I just got off the phone with my nightmare client. He is literally sucking the life out of me. It is Saturday night, and I may have been chilling in front of the TV, with maybe a huge bowl of caramel popcorn, I mean apple, maybe watching Carry Bradshaw and drooling over her shoes that I will never ever be able to afford. Why not afford it? Because this freelance writing gig is not all that jazz after all, especially when your clients turn out to be the embodiment of Hulk.
So, I march into the kitchen, literally fuming, and stare at my husband who is preparing his goji berry/ low fat-yogurt/organic honey bowl (it’s all about balance in this family). Now, you need to understand that my husband is a man of a few words, so when he declares “Boundaries” without even raising his eyes from his neat, super healthy, made for the Instagram bowl, I am shocked. The gravity of his word hits me! But of course. Nightmarish clients are only nightmarish because of a lack of boundaries.
So here is my advice for all you freelance content writers working with clients from hell. Boundaries. Let’s walk this through, shall we?
Nightmarish Client – the definition
They call you 24/7, and if you happen to be unavailable, they get berserk. They give you impossible deadlines because, god forbid, you have a personal life outside of writing. They assign projects with no clear guidelines and they hate everything you write because you failed to deliver what they had in mind; why can’t you just be a mentalist and decipher what’s in their head but never explicitly expressed on paper? Nightmarish clients are never happy. They are never entirely sure what they want, and they keep changing their mind constantly. Needless to say, the lies they will tell you to avoid paying you what you actually deserve.
So what do you do when freelancing gigs turn bad really fast? You have to get control of the situation and set your boundaries. Otherwise, you run the risk of losing your sanity and your energy to work. These are the steps you need to do to set up the boundaries needed. Because, sometimes, all you want to do is eat your caramel popcorn apple and watch TV.
1. Read your contract
If your client is asking for things that you feel are above and beyond what you signed up for, it’s time to revisit that contract. Check what the contract explicitly states and remind your client of your mutually signed agreement. If what they are asking is outside the scope of the initial contract, explain that you would be happy to negotiate some additional terms to the contract and agree to adjusted payment. If for whatever reason, you don’t have a contract, then you would be best to end your business with them now. No contract, no safety net. Always keep that in mind when starting a new freelancing job.
2. Set up “Office Hours”
Granted, you do not have an office perse. But that does not mean you are not allowed to have “office hours” or that you are expected to work from dawn to dusk. When signing up for freelance work, you did not sign your life away. So set up office hours. Make sure your client knows when you work and what times you can be reached. If a client remembers on Friday that they urgently want a project done by Saturday, kindly remind them that you do not work on weekends. It might be a good idea to include your office hours in your contract. Sure, if you need to work on weekends to cover your projects and free up the rest of your week, you are free to do so. But it is something you should decide for yourself and not something that your client should expect from you.
3. Be unavailable
Make sure you are unavailable beyond office hours. Had I switched off my phone or refused to answer the call tonight, I wouldn’t be here writing this. It is my Saturday night, and I would have been watching TV, relaxing on my sofa, eating my not so healthy snack (there, I admit it). So, make yourself unavailable. Do not answer phones, emails, text messages, etc. The best-case scenario would be to have a completely different work phone and simply switch it off. Because chances are, if you are like me, the curiosity will get the better of you, and you will end up taking a sneak peek at that one text message from Hulk that will turn you from miss Tranquility to miss Fuming real fast.
4. Learn to say NO
It’s ok to say NO. It shows that you respect yourself and your boundaries. If you never say no, your client will just keep returning with even more mission impossible tasks, with more demands and more expectations beyond the scope of your original contract. So, learn to say NO. If you do not feel comfortable with more projects or find the expectations unreasonably high and impossible, respect yourself and protect your sanity. No, it is the word.
5. Do not settle for less than you deserve
If you are a fledgling writer just spreading your wings, you might find yourself settling for less than you deserve. Sometimes, this could be necessary, as a “paying your dues” way till you get the experience needed to branch out and find more clients. However, do not fall into the trap of continuously settling for less. Know your worth, and do not accept anything below what you deserve. Which is why it is best to agree on prices before a project. True, clients from hell are notoriously skilled at wiggling their way out of payment, but you should always stand your ground—demand what you deserve in terms of money and respect.
6. End it if it’s not working for you
Even if you only have that one single client and are too weary of letting them go, trust me, your sanity is not worth the price you are paying by clinging on to Hulk and Mr.Jekyl&Hyde. If your client causes you more distress than any job should just end it. If you do not, you are setting yourself up for more annoyance, more frustration, and risk your emotional well being. Look at it this way; if your client sucks the energy out of you, but you stay there because it is the only client you have, you have close to zero chances at finding another client. If you are always busy meeting the new demands of this client, how can you market yourself and find a new one?
7. Always stay professional
Whatever happens, always stay professional. Clients talk to one another, and their comments can make you or break you. If you feel that it is not working, end the relationship with your client but do it in a polite and professional way. If you want to keep the relationship but re-adjust your boundaries, also do it a professional way. If you remain calm and present your arguments in a cordial, respectful way, your chances of getting what you want are higher.
8. Branch out
Take time to market yourself and branch out for new clients. You need to invest some time and energy in doing so. You should not stay with this one client. In fact, you should never just stay with one client, even if said client is an angel. Never put all your eggs in one basket, right? You can never be sure when your client will terminate business, so if you are trying to make a living out of this freelance writing thing, you need to branch out. Therefore, keep an open eye for new opportunities and copywriting gigs. Keep building your portfolio and ensure you build your client list along with it.
Vent. Take it out of your system. Talk to your husband, your significant other, your pet dog, or your best friend. Just vent. It helps you calm down and look at things from a different perspective. Venting will help you restore your peace before you actually decide to confront your client. And even if you do not plan on facing your client, venting will help you keep your cool long enough to finish the impossible possible project.
10. Find your support group
Find your support group and make your own makeshift therapy session with other equally frustrated freelance writers. There are a deep connection and understanding that only your kind will understand. Sure, my husband listened to my exacerbated ranting, but besides sharing his “boundaries” wisdom, he did not seem to get exactly what I felt or did not want to divert his attention from his low-fat bliss bowl. Had it been my best friend, who is also a content writer, she would have dissed the bowl of nutritious yuck and grab two spoons and chocolate ice-cream from the freezer. Because this is what your own kind does. They know, they understand, and they bring out the comfort calories and sit with you until you sort things out. So find your pack, your own personal Freud and support group.
Well, first of all, I need to go refill my popcorn bowl. I am calmer now, and as I wrote this nifty list, I understand that I need to keep my boundaries. I need to set my boundaries and I need to respect them first before I can expect any client to respect them.
And this is exactly what you should do as well. If you are working with nightmarish clients, the only way to keep your cool and preserve – or restore – your sanity is this. Boundaries. How do you do that? Have a contract. Set up office hours. Learn to say no and never settle for less than you deserve. Branch out and always be professional no matter what you do. Unless you are venting or in therapy with your pack. You have my permission to skip your professionalism there.