As a freelance writer you work for yourself. That means no more dealing with difficult people, right?
Wrong. As a freelance writer, your people skills are still important.
In this post, I deal with three different types of relationships where you may deal with difficult people. I also provide some tips on how to deal with difficult situations.
This post is a part of my series on the Worst Freelance Writing Problems.
#1 The Difficult Client
The difficult freelance client is legendary. There are whole sites, such as Clients from Hell devoted to the topic. While that site deals mostly with design clients, most freelance writers can relate.
If there are warning signals that a client will be trouble, avoid dealing with them. Sadly, in some cases a client relationship turns bad without any warning. Here are some common signs that your relationship with your writing client is in trouble:
- The client keeps adding tasks on to the original project.
- The client keeps changing what they want, resulting in a never-ending stream of revisions.
- The client completely rewrites your copy.
- The client contacts you and expects an immediate (as in that minute) response.
- The client contacts you during the evening and on weekends and holidays.
- The client refuses to answer emails and phone calls.
- The client refuses to pay despite having published your work.
I’m sure you could think of other client problems as well.
Dealing with a difficult client can be tricky. If the problems are minor and the client pays well, you may decide to put up with them. Or, you may decide not to deal with them in the future.
Here are some ways you can safeguard yourself from client problems:
- Use a contract with a well-defined description of work (scope). I use Quote Roller to create detailed estimates the client must sign off on.
- Make sure the wording in the contract limits the number of revisions the client may request. My quotes usually include one revision for simple projects and two for more complex projects.
- Set the client’s expectations by listing your business hours. After you communicate your business hours, stick to them. If the client contacts you after work, wait until the next morning to answer.
- Require a partial payment upfront. Some freelance writers have taken non-paying clients to small claims court. Whether you can do this depends on your local laws.
#2 The Difficult Colleague
Another difficult person is the difficult colleague. You may be freelancing, but you still have coworkers. A difficult colleague can be:
- An editor assigned by the client to review your work.
- A company insider assigned to provide you with information.
- A designer or other creative hired to illustrate your work.
- Another freelance writer assigned to work with you.
Problems can occur when clients assign tasks to your colleagues without giving them any extra time to complete those tasks. This is especially true if the colleague is your client’s employee. No wonder they seem disgruntled when you contact them.
Here are some tips for working with colleagues:
- Don’t barrage them with questions that you could answer yourself by doing a little research. If you can, merge your questions into one or two sessions.
- Go into your meetings prepared. Have an idea of what will work for the project and what won’t.
- If the colleague is an editor, ask if they prefer a particular style guide.
- Try understand any cultural or working style differences.
Of course, ordinary personality conflicts can also occur. Do your best to reduce any conflicts that might occur.
You may wonder, should I bring a problem with a difficult colleague to my client’s attention? That’s a difficult question. You don’t want to branded as being difficult, but you need to get your work done.
Every freelance writer needs to decide where to draw the line. I don’t think I’ve had to complain about a colleague to a client. I would involve the client if it became impossible to complete the project or if a colleague became abusive.
#3 The Difficult Community Member
As a freelance writer, you are somewhat visible online. This is especially true if you get bylines for your work.
If your topic is controversial, readers and other contacts may become angry and unprofessional. In a worst case scenario, they may even become threatening.
The topics I write about are rarely controversial. It’s rare for me to deal with unpleasant community members. But I know that dealing with unpleasant comments can be upsetting.
If you’re faced with hostile community members, there are a few things you can do:
- Don’t feed the flame. I’m a big believer in not getting into flame wars online. If someone is acting like jerk and you don’t respond, they will often move on.
- Report community standard violators. Many online communities have strict standards about how their forums are used. If you suspect a violation, contact the moderator.
- Take threats seriously. If someone threatens you, inform the police. This is still a new area and laws vary by location, but it’s still a good idea to go on record about what is happening. You may also need to seek legal advice.
Note: My advice here about online harassment should not be considered professional legal advice. If you need legal help, consult an attorney.
Have you dealt with difficult people as a freelance writer? How did you handle it? Share your experiences in the comments below.