Don’t let pushy clients shrink your bottom line

PC Magazine describes scope creep as: “The continual enhancement of the requirements of a project as the system is being constructed.” Which basically means that the client asks for more and more until the project becomes more time consuming and more expensive than originally laid out.

This definition applies to all projects, including those of freelance writers. Every freelancer will run into this from time to time. If you don’t get your project outlined clearly and keep your client’s requests under control, you can lose a great deal of time and money trying to chase down changes and the invariable “Can you do this one little thing?” extras.

 Setting expectations at the onset can help to avoid a great deal of these issues. However, some clients may—from a feeling of familiarity or entitlement—ask for a few things outside the scope of the project. It’s completely up to you whether or not to fulfill the request, but you may want to do a gut check, to be sure they’re not asking for more than they are paying for.

For example, a new client of mine—a very nice, likeable fellow—recently asked me for an extra document with a list of the many articles in the project, paired with what keywords were used. My normal MO is to create a spreadsheet of all the articles at the start of the project, so I can keep track. After expressing this to the client, I asked if the spreadsheet would be sufficient. He said, no, he is trying to put everything into Word Docs as a standard. No problem, I thought, it’s a cut and paste deal, a few seconds of my time. So, I did it, without charging him. I made my client happy, and it practically cost me nothing.

His next request, amid copious and profuse praise for my writing, was to put the content of each article in the project—several dozen of them—into one Word doc, to make it easier for him to edit.

Can you hear the sound of a screeching record? I did, and informed him, politely yet firmly, that it was not part of the project as laid out in the contract, and that if he really needed this done, that I would have to charge him for it. I gave him an estimate of what it would cost, and allowed him to stew on it.

Many might have just done as he asked without blinking. I can’t. As a former project manager, I have seen scope creep gone horribly wrong, and I quickly see red when clients start asking for things that aren’t covered within the scope of a project. For the freelancer, the cost of scope creep can be quite dear. Here’s why you should nip nearly all requests for free extras in the bud:

  • You have other clients. They’re paying for your work, too. Any added bonuses you give one client is going to impact the timeline you’ve set for other projects.
  • Your time is just as important as theirs. You would not ask your dry cleaner, dog walker or babysitter to spend more time on something or asking for extras without paying for it, would you? Then, don’t let your client do it.
  • Time is money. I get paid by the word on most projects. The more words I write, the more I get paid. However, for little things, I have a per-hour rate. This rate approximates how much I can write in a given hour times my per-word rate. This comes in handy when I get these one-off requests from clients. It could come in handy for you, too.

I’m all for making the client happy. I love happy clients, because they give me work to do. However, there’s a fine line between making a client happy and being a doormat.

By the way, the client replied that he thought it had been discussed (that happens), but agreed to the extra charge. So, I will spend the time to do it, without feeling like said doormat.

By laying out boundaries in a polite, yet professional manner, you can stand up for yourself without pissing off your client. If your client gets upset by your polite “refusal to acquiesce” (to paraphrase one of my favorite movies), then that client might not be the right one for you. Do this before it gets out of hand, and you should be able to manage your time and clients well.


Some days just don’t pay

This week has been a trying one for me. I have only just started working on projects that will bring in money yesterday, having used the first half of the week doing marketing, hunting for work and attempting an editing test for a position I was applying for. When every word I write is either for pay – or it is not – the choices I make become a lesson in prioritizing. Often, the non-paying words take a back seat to the paying words. But, sometimes you need to take the hit for the good of future leads.

I have received a few leads on my marketing efforts. However, none of them have produced a contract – yet. So, yesterday and today I’m trying to make up for lost time. Bills are coming due, and I’m getting a sense of desperation in my demeanor. The house needs cleaning and the dogs need bathing. I have a boyfriend who wants attention. This relationship is new, so I don’t want to ignore him. However, I need to work. So, he knows that by coming over he may have to fend for himself while I work to meet a deadline. We had such a discussion last night, and although he gets a little frustrated that I have to work so much, he understands that a) it’s necessary and b) it’s not permanent. His support has been wonderful.

For other freelance writers starting out who may be facing the same “work or market” question, keep in mind it’s like the “chicken or egg” issue. You can’t market yourself unless you’ve done some work; but you can’t work unless you market yourself.

A nice brain-tweaker for a Friday, eh?

The challenge of the freelance writer

I regularly peruse blogs and publications to find freelance writing sources. Often, I get wind of sites that claim to pay writers “big money,” then offer $5.00 (or less) per 500-word article. Yes, that’s FIVE DOLLARS per 500 words, or a penny per word. Or worse, bidding sites that force writers to work for even lower. I’m fairly new to freelancing and I’m struggling a bit, but I cannot stoop to that level – even if I could afford to. Faced with living expenses, including my increasing electric bill, courtesy of the recent heat wave on the east coast, I have to make my writing pay as much as possible, while not pricing myself out of the market. This means looking for options to those sites.

A well-researched, well-written article takes time to research and write. The old addage, “time is money” is not to be ignored here. I can’t pump out the number of pieces needed on sites like Freelancer, Elance, Zemandi, Odesk and others of their ilk at ridiculously insulting rates in order to keep the lights on. Article ‘spinners’ – software that automatically generates articles of the length required – are really the only way to keep up with the volume of words. However, I refuse to sacrifice my ethics for the sake of expediency.  Increasingly, the clients on these sites ask for “excellent” quality in these articles. Not sure what their definition of “excellent” is, but to me, it means that I would end up homeless and starving if I were to accept that volume at that price level. Excellent (or even good) writing isn’t regurgitated by an algorithm; it is crafted, nurtured and sculpted.

To those clients who demand such content: it can be done fast, good or cheap – pick any two.

My only hope in making something of this vocation that I have grown to love is to network, network, network. LinkedIn is an excellent resource for advice and networking. I have also been working with a friend who does legal research to write consumer education pieces. Things are still tough, but I am beginning to see that my options are not as limited as I once thought.

My current plan: Find people who do well at freelancing, network with them, showcase my skills and follow the advice of those wiser and more experienced than I am.

That is my challenge.

What writers do

I think that the general population doesn’t understand that writers don’t just put new words on blank pieces of paper; we also think, analyze, plot, discuss, muse and more – often, while sitting in front of a blank computer screen, frowning and muttering to ourselves. But, sometimes, we’re thinking of what to write while we’re eating breakfast, having our coffee, walking the dog, cleaning the cat litter box. Simply put, that kind of creative energy cannot be turned on and off like a switch; it ebbs and flows like the tide.