12 types of freelance writing clients and how to handle them

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June 28, 2021
5 minute read

Every freelance writer has been there: a client that thinks writing is ‘quick’ work they shouldn’t need to pay for. If you’ve had those (or any other type of) bad clients, you’re not alone. When you're building your writing business, you'll eventually come across a client or two that may be difficult to work with.

In this post, we’re rounding up 12 types of annoying freelance writing clients and how to handle them.

1. The nitpicky editor client

Favorite phrase: [Inserts 257 suggested edits into a 1,000 word article draft]

The good and the bad: This client will do all their own edits, but you worry you’ll be fired at any moment since no matter what you do, they have a million edits.

How to handle them: Bring it up politely. Say you’re asking for trend and directional feedback you can learn from for the future.

2. The SEO-obsessed client

Favorite phrase: “Have you made sure to integrate these 37 keywords?”

The good and the bad: These clients are invested in content, but keyword stuffing hinders your ability to deliver high quality work.

How to handle them: Mention that keyword stuffing can actually harm SEO rankings. If that won’t work, be up front that you can prioritize keywords, but the article will start to feel generic if you can’t deviate from a keyword list.

3. The no-direction client

Favorite phrase: “Do this however you want. Just, like, do it well, you know?”

The good and the bad: These clients never bother you but they also never provide direction, so it can feel like rowing a boat in the middle of the ocean.

How to handle them: Ask about their goals and desired outcomes, then offer recommended paths for them to choose from. Get their confirmation in writing, so you can refer back to it later if they read your article and wonder why you wrote what you did.

4. The no-context feedback client

Favorite phrase: “Please revise.”

The good and the bad: It’s easy to tell where your client didn’t like something, it’s just that you have no context or reason why they don’t like it, which can make editing difficult.

How to handle them: Respond with a binary question, forcing them to give feedback you can work with. For example: “Just clarifying: are you asking me to edit the tone or do you think the sentence is incorrect?"

5. The former writer

Favorite phrase: “I used to be a writer, so I just have a few small edits” [Proceeds to leave 72 edits]

The good and the bad: This client really gets the value of writing, but most writers have their own style which can lead to a barrage of seemingly random edits and tweaks.

How to handle them: Set style, tone, and length expectations up front. You can also differentiate between substantive edits (facts) versus style edits (client preferences). As you get feedback, try to match the client style whenever possible.

6. The visionary client

Favorite phrase: “We’re here to change the world, and all content needs to reflect the quality and heft of our mission.”

The good and the bad: These clients give you a powerful vision. Unfortunately, there are often unrealistic expectations to match.

How to handle them: Talk about how you’re excited to build content that makes up individual “pieces” of their bigger mission, to subtly guide them away from the idea that one piece of content will make up their whole vision.

7. The helicopter client

Favorite phrase: [Asks for status updates 3 times per week]

The good and the bad: These clients are accessible if you have questions, but also annoying if you’re just trying to get your work done.

How to handle them: Set clear delivery expectations and don’t be urgently available for them.

8. The personal insults client

Favorite phrase: “You’re really not that good at this, are you?”

The good and the bad: There’s nothing good. Rude clients suck, especially when they use concepts like “radical candor” as an excuse to be demeaning.

How to handle them: Focus all conversations on deliverables. If they keep making it personal, fire them. It’s not worth your time.

9. The disappearing client

Favorite phrase: [Unresponded emails]

The good and the bad: You never have to worry about them bothering you. But you also can’t get a hold of them when you need them.

How to handle them: Indicate what you need from them in order to continue working, and that you will have to stop work until you receive those items from them. This covers you if they ask where the deliverables are.

10. The “this isn’t that hard” client

Favorite phrase: “This isn’t that hard.”

The good and the bad: These clients are usually fairly to the point, but also lack nuance (and might also be prone to personal insults).

How to handle them: Explain the research, interviews, outlining, and drafting you’re doing so they don’t have to. Your client might be an expert in the knowledge, but you know the process it takes to create great content.

11. The client that thinks you’re their employee

Favorite phrase: “Can you hop on a quick call in 15 minutes?”

The good and the bad: These clients are attentive, but they don’t engage with you properly which can hinder deliverables.

How to handle them: Ask for agendas before booking any meeting, so you can both be prepared and make the most of your time.

12. The client that assumes they’re your whole world

Favorite phrase: “I don’t understand, you estimated three hours for this blog. Why can’t you deliver it the same day I assign it?”

The good and the bad: These clients see you as a valuable contributor to the team, but they also assume you will do anything for them at the drop of a hat.

How to handle them: Casually mention your other clients in conversation (especially in the context of providing advice: “Oh, interesting question. I have another client in a similar scenario. What we did was…”).

Client management is a necessary part of freelancing

Freelancers might work independently, but they have to manage all their clients, so it’s still very much a human-to-human business. Discovery calls with potential clients can help you identify potential red flags, but some issues can still pop up after you've signed up for work.

When working with new clients, you'll never know exactly what you’re going to get: a single client could be every type listed above, and more. The key is not to box someone into an archetype, but instead look for a pattern of behavior so you can pick the right client management tactics.