Three Client “Red Flags” I’ve Learned To Identify As A Freelance Writer

Starting out as a freelance writer? Beware of these three red flags!

Three Client “Red Flags” I’ve Learned To Identify As A Freelance Writer
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Starting out as a freelance writer? Beware of these three red flags!

When you put yourself out there in the world as a freelance writer, you’re pitting yourself against tens of thousands of other competitors.

You’re also exposing yourself to huge corporations that might exploit you if you’re not diligent and cautious enough.

During the last 15 months that I spent as a freelance writer, I’ve gained some invaluable insights that can never be gained from any book or any other professional courses on the internet.

As the saying goes, experience is one of the greatest teachers. And my experience has taught me to see three warning signals in clients that I overlooked as a novice writer.

If you’re a freelance writer or thinking about starting your career, read on and keep these red flags in mind so you don’t make the same mistakes I did when I first started out.

1. Clients Who Demand A Free Sample

A reputed company would never demand a free sample from you. For them, your current portfolio should be sufficient.

During my initial days as a freelance writer, I was approached by a well-respected company’s HR manager who wanted a free sample of my work for their website?

Guess what, I wholeheartedly agreed to their request.

I worked really hard on it and submitted the article way before the deadline. But then, I didn’t hear from them for several weeks. Leave alone accepting or rejecting the work, not a single email of mine was responded to.

A few weeks later, when I randomly checked their website, I learned that my long-submitted article was already live on their website.

They hadn’t even notified me about it

I was so taken aback and felt cheated that I immediately emailed the HR manager with screenshots, requesting that she either compensate me for the piece or remove it, because it had been published without my consent.

What resulted was an email thread with over 60 emails, and several hours were spent grumbling about how my material was used. Finally, the article was taken down, but it cost me several sleepless nights and caused me a great deal of worry and anxiety.

The key takeaway

Now I know for a fact that no matter how large or well-reputed the client is; If they ask for a free sample, run in the opposite direction.

It’s natural for the client to ask for your work before signing a contract to evaluate whether you can keep up and contribute to developing their content strategy.

In such an instance, you can offer them samples of your previously published work in the same niche or pitch a paid sample of the work they require. They will work with you if they like it; otherwise, they’ll pay you for your sample piece and move on.

Asking for payment for your work may seem counter-intuitive, especially as a beginner, but it’s highly professional. And, in my experience, clients admire professionalism since it shows that you understand the rules of the game and can’t be taken advantage of.

2. Bargaining With A Vague Promise

Back in July of last year, when I was still struggling to find a good freelance client, I received a message on LinkedIn from an Australian firm asking me to write articles for their website.

When I offered my quotations, they said they couldn’t pay me right now but that they were raising cash and would be able to pay me precisely what I quoted soon. When I inquired how this partnership would work, they told me to write for a fee that was one-third of the pricing I quoted.

I chose not to work with them since I had learned by that point not to trust firms that bargained.

As of today, I’m not sure if this brand’s purpose was to take advantage of me or if they actually wanted to pay me later, but I wasn’t ready to take the gamble.

The key takeaway

As a freelancer, it’s difficult to define fees for your services.

This makes it simple for clients to negotiate over whatever price you quote. Keep in mind that your fees do not just represent the number of words you write for the client. Your fees reflect your one-of-a-kind expertise and abilities, which you bring to the table in ways that no one else can.

Learn to trust your instincts, no matter how many months or weeks of experience you have.

When you take this approach, you may lose a few clients along the way, but this will only prepare you for higher-paying jobs later in your career.

I was willing to give up a few hundred bucks at the time in order to gain many thousand dollars for the same amount of time spent, and it has worked out exceptionally well for me thus far.

No matter what bright future works the client promises if they bargain with your prices, don’t entertain such claims.

3. Clients That Expect a String of Freebies

In May of 2021, I was working with a client who paid a fixed rate for 2000 word articles.

But after every article I wrote, they asked me to convert it to a LinkedIn post for the company’s page.

At first, I was surprised because condensing an article into a LinkedIn post takes up a lot of thought and strategy. It took me over an hour to compose the LinkedIn post for them, and when I submitted, they loved my work.

Following this, they requested me to write a Tweet a thread based on the same article for no further compensation.

At this point, I’d had enough. I genuinely believe in providing clients with more value than they paid for, but several freebies for no extra money was an obvious red flag.

I explained to them in an email that the threads and LinkedIn posts were consuming my time and effort. Then I asked if they’d be interested in turning this into a paid mini-project.

The company obliged, and I received good pay for executing these extra tasks.

As it turns out, I found a gem with this customer. It’s been almost a year, and I’m still working with them. But had they refused to pay me for the additional services I’d provided at the time, I wouldn’t have continued to work with them.

The key takeaway

When you sign on a new client, always make sure exactly what you’re offering them for the stated fee. This saves future problems or misunderstandings when the expectations of both parties involved in the deal don’t match.

It would be best if you were honest and straightforward right from the beginning, so you won’t have to regret or feel taken advantage of later on.

Closing Thoughts

Throughout my vast and varied experience over the years as a freelance writer, I’ve learned to identify three red flags in clients that every freelance writer should avoid at all costs. I’ll summarise here the reasons when you should blindly reject working with a customer.

  1. They ask for a free sample of your work.
  2. They bargain on your rates and offer to pay you generously later, but there is no clear strategy insight.
  3. Customers who always request free services from you in addition to the ones they’re paying you for.

What more red flags do you think I’ve missed and should have included in this list? Please leave your thoughts and feedback in the comments.

Want to be a successful freelancer but struggling to find good clients? Check out my 90-day guide to finding your first high-paying freelance client. You’ll find 5 pitching secrets, 2 email templates, and a solid framework to get your freelancing career started.

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