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A match made in heaven or the client from hell?

hellAs a freelance copywriter, it’s a huge buzz to hear you’ve landed a new project. If it’s a major one, it might be all you’ve thought about for days or even weeks.  There’s often a lot of work involved just getting to the stage where the client says ‘yes’. You’re on cloud nine.  But how do you know if it’s going to be a match made in heaven or if you’ve just landed the client from hell?

Sometimes you just can’t tell. If you’re new to freelancing, there’s a greater risk you’ll take prospective clients at face value than the more experienced copywriter. You are likely to be swept away by the prospect of gaining a client and thrilled to find someone who is impressed with you and your writing.

Before I go any further it’s important to stress that you will have a lot of wonderful clients throughout your copywriting career who will value and respect you. Over time, some might even become more friends than clients. But just occasionally, you will come across people who are not quite what they seem.

Listen to your instincts

Is there a little voice inside you that’s whispering doubts? Do you have a niggling feeling of disquiet about the client or the project?  If you do, listen to your instincts.  This isn’t being cynical, but a little caution could save you a lot of angst further down the line.

Don’t be tempted to …

  • Some clients, either intentionally or unintentionally, will put you under pressure, so don’t be tempted to…
  • Start work until you have a signed agreement in place complete with your terms and conditions of business (you do have terms and conditions, don’t you?).
  • Start work before you have received the deposit.
  • Start work, even if the client has a tight deadline, until the formalities are in place.  If they are genuine and in a rush, they will sign your agreement and pay your deposit quickly. If they don’t, their deadline is their problem – not yours!
  • Be intimidated. You have a business to run so don’t be bullied or feel guilty about managing the project professionally.

Tell-tale signs

Clients from hell come in all shapes and sizes. But some warning signs to look out for might include:

  • Meetings or arrangements cancelled at the last minute or the client simply not showing up.
  • Being less than truthful … if you know you haven’t missed a phone call, they possibly never called at all.
  • Overselling themselves or the project.
  • Suggesting you reduce your prices (or even work for nothing) with the promise of more work or profit sharing down the line.

Of course, none of these signs are conclusive. Genuine clients have problems which cause them to cancel appointments, and forgetting a meeting is easily done.  Dialling a phone number incorrectly is easily done too. People are passionate about their work and some are just naturally very enthusiastic.

Extricating yourself gracefully

If you do feel uncomfortable, then you might have to think about removing yourself from the situation.  Obviously, it’s important you do this professionally and tactfully, and remember, it’s always worth leaving doors open a crack rather than slamming them shut!

There are probably few freelance copywriters who haven’t found themselves in difficulty at some stage because they started work too soon or didn’t have signed agreements in place.  If or when it happens to you, you’ll know better next time.  Like every aspect of running a copywriting business, the more savvy and professional you are, the fewer problems you’re likely to experience.

But remember, we have gut feelings for a good reason. If your instincts are telling you it’s too good to be true, treat that client with caution until your feelings are proved wrong.

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