, so it might be worth all that work.
Do they want you to write in your niche?
Your ideal client will be interested in having you write in your niche or at least in an area that you’d really like to learn about. The further away from either of those two points the current client is, the more trouble you’re going to have – particularly if the work is ongoing.
After all, you can write in a niche that’s not your own for a while, turning one idea into multiple posts. I mean, we all pick up some ideas outside of our area of expertise, but sooner or later you’re going to have to invest some serious effort in understanding it correctly and that can be a real drag if you don’t actually like the topic.
They have the right personality?
Some people are very hands off and let you do what needs to be done. Others can try to micromanage every single word that you put on the page. The latter writers are insanely difficult to work for. So make certain that you pay attention to how much input they talk about having.
If they want to spend an hour on skype with you every day even though it’s a pretty straightforward project, then you might have a micromanager on your hand and there is nothing quite as demotivating as one of those!
If that’s the case you’ll have to find ways to deal, but a far better option is not having to deal with them at all by not accepting them as your clients.
Do they fit your vision?
Sometimes people will ask you to write from a point of view that you just do not share. For example, you might be pro-environment and get asked to write for big oil. That can be very difficult (even if the money is good).
What’s more, if people in your field find out about it, it can destroy your reputation. So be careful when you accept those kinds of jobs! Unless you’re really impoverished and can’t even put food on the table (After all, morality ends where hunger starts) it might be better to let a job like that go. Self-hatred is not a pretty thing.
Do they have good connections?
And finally, do they have good connections to other people in the industry? If they do and they have all the other attributes I’ve outlined above as well, then you’ve struck client gold! Because if you manage to do a good job then they might pass your name along to other people in the industry, so that you can get far more writing gigs.
And I promise, you one writing gig for one client that’s ongoing does not measure up to a whole bunch of clients clamoring for your time simultaneously. The reason for this is that if that one client goes away, or you can no longer work with them, then you’ll suddenly have a big hole to fill. That will never happen if you’ve got a whole bunch of clients lined up and looking to work with you.
Heck, then you can even think about starting to raise your prices a little. Now who wouldn’t like that?