Good client. Bad client.

Good client. Bad client.

or How to avoid dangerous clients!

I received an email today from a copywriter who’s just starting out. They’d been badly ‘burned’ by a client who ended up not paying them for their work. They asked me if I had any tips on how to tell a good copywriting client from a bad client.

Of course the argument goes that the customer is always right and, indeed, if you’re just starting out, you may think that any client willing to pay you for your services is a good thing.

But sadly there are a lot of muppets out there who have no scruples about screwing around with a small business owner or small trader.

Here are my definitions of a few types of challenging clients and how to deal with them.

The ‘Free of charge’ client

While it’s a good idea to provide potential clients with examples of previous work, or even customised written samples for their particular industry, I’m not keen on providing ‘free copy’ to prove my worth. Why? Well I’m a fairly established writer, I have testimonials and a substantial body of work but, even if I didn’t, I feel that to some degree, it’s a matter of principle.

If I find a plumber I don’t expect him to come and fix my toilet free of charge just to prove he’s capable of replumbing my bathroom.  If a client asks you to write for no charge, then I suggest you use your judgment here; a few paragraphs might be worth the effort but several pages seems a little unfair.

The ‘No prepayment’ client

For all new clients I ask for a 50% upfront deposit. Why? Well I believe it’s about sharing the risk. The new client and I might not know each other. So by giving me the deposit, they’re trusting me to write their full copy deck and I am trusting them to pay me the remaining 50%. If it’s a large amount, you might want to break the job down into sections with payment after completion of each one. That way you make it easier for both parties.

I’m generally wary of clients who point blank refuse to make an upfront payment or blame their accounts department. Deposits are a common business practice so my advice is to hold your ground, no matter how much you want the work.

The ‘No time’ client

I have a brief that I ask all my potential clients to complete before I start work. It’s just a few pages with some pertinent questions that give me a deeper insight into their brand and goals. I’ve had a few clients argue they’re too busy to complete it. That’s fair enough, but if they’re too busy to complete a two-page questionnaire, are they going to have enough time to review the copy properly? Answer any questions I might have? Mark up amends? For me, the brief is a great way to sort the ‘tyre kickers’ from the genuine clients!

The ‘Many meeting’ client

I’m a big believer that most of the briefing process can be handled perfectly well by telephone, Skype, email, etc. But if a client REALLY wants to meet me (to make sure I’m normal, I guess) then I sometimes relent. I do, however, baulk at clients who want to meet repeatedly. I had one client who asked to meet me every second day for two weeks for one 800-word piece of copy.

Every meeting costs you time and money (including all that travel time) so confirm with the client up front how many meetings are included in the quote, then stick to it!

The ‘Ten other copywriters’ client

This line fills me with fear: “I’ve worked with several other copywriters but none of them have been able to get it right.” It’s not that I’m not up to the challenge – but rather that, in my experience, the problem here is usually with the client rather than the previous writers.

There’s no denying there are some woeful copywriters out there, but while one negative experience might be credible, more than one seems unlikely. With these clients it’s a good idea to firmly agree the scope of works and the number of rounds of amends before you begin and also to force them to define what they do and don’t like about the previously written copy.

The ‘Need it yesterday’ client

Most clients, especially agencies, need the copy yesterday. And if it’s a nice meaty job for a good brand it can seem like a great idea to drop everything to get it done. But just be careful. As a producer I was often guilty of setting false deadlines for suppliers to give me more time. Also, there’s no guarantee that, even if you pull out all the stops, the client will send you the brief/amends on time.

Working freelance is a constant juggling act. Trying to ensure you have a steady flow of work is difficult, so don’t let your client get you in a sweaty mess with their deadlines. Just look at your schedule and let them know when you can fit it in. Good copy is worth waiting for.

The ‘Constant quibbler’ client

I think my rates are fairly reasonable, especially given the excellent quality of the work I produce! So when I send my potential client a quote I’m already giving them my best possible price. I recommend breaking down your invoice in as much detail as possible, so your client is completely clear on how long you’re spending on each task, how much time you’ve allowed for meeting, amends, proofing, etc.

If a client questions your quote, that’s fair enough; perhaps you’ve overestimated the work involved, or perhaps you are able to drop the price a little as your work load is low. But nitpicking over items is just annoying.

Be wary of clients who say things like: “I see you’ve allowed 30 minutes for meetings; I think I can explain the brief in 28 minutes.” Or “Do we really need any time for amends; can’t you just get it right first time?” They are likely to quibble from the start of the job until the end, and drive you crazy in the process.

The ‘Great client’

And so to finish, lets go with a great client. Recently I’ve had to turn down a fair amount of work as I’m too busy. One client just came back to me with this response when I turned his job down.

“What if I give you:
> Peace on Earth.
> A pen with our logo on it.
> A stuffed hedgehog for Christmas (fake, that is).
> Better payment.
Would you then have time to help me out?”

A funny client, with a great brief and who pays on time? Now that’s my idea of a great client – how could I say no!?

Do you have any other client types you avoid or try to engage? Let me know!

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