How Would You Deal With Such an Unpleasant Client?

Recently got an email from a new commercial writer up North. All you experienced folks, if you’re like me, you’ll be saying, “Oh, just let me at this guy…” She wrote:

I’m writing a web site for a logistics company, a family business run by a nice guy in his early twenties. It’s my first job as a freelancer commercial writer, although I have quite a bit of experience as a copywriter at an ad agency. Here’s the deal:

Sent the initial agreement outlining that three revisions are included; any over that amount, I charge for. Sent initial draft. Client says they’re happy with it; suggest few minor tweaks. “Awesome,” I think. Make changes; send second version. Client sends back a few more minor changes. “Easiest first client ever,” I muse.

Third version I send, emphasizing “Let’s look this over, make sure everything looks great, and I’ll proof for grammar, punctuation, etc., and we’ll call it a day.” Client responds, “Great. I’ll just send it along to our consultant and we’ll get back to you.”

(Sound of brakes screeching). “Um, okay…”

I wait nervously for a few days before emailing client. I’m told he and the consultant are still making lots of changes. Wait a few more days; told they’re still making changes. Finally, not knowing what’s left of my copy, I insist on having a phone conference with this mystery consultant, who turns out to be a very confrontational and opinionated attorney, who not very nicely attacks me for all manner of grammatical transgressions.

According to him, the lead’s been lost in a pile of blah-blah-blah. He wants everything stripped down to bare facts. In short, he is a writer’s nightmare. And I’m a new twenty-something commercial copywriter, eager to please my first client, and totally intimidated by gruff, fifty-year-old lawyers.

When I ask my client why the sudden change, his response is merely that his consultant pointed out a lot of things to him.

My question: We’re still technically on the third round of revisions, although the “revisions” are adding sections, removing sections and making very significant changes. The client doesn’t want to get back to me and give the OK on this last round because I think he believes as long as he’s within the three rounds of revisions, the sky’s the limit on making changes.

How do I diplomatically communicate the scale of changes permitted? How do I prevent this from happening in the future? How do I avoid both pissing off my first and only client and being a sucker who’s doing work for free?

Whew. Doesn’t that story just make you want to shine up your brass knuckles? Of course, she did make a few newbie copywriter errors. Like not determining up front all the folks who’d be approving copy. Honest mistake, and one of those “hindsight-is-20/20” things. Been through many projects where I didn’t think to ask that and it never turned out to be a problem, but had there been a hidden butcher with machete and red pen lurking in the shadows, I’d have been hosed.

And no question, when starting out (and young, too boot, and easily daunted; we’ve all been there), and have a great gig going with a first client, you really do want to please. All things considered, she got paid, learned some valuable lessons (far more than she’d have learned on a smooth-sailing gig), and will be that much more prepared next time.

One thing that’s a no-brainer is the whole idea of expanding scope of a project. Not sure whether they spelled out the project parameters on the original agreement. But, given how she agonized over saying anything once the thing began spreading in all directions, I’m guessing not. Big mistake.

If you make it clear upfront, in writing, that the project includes X components – X # of pages, for X fee, then as soon as things start expanding beyond those stated specs, then it’s a simple matter of saying, “Things have changed, and the fee needs to be renegotiated.” No need for hesitation or angst. The client agreed to a certain sized project for a certain fee, and it’s now grown beyond that. End of discussion.

Being completely matter-of-fact about that is crucial to preserving your status as a professional. And it should happen regardless of whether it’s your first client or your 1000th. If you had a plumber over to fix your sink and you asked him to fix that leaky toilet upstairs while he’s here, you’d never expect him to do it for nothing. So, why would you think for a nanosecond that clients are entitled to freebies? They’re not.

Another non-negotiable point for any professional is how you’re being treated. If someone starts with snide remarks, confrontational, belligerent tone, or insulting manner in any way, I’m going to say something. Anyone who does that honestly believes you’re little more than “The Help,” and as such, can be talked down to. I once told one such a client, who the hell he thought he was, talking to me that way. That went over well. I ended my participation at that moment, walked away, and got paid for my time.

Got this update from our beseiged copywriter:

“I wish I could say I’d come up with a brilliant way to resolve the situation, but it really amounted to a combination of contributing many more hours than I’d planned on (thus losing money) and finally, drawing the line and telling the client I’d have to adjust the quote before making any further changes.

“Trying my hardest to diplomatically plow through numerous revisions was what kept my relationship with the client from souring. (At the project’s completion, he enthusiastically volunteered to be a reference for me.) But whether the situation was resolved successfully is debatable. I succeeded in making the client happy, but lost money and watched some great copy turn into something I’m not as thrilled to put my name on. Live and learn.”

Ever found yourself dealing with a similarly unpleasant individual? If so, what did you do?

Any other suggestions to head off problems like these?

When you were starting out, how did you balance your desire to be accommodating and customer-oriented with the need to not become a doormat?

And if you didn’t manage that well (and many of us didn’t!), what did you learn from the experience?

26 replies
  1. Tom Johnson
    Tom Johnson says:

    That’s horrible and I really feel sorry for her. I have had a few run-ins with problem clients but luckily they have all happened after I got my bearings as a freelance writer. If she is reading this: Don’t let it shake your confidence! At least you got a reference out of it.

    The part that I still have a hard time handling is when you do your best work and then the client butchers it, but loves the results. So you have to go along with it to get paid but it’s not something that you will ever put on your portfolio. Is there a way around that or do you ultimately just have to grin and bear it?

  2. Mike Klassen
    Mike Klassen says:

    I remember some “doormat” projects early on. Don’t know any freelancer who hasn’t gone through it.

    I understand the frustration of the situation, but what I’ve always tried to keep in mind is that it’s just one project. If it gets to be too much, I never have to accept another job from them.

    I had a project with a person who was nice enough, but her first question to me was, “How many revisions are included?” You’d think that would have been a huge warning flag, but it wasn’t.

    I quickly learned why she had parted company with an ad agency and wasn’t even getting satisfaction from her own in-house person. She was never satisfied and switched directions constantly. Since she was a new client that had been referred to me, I didn’t want to rock the boat.

    When the project was done, I let her know that I didn’t think we were a good fit for a long-term partnership. In my mind, it wasn’t even worth the effort to tighten up the client agreement.

    My advice would be to take the attitude that in addition to a check and testimonial you’re also getting a great education on how to improve things with the next client. And, at the end of the day, you really do have control. You can come up with a tighter agreement, improve how you speak up for yourself, and whether or not you continue working with clients that cause you undue stress.

    And a quick word about consultants… Some (I stress “some”) have to justify their price. So no matter what you do, it will be picked apart. When I worked in radio, we’d often hire a consultant. Them coming in and saying, “Well, everything looks good. You don’t need me”, doesn’t happen.

  3. Joseph Ratliff
    Joseph Ratliff says:

    Mike has some sound advice here.

    I try to establish upfront expectations as much as possible in all client projects. Who is involved, or is going to be involved? Who is finally approving the work completed? If they ask about revisions, I ask about any possible past experiences with other writers (usually stems from a bad writer before from my experience) and how I can “do better” for them.

    But I also establish very firmly upfront that I’m brutally honest, and I expect that from them as well. This way, if situations like the one the copywriter above described happen (it’s actually rarer than one might think)…then I can go back to this expectation and have a real “heart to heart” with them.

    But I have to slightly challenge Mike’s last statement about consultants, I have questioned a client as to why they felt they needed my services before 🙂 (just ribbing ya Mike)

  4. Michael Scully
    Michael Scully says:

    There is an industry standard: two rounds of revisions, provided that such revisions (a) are submitted within 30 days (more or less) of your delivery via e-mail of the initial draft, and (b) do not represent a change in scope. If you submit an outline and get approval for the outline, that approved outline becomes a “content contract” which limits the scope of revisions (see (b) above).

    Put language to that effect in your project proposal. If the prospective client rejects such terms up front, then he has disqualified himself. Otherwise… well, he agreed to reasonable terms.

    And since when is an attorney an expert on grammar? (I doubt you made that many grammatical errors anyway.) Please. Some (I do say “some”) of these folks can’t even structure an outline properly.

    (Attorneys are *not* intimidating — not when you’ve been working with them for over a dozen years, anyway, like I have.)

    So the short answer is… communicate these limits up front.

  5. Christopher Korody
    Christopher Korody says:

    I think there is a very important red flag right at the beginning of the story… “a nice guy in his early twenties.” A lot of what a good – meaning skilled or practiced – client does is put your work in context for the organization and its needs.

    Lawyers are notoriously difficult to manage. Unless they are given very specific instructions, they will find a boogeyman lurking behind every preposition. Furthermore, they seldom understand marketing or audiences. In my experience, a more sophisticated client would have listened to what the attorney had to say and put it in context… Meaning decide what was important, what to argue and sometimes what to ignore.

    I totally agree with Peter that rule one is to identify everyone who will be involved in approving the final document. I then try to get input from everyone with the specific goal of identifying significant disconnects between the players and resolving them before I begin writing. I also put a legal review into the timeline.

  6. Michele
    Michele says:

    One strategy I’ve used in situtations like this when the review process suddenly veers out of control and I feel like a rag doll being chomped by a great dane is to “play dead” and throw the project back into the hands of the client, tell them (whoever is involved in the decision-making) to work out a draft they like, then send it to me for the FINAL proof. At this point, the sanest thing is to remove yourself from the process. You’ve given the client your best shot and for whatever reason in the eleventh hour they’ve decided to redo the thing. Let them have their way but hold them accountable by “requiring” them to make the changes themselves (unless you’re able to renegotiate the contract and fee). You honor your part of the deal by doing the final proof and they get what they want, but not at your expense.

  7. Rick Middleton
    Rick Middleton says:

    In the very first sentence I saw “family business” and I could have predicted the rest. I only rarely have good experiences with small clients, and that’s true of self-employed individuals, small or medium-sized non-profits, or small companies. They have budgets of x but they want 3x. So if you are giving them new website copy for $1,500, that represents a HUGE investment for this tiny operation. And if you aren’t even designing or programming the site, that means they are investing the princely sum of $1,500 in a project that will need additional work and money to get to completion. They inevitably fret about the cost and they also fret about how they can get a great site on a puny budget. This year has been particularly bad for this kind of thing, and I am basically chalking up about $3,000 in expenses as “in-kind donations” to three small non-profits, rather than billing them in full for the work I did this year. In each case, the project was larger than their capacity, and I should have known better.

    I hate to tell a newbie copywriter to ditch the small clients, but I think for the sake of honesty I should go ahead and suggest it.

  8. Laurie Schmidt
    Laurie Schmidt says:

    Even if you’re not a newbie, this issue pops up occasionally. I did a press packet for a non-profit, specified in my contract the number of revision rounds included, and then after those rounds were done – the guy informs me that they now need to send it members of the media for review. Huh?? This situation hasn’t finished playing out yet, but I will most likely end up having to be the bulldog enforcer re: the terms of my contract. Never a comfortable situation. In the future, I will specifically address the subject of outside reviewers in my contracts. By the way, this same client didn’t send me my upfront 1/3 deposit until 6 weeks after I’d started the project. (I know – my bad for starting it before getting the deposit. Another lesson learned.) My point is, unfortunately, some clients are just going to push the limits, no matter what your contract says.

    Great advice from Michele on “playing dead” and removing yourself from the process! I will definitely try that tactic in the future. 🙂

  9. Lori
    Lori says:

    Oh boy, have I been there! What did I do? I completed the project by jumping through the dozen or more hoops, then I amended my contracts going forward.

    Here’s how I head off these problems at the outset – I have wording in my contract that states who the primary parties are in said contract. The language also states that any unnamed contributor making changes that I’m supposed to follow will void the contract, with payment due immediately, and will be happily accepted into the fold with the negotiating and signing of a new contract that includes pricing for dealing with said third wheel. It’s stated much nicer than that, but that’s the idea. 🙂

    I didn’t balance things very well in my first few years. I was eager to get the job, which meant I would compromise too readily on price and parameters. I would even work without a contract (gasp!). It took just one or two burns to learn how to keep my hand out of that particular flame. I learned that the moment you let a “posse” edit your work, the project is dead. You cannot please people who have no vested interest in this project. Case in point – I fired one client when at the very final read-through, she brought in comments from some so-called expert. This was a guy who’d written a how-to book, not an expose like hers, and whom she was desperate to please. He was telling her to refocus the entire book, and HE’D write it this way, not that way….

    Luckily, my contract at that point had already been written to exclude that kind of “helpful” behavior. The moment she tried sneaking in his suggestions, I quit and sent her the bill, which she paid.

    NEVER let someone else define your work process. Define it for yourself and present it to your clients. They can ask for amendments, but up front, not after the project is nearly finished.

    Also, I don’t state “payable upon receipt of final document” any longer. I have specific end dates listed. They can drag it on as long as they like – I’m getting paid in the meantime.

  10. William Reynolds
    William Reynolds says:

    I used to give two free rounds of rewrites with each job. I’ve changed that policy to one free rewrite. When I submit the first draft, I tell the client to please make sure and collect any and all comments from everyone involved BEFORE sending me that rewrite request — because the next rewrite is gonna cost extra. People can be remarkably efficient when there’s money riding on it.

  11. John
    John says:

    Great discussion! Not to stray too far off subject, but some of you have mentioned how you include language in your contracts to derail these kind of problems. Just wondering how detailed your contracts are and do you always use them? I’m relatively new to the business and recall from Peter’s first book that he typically uses a bid letter only, without a formal contract. Is it easier to just include all the details to make sure all bases are covered?

    I suppose it depends on whether it’s a new client, but I just want to make sure I don’t bog anyone down with a lengthy contract…however, I obviously want to avoid issues like the one presented here. Thanks for any insight on the subject.

  12. Christopher Korody
    Christopher Korody says:

    John –

    There is an old saying that a contract is not worth the paper that its written on unless there is goodwill between the parties… Practically speaking at the dollar points we work at, a contract is completely unenforceable. You either go to bat and win, go to bat and lose the account, or suck it up in the interests of future opportunities with that client and organization.

    I now attach a couple of pages entitled “Terms And Conditions” to my proposal. Over the years I have boiled it down to the issues that are most likely to happen and are important to me. Meaning that there is a whole lot less in there, then what a lawyer will recommend. And it is written in plain English.

    After that, it’s all about communication and choices. It is naive to assume that a client always has complete control of a project within his own organization. Or that s/he alone has the power to say yes. It simply doesn’t work that way.

    Frequently, your clients job is simply to facilitate on behalf of the actual decision maker(s). That is why it is always important to get their input when you start. Not always easy perhaps, but always important.

    With new clients I spend time talking about the production process as it relates to the organization. With existing clients we plan whose input we need, what the likely sticking points are in either content or schedule, and so forth. When you are partnering with your clients, it is much easier to identify and discuss an unforeseen element that is about to cause scope creep.

    Sometimes the client has budget to cover it, sometimes they don’t. That’s when the judgment part comes in. In my experience, clients know when they owe you one… And that works for me because my goal and my practices are focused on creating long term relationships and repeat business.

    One last thought.

    Every one of these posts assumes that a fixed bid is the only model to use for a project. There are at least two other options: a not-to-exceed based on an hourly rate, and hourly billing. Hourly billing is a great solution when it is obvious that a large group of players are going to be involved, especially when you are dependent on them to move forward.

  13. John
    John says:

    Thanks for your input, Christopher. I also have a “Terms” document (roughly two pages) that I use for new clients…it’s pretty basic stuff and doesn’t address every last possible calamity, but has worked well so far.

    Fortunately, I’ve had mostly good clients since I started my writing business and have needed to tweak my “Terms” document only a couple of times due to bad experiences. One example was a client who insisted I work on-site (after we agreed on terms), which was neither practical nor necessary. After that ordeal, I added a line in my contract saying any work on site (other than meetings) is billable at double my regular hourly rate and must be agreed upon in writing beforehand…hasn’t been an issue with anyone since. So you’re right, it comes down to issues that are most important to us and the likelihood of them happening.

    Thanks again!

  14. Rebecca Fernandez
    Rebecca Fernandez says:

    Ah, the last-minute nitpicker. My “favorite” extended client. 😉

    In this case, since you didn’t get a list of those who would review the copy before you began, I would have incorporated whatever they wanted into the final “revision,” just as I would have in the first. However, it ends there. If they need further changes–and they likely will–it’s billable at my normal hourly rate. If there are on-site meetings or phone calls needed, they’re billed at my hourly rate.

    I give a fixed bid for small businesses, which includes two revisions with all key players present for the first comments session. The second one, I don’t care, because if they have further changes after I return it, they’re paying extra anyway.

    Getting burned a few times is essential to figuring out contract terms that work well for you.

    One suggestion that I wish I’d been given as a newbie freelancer? Meet the project manager before you agree to the project, and probe a bit to see how competent and intelligent they are. I am frequently hired by the CEO or department head, but my work will be done largely with a PM. Let’s just say that there are some who will have you screaming obscenities at your computer for weeks, if not months.

  15. Melzetta "Mele" Williams
    Melzetta "Mele" Williams says:

    I’m a former practicing attorney, and many have asked why I left law to freelance. My answer? I hated dealing with other lawyers.

    So, yes *some* lawyers can be obnoxious on a good day.

    I think it’s worth the time to go over the contract with the client (in person or over the phone). This way you can define certain terms for those clients who are not marketing savvy (like “a change in scope”), but who don’t want to admit it.

    I worked with a really nice lady who truly didn’t understand that her “revisions” amounted to a complete overhaul of the original project. Once I defined “change in scope” and gave additional examples of what that looked like, she apologized and signed off on the first draft.

    So if it appears that I’m working with an unsophisticated business person I’ll say something like this: “I don’t know about you, but I don’t like surprises, especially if it may affect my pocketbook. Let me explain what I mean by ‘change in scope’ “….

  16. Peter Bowerman
    Peter Bowerman says:

    Thanks to all for these fab comments…

    Tom, I hear you (re scenarios where clients change copy to something much worse and then you don’t even want to show it…). Though that said, at least as far as my online portfolio is concerned, the way I have it set up (with thumbnails of the actual printed pieces to the left, and then text, usually excerpted, to the right), the thumbnails are too small to read the copy, so I just change it in the text at right to what I wanted it to read…;)

    Harder to do with the actual sample when with clients, but if you can control the sample, you can still steer them to what you want them to read.

    And thanks Mike for your usual great insights. Yeah, some clients just aren’t worth the trouble, and it’s a nice feeling when you can afford to part ways with the “problem children.” And all experiences are just that – experiences. Lessons to take into the next client. You could say you learn far more about the business (and yourself) from the bad clients than the good ones. Not that you want to wish for them just so you learn more, but when they find you (mostly in the early days; with experience comes the PITA-radar), you can “frame” the experience a bit more positively.

    And as Joseph – and others – points out (always good to hear your thoughts, dude…), it’s all about establishing those parameters and expectations. Remember: what may seem like second nature – or even just plain “fair” to you – might not occur to a client hiring a writer for the first time and who doesn’t know the rules (I know, some things should be obvious, like shifting parameters requiring more $, but # of revisions, not necessarily…).

    Yes, some clients are real pills, but some aren’t trying to be difficult – they just don’t realize how things work in our world. And if we don’t lay it out upfront, we invite problems down the line.

    Michele – love the “playing dead” approach. Sometimes that’s just not a bad idea at all. No need to get into a pissing contest with the client, which can often engender defensiveness; sometimes being silent can have a client take a closer look at what they’re suggesting (not always, and probably not in this case).

    Chris, you’re right – these consultants (especially attorneys…) often know little about marketing and copywriting. Not that they’ll let that stand in their way of justifying their existence (i.e., “peeing” on the final result…). As Mike points out, rarely will they find nothing to change.

    And as Rick points out, when you’re dealing with small clients, relatively modest project costs can truly be a lot of money, so they’re far more likely to micro-manage that much more. Thankfully, dealing with the mom-‘n-pop business is usually only something we have to do in the early days of our businesses – where we’re doing it to build a book, make a few bucks, and learn.

    Thanks Lori, for the “cojones” discussion. All you relatively new to the biz, re-read her comments. This is someone who has a healthy respect for her skills and what she brings to the table, and isn’t the slightest bit hesitant about drawing her line in the sand. Which is where you need to get to, and sooner rather than later.

    John, in regards to your question, yes, I have almost exclusively used my bid letter (and even then, not all the time) and I had very few problems in my 17 years in the business. I think it’s prudent to follow the suggestions here – generally and specifically – about how to craft a contract, but luckily, I haven’t needed anything more robust than that.

    And yes, as William notes, it’s important to nip in the bud, upfront, any notion the client has of running the copy past a whole army of editors. If they insist on doing that, nicely demand, as he does, that all those comments need to flow through them (or someone else besides you) first, for review and final parsing before they get to you. You do NOT want to get into a situation where 10+ people are all sending you revisions. And they’ll often – and predictably – contradict each other, making a really fun situation even more joyful… And while I would still offer two rounds of revisions, I totally agree that when they understand clearly – the key here – that another round of revisions is going to cost them, they’ll get very focused.

    And oh yes, as Rebbecca wisely notes, make sure you know who you’ll be working with directly. That hasn’t been a big issue for me over the years, but maybe I’ve just been lucky. In my experience, those who you’ll be directly reporting to are usually in the meeting/discussion you have, but never hurts to ask and make certain.

    Thankfully, as several of you pointed out, the bad clients and unfortunate situations like these are, thankfully, in our business, the exception rather than the rule. Most clients (assuming you’re finding good ones to work with) are good people and who understand fundamental fairness. And as Mele pointed out, even ones who are a bit clueless will often straighten up and fly right if we diplomatically explain the facts of life.

    And hey, if it weren’t for the bad ones, our lives wouldn’t be nearly as interesting, and we wouldn’t have nearly so many good stories to tell…;)


  17. Rebecca Fernandez
    Rebecca Fernandez says:

    This was such a timely post/thread, Peter. I added a clause to my client agreement that says:

    “Upon delivery of the project copy, the [client’s] project manager will gather input from all interested parties and stakeholders, compile it into a single document, resolving any conflicts between parties in the process. To avoid excessive revisions charges, remember to include any attorneys, marketing and sales, executive leadership, in-house writers, and customer focus groups who need to be satisfied by the final product.

    As noted earlier, [the client] is entitled to one major revision, followed by a second (minor) revision. Additional revisions, as well as significant direction or messaging changes and/or the introduction of new involved stakeholders after the first (“major”) revision will revert the billing to a standard hourly rate of $50.00/hr or a negotiated additional fee.”

    Just floated the agreement to a new client, who accepted it without comment. This particular project will involve an enormous amount of new copy due by Dec 31, so I suspect this is going to be the project-saving clause!

    However, I really need to get my act together and start charging “rush fees” and/or holiday project fees. I’ll be working on this non-stop from Christmas through New Year’s. :-/

  18. Lori
    Lori says:

    Thanks, Peter. I had to “cultivate” said cajones by trail and error, but it’s made me a stronger business person as a result. And I think I could probably crush a beer can on my forehead now. 🙂

  19. Star
    Star says:

    Some good points in this and the comments. First, EVERYONE has been through this, I’ll wager–as Mike says. “I liked it, but when I showed my wife…” Or: “I have to let all the association’s officers approve this, so here are their eight versions.” Etc. Etc. The worst is the dreaded, “This is fantastic–just a few things…” I specify that they must consolidate comments into one doc–“You are the one who can really weigh what is crucial and what isn’t.” I also include “One reasonable rewrite if needed, defined as two hours or less…” I offer to take notes over the phone so I can discuss and dismiss many of them (I hope)–“I can save you some time.” I really hate it when they completely rewrite–yipes. And even worse–those stupid Word corrections with the little yellow patches where comments rise up when you place the cursor.

  20. Ken Norkin
    Ken Norkin says:

    Everyone has given great advice. For the particular writer whose situation this is all about, the best advice unfortunately is what she should have done before starting the job, which is to include the words “original scope” in the part of her proposal that provided for three drafts plus charges beyond that. How easy that would have been.

    Even though she didn’t state that up front, I think she can still safely claim scope creep now. She can simply tell the client that of course her flat fee *for the proposed work,* while it included revisions, did not include expansion — which by definition turns the project into something other than what her price was based on. So she’s happy to expand the project — at a cost comparable to how she charges for changes beyond third draft. I think she’s probably missed the boat on charging extra for all the changes wanted by the consultant.

    So the best thing for her is that she’ll learn the types of things to state orally and in writing next time. It always amazes me whenever I’m on a workshop panel that so many freelancers are actually surprised that I am in fact specific with clients up-front about charging for changes in scope or direction, requiring the client to reconcile changes from multiple reviewers (or to tell me that I’m free to ignore certain reviewers’ comments) and requiring changes to be requested within 30 days of my submitting any draft or I will deem the project complete. It takes no time to put that in an email proposal as part of the pricing and payment terms. And it certainly is easy to state in person or on the phone when they ask the inevitable question: How do you charge?

    Here’s my specific language for addressing some of this. It’s posted on my website. Similar language goes in my proposals:

    “I do nearly all of my copywriting work on a project-fee basis, with the price quoted up front based on our mutual understanding of your requirements and the scope of work. Projects that lack definition or that begin with figuring out and proposing what you need are handled on an hourly basis. Sooner or later, we’ll reach a point where a cost-to-complete can be firmly quoted. My flat project fees for copywriting always include first draft and up to two rounds of revisions — if needed — within a project’s original scope, regardless of the actual hours required. Because second and third drafts are provided at no additional cost, I have earned the full project fee with delivery of first draft.”

    See how easy that is?

  21. Michele
    Michele says:

    I think this situation also hints at a subtle issue that took me time to recognize. I call it “giving up ownership.” As writers, we take pride in our work and want to do our best for our clients. Unfortunately, we can become too vested in our work. In the past, when clients started making changes beyond the scope of the original agreement, I used to feel “obliged” to accept and incorporate all additional remarks myself in an effort to 1) please the client, and 2) perserve the “integrity” of the product (i.e. my work). Eventually, I realized that whether or not I agreed with the client’s changes was irrelevent (especially to the client)! I run a business, and if that’s what the client wants, that’s what the client gets. I had to give up “ownership” of the result, and if I didn’t like the final product, I could remove my name from it or choose not to include it in my portfolio.

    This doesn’t mean that I don’t speak up and offer my opinion about suggested changes; I have to do that: it’s what I’ve been hired to do. But at some point when the review process has gone askew, “you have to know when to hold and when to fold.”

    I think this is true for all writing assignments (and maybe even all work). Do your best, but do not get too vested in the outcome. Otherwise, it’s too easy to get sucked into doing more than you should in the name of personal or professional pride. But as Peter points out, good client rapport (and a good contract) can usually preclude this.

  22. Danielle Lynn
    Danielle Lynn says:

    I’ve had a client like this…. My second client, wanted constant revisions, quick copy at random hours of the day… it was enough to make anyone want to pull their hair out. In the end, he stiffed me half my money too! Lesson learned though, now I have a lot of safeguards to protect both me and my clients.

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