3 Issues That May Drive Your Writer Away

Ever had difficulty finding the right writer to work with you? You’re not alone, but sometimes it’s not actually the writer’s fault. Sometimes even the most above-board clients can give writers mixed signals, resulting in a less than ideal client relationship. Look at sites like the World’s Longest Invoice and you can see why some writers run a mile. Here are some issues clients can handle to improve their relationship with writers.

drive writer away

1. Getting Writing Samples

Take the question of writing sample. As a client, you want to see what a writer can do before you make a hiring decision. There’s no problem with that, on the face of it. But many writers have been affected by unscrupulous people who ask dozens of writers for samples so they end up getting the whole job for free. It’s no wonder some writers are wary, which makes potential clients wary in turn.

To avoid this unhelpful spiral, offer writers the chance to do a paid sample of work. That way they know they will get paid and you know you will get the relationship off to a good start. Alternatively, check out writers’ portfolios and speak to the people they have worked with before to get reassurance about their credentials.

2. Paying Writers

As we’ve seen with the invoice above, the question of payment can be another red flag for both clients and writers. No client really wants to pay up front; no writer wants to wait till the end of a job for payment.

The reason? Almost every professional writer can tell you about the one that got away โ€“ the one client who got work out of them and then ended up not paying. I’ve got one of those stories myself, thanks to a formerly model client who fell down the rabbit hole after a teensy weensy drug problem and never came out again. He took $500 with him – and I never saw that money again.

That’s why many writers want a deposit before they start work as a sign of good faith. Fifty per cent is pretty standard, though some writers are happy to negotiate smaller, phased installments to work with your budget. And if you hire a writer through a third-party site, an escrow system protects both of you.

Finally, whatever arrangement you make, paying on time is the best guarantee of a good relationship with your chosen writer. A writer will accept late payment for only so long before searching for another client who can keep their part of the agreement.

3.Lack of Communication or Too Much of It

Another issue that can damage a client’s relationship with a writer is the lack of communication. Writers get a bit antsy when they can’t get hold of the client to ask crucial questions. And when that’s followed by a request to produce everything yesterday, writers can’t help feeling that they don’t have a mutually respectful relationship (which is what most professionals want). Specifying how to communicate and when you will be reachable is your part of making sure that writers can meet your deadlines.

At the other end of the scale, nitpicking on every little detail tells writers you don’t trust them, which is another warning sign. If you have done your homework, you should have hired a writer who can do the job and tell your story, so let them do what you are paying them for, so you can do other things. Micromanaging your writers won’t help either of you, and writers will soon go elsewhere.

Avoid these three trouble spots and you’re set for a mutually beneficial relationship with your writer.

Want to learn more about working with a professional writer? Check out my vision for working with clients.

This post is part of the Word Carnival. This month’s theme: Dirty Deeds and Due Diligence – what to watch out for in 2015! Check out the other articles on this link.


33 thoughts on “3 Issues That May Drive Your Writer Away”

  1. What you wrote, I completely resonate with as a web designer/developer. This happens to artists, photographers, and all sorts of other industries too.

    “But many writers have been affected by unscrupulous people who ask dozens of writers for samples so they end up getting the whole job for free.” This is true in the web design industry too.

    There are people that want us to make them a website and THEN they’ll decide if they’ll buy it. Excuse me, do you buy a newly made home that way? No, you sign a contract, and the builder makes your house. The end.

    Half down and half later: a common model for the website industry. I take half down and then bill monthly as we work on the site once we’ve “used up” their deposit (keeps a cash flow going).

    Lack of communication or nitpicking every detail: again, just like in the web design and development industry.

    I have a friend that is an attorney and she even has customers that won’t communicate, or over-communicate (and try and treat her like their therapist). Or nitpick and try and get her to do something ridiculous (because they saw it on TV, and what we see in almost every industry on TV is mostly fictitious).

    It’s a weird, human failing.

  2. You could substitute just about any done-for-you title in place of writer and this post would still be valid. Whenever we’re hiring anyone to do anything for us, it’s imperative that we do our part to make sure the work is done to our satisfaction. Great tips.

  3. Great list Sharon, and so true.

    I typically shy away from clients who refuse to pay at least something upfront and refuse to sign a contract. The few times I’ve relaxed this, I’ve regretted it.

    As far as asking for a sample, that’s what my portfolio is for. However, if they’re willing to pay for it (upfront, of course), I’m okay with it.

    Communication can be a huge issue, especially since many clients are not local.

    Thanks for addressing these issues. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Oh yes! Great list – I love (hate) that longest invoice… it’s new to me and I won’t contribute to it because it’s been years since I didn’t get paid… because I collect up front money. Now, can we get all those who want to hire writers to read this?

  5. Super duper advice! Spoken like a true professional.

    It’s tough being in a service-oriented business, isn’t it, Sharon? You not only have to do your job, you also have to be a psychologist or fortune teller … or both. In some instances, a magician. (You know, for those clients who want everything done yesterday)

    I think it’s abominable when prospective clients scoff at having to put some money on the table before the work begins. And it makes me leery, too, suspecting the final installment may never arrive. I wish there was more respect and trust placed in hiring a writer. Your awesome (and sage) tips will make the process easier and less worrisome.

    The bottom line? It’s a two-way street. Writers and their clients are equally responsible for a positive outcome. And it all starts with due diligence.

  6. As always, brilliant post, Sharon. I recently had an unpleasant interaction with a potential client who was angling, it seemed, for items #1 and 2, and had the gall to express great confusion and shock when I refused to give her freebies. “You can buy a sample from me that’s targeted to your needs, or you can check out my writing for free for other people at any one of the TEN links I just gave you.” Sigh.

  7. How true this all is. Writing is SO hard because unless you get paid up front there is really no incentive for someone to pay you afterwards. To Tรฉa’s point, this can (and does) happen in other service industries, too. You design a logo and they take it and run. You build a website and they take it and run. Say goodbye to your final payment. But at least if you’re smart about some of the other stuff you have SOME recourse. For example, you may show a client to final version of a logo but not actually give them useable files until they pay. Or build a website but not launch it until they pay. But with writing it’s super hard because the end product is the end product…. not much to hold back there once they have your words.

    As for samples, why can’t they just look at other writing you’ve done? It doesn’t have to be for them or their industry. I’m sure they are smart enough to tell if someone is competent and can string two words together. Read my blog. That’s how I write! I would definitely not do spec work or “sample” work. Why is it that people think they can suck out our creativity and brainpower for free??

    • You’re right, Carol-Lynn, which is why you have to make sure that you’re not left waiting for too much money. In fairness, most people are honest and will pay up; for the others, making sure you limit your exposure is a good strategy.

  8. Fabulous advice that also applies to hiring an editor! The three trouble spots you talk about had me nodding my head in agreementโ€”especially the part about communication. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Samples, in particular, irk me. I understand that clients want proof that we are capable of handling the project, but I have so much to do I don’t even apply to jobs that ask for a free sample. Either be happy with the samples I’ve provided from my portfolio, or pay me for the sample!

  10. We all have so much to learn from one another, I love this bird’s eye view into a writer’s thoughts on working with clients–thanks Sharon.

  11. Hi Sharon, I found it very useful to read this as a client’s point of view. As writers it is really important to use our instincts when approaching new clients. If a client takes a long time to get back to you, doesn’t really answer your questions or seems to be avoiding you in the early stages of a business relationship, then it is probably not going to get any better!

    Great article, thanks.

  12. Great advice. Sending this on to my husband who is also a writer. As everyone has said Sharon, this applies to all services industry.

    When we ran a marketing communication and design company, we took the then brave step of saying we would not do any speculative design work. The worst was for annual reports, because in order to submit a great design, you actually had to do all the planning and conceptual work and the design up front, often against two other competing designers. It was iniquitous really, but then the only way to get big project work.

    I think there is still a hangover today and that to some extent, places like 99 Designs have made it worse where people can put their logo out to competition.

    Nobody should have to work for free. Provide testimonials yes, but not free work.

    Thanks for great advice, Sharon.

  13. This is great advice for quite a few industries – and in particular, just like graphic design, style varies from writer to writer.

    Voicing and style are as unique as a fingerprint and require just as much dedication and attention to detail to get right (when you’re trying to write with the client’s voice, you’ve really got to be in their shoes). That’s why great writing costs, just like any other skill.

    Access to a keyboard and a screen do not a writer make – just like Molly’s post in editing revealed, it’s a wide-spread problem in a world dominated with folks who either A) suck at their “profession” or B) suck at being clients to real professionals.

    A meeting of the minds isn’t enough; down-and-dirty client education is the only thing that lets you turn legit, well-meaning but clueless clients into fully capable clients who can appreciate your services and ask you the right questions (and answer appropriately).

    The users are gonna use, but the well-meaning folks will want to learn.

  14. Oh, amen! Sharon, these are exactly the things that send me running the other way.

    I don’t create unpaid samples. If what I’ve done over the last 15-20 years isn’t enough proof, then the problem is the client’s inability to make a decision or know what to look for in a writer.

    Overdue payment is another thing that drives me nuts. I did the work, delivered on your deadline (usually before) and made myself available to you in order to make sure you’re satisfied. You need to pay the bill. Period.

    You hit the nail on the head with the communication, too! I’ve had clients go completely silent (in one case, for seven weeks), then expect me to have an open calendar the day after they get back in touch. Then I’ve had clients who send multiple emails per HOUR. Uh, no. Open a note, jot down your thoughts, and wait about four hours to see if you really need to send that. In one case, a client would freak out (once over the “squiggly” lines in Word and how I’d just “ruined” the copy with Track Changes). Her emails would come rapid-fire fast. I had to ignore the majority or I’d have spent all my budgeted time answering her. And usually, she’d figure it out after the note was sent.

    Another way clients lose me is when they ask the price immediately. Please. Have a conversation with me. There are ways to afford a writer, and if you don’t talk it out, you’ll never get that project done.

    May I add one more issue to the list, as well? (I’m on a roll now!) The client freak out over nothing kills it for me. I had two instances — one I just described, and one with a woman who was always (not exaggerating) scheduling conference calls with me and never showing up. She was so disorganized. She killed it for me on a project. I was to interview one source for an article. She’d selected him specifically for the topic. I interviewed him, wrote the article, and sent the draft. He loved it. She loved it. However, his company didn’t. They wouldn’t let him be quoted at all. So she sent it back to me with a list of three new interviewees. I was to interview them, rewrite the story, but only bill her for two hours, she said.

    Right. I did what I could in two hours and told her upfront it was impossible. What did she do? She called me “unprofessional” and ranted on about the many mistakes there were. I never wrote back. There’s no reasoning with someone whose eye is strictly on dollars.

  15. This! I tried to pick a favorite part but couldn’t. It’s all so true. Anything that involves consulting with me requires a deposit to get started. No exceptions. Once they’ve paid a deposit we both have skin in the game. We both want to see a happy outcome.

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