Starting Out

How Do I Tell a Bad Freelance Writing Client from a Good One?

I’m sure anyone who’s worked as a freelance writer for any length of time has had “bad” clients, right?

Even if you are new to freelancing you may have run across a few.

How Do I Tell a Bad Freelance Writing Client from a Good One?

You know the ones: the scope creeper that keeps piling on the work. Or, how about the dodger that never answers your email and you have to constantly nag them to pay you?

The problem is that no universal code exists to tell you whether you’re dealing with someone who’ll be honest and forthright or if your potential client thinks of you as a means to an end.

You have to know what to look for as you seek long-lasting, healthy writing relationships. And you have to be willing to end the bad ones.

Be Discerning

Sometimes someone looks bad but they’re just trying to make a living. Whether it’s advisable to get involved with these types of clients or not is a personal judgment call, but these traits don’t necessarily make them a bad client.

The Pay Offer is Low

You answer an ad that mentions a price point, but you have some expertise in the topic and believe you can negotiate a better price.

Sometimes people just don’t have the money to spend on quality writing. It doesn’t mean the client is a bad client, but, since you should never undersell yourself, you may want to look elsewhere.

The Client Won’t Renegotiate (Even After You’ve Worked for Them a Long Time With Few Issues)

Many clients will renegotiate a contract based on the quality of writing they receive from you and the length of your relationship with them.

But, this may not always be the case. The client may be a great person to work for, but people put different values on the content they receive.

The Client Shortens Deadlines

Sometimes life happens and a client needs the work you contracted for earlier than was originally agreed. You either tell them you can’t do it, or agree on a bonus for finishing the project before the new date. They change to a bad client when they start demanding changes.

You’re Asked to Make Multiple Revisions

Most writers will determine the number of revisions they will do beforehand and stipulate it in their contract.

If a client asks for multiple revisions, it doesn’t make them a bad client unless they become demanding or refuse payment until they are done. Just set the number of revisions you are willing to do for the negotiated price up front and this should not be a problem.

So, What is a Bad Client?

A Person Who Makes Excuses for Not Paying on Time

You should either get paid in full up front, or at least half up front and half when the work is completed. It you don’t, you could be in trouble. Most newbie freelancers have been stiffed a few times, but with proper initial negotiation this can be avoided.

She or He Expects More Work Than Was Originally Agreed Upon (With No Pay Increase)

Talk to your client and remind them of the agreement they signed (you are giving them a contract right?). If they need more work tell them that you are willing to renegotiate.

A Client Who Asks You to Do Something That Seems Unethical

This is a scam alert. A client agrees to your fee and says that you will get a bonus if the work is done on time.

Then they ask if they can pay you in an unorthodox way. They will send you a traveler’s check (for up to ten times your fee) and all you have to do is cash it and send the remainder back to them.

The client may even say they need to do this because they are new to this country and have not established a bank account yet. If a potential client asks you to launder money for them or do anything else you are uncomfortable with, RUN the other way.

A Client Who’s Demanding From the Beginning

The fee is too high, you are not getting work in fast enough or your writing is not up to expectation. When a client takes an authoritarian stance from the beginning of a contract, they will always treat you like an inferior.

A Client Who Actively Harasses You

Some freelancers tell horror stories about being called in the middle of the night, yelled at over the phone or subjected to other indignities from clients. Never let this happen. No client, no matter how much they are paying you, is worth the harassment.

The main problem is that freelance writers are sometimes willing to take a lot from clients because they need a paycheck. The truth is, there are plenty of great clients available and you should not tie yourself to a bad one.

How Do You Shield Yourself From These Types of Clients?

It’s all up to you. Mental health counselors are taught early on how to set up a positive session with a client. We can take a page out of their books when negotiating contracts with clients.

Active Listening

Too often hearing and listening do not correlate. Keep yourself active during a conversation by asking questions and clarifying the agreement before you sign off.

Ask Open-Ended Questions

There are two types of questions: those that are designed to elicit a yes/no response (closed) and those that generate information. Make sure that you are asking questions that provide you with the information you need.

Know Who You Are Before You Begin Negotiations

As a freelance writer, you should understand:

  • What your prices are
  • How fast you can write
  • What your expertise is
  • Whether you can complete the job being negotiated

Don’t back down even if the client is willing to pay you a lot of money for getting a job done in a ridiculously short amount of time. Always be honest with you client and with yourself.

Be Assertive

Your client is looking to you as the writing expert, which is what you are. Be a professional and don’t waffle on the details. Assert yourself as a writer and a subject matter expert.

When you are taking clients, don’t think of the money first. That’s what often gets freelancers into trouble. Look for the signs of a bad client and be willing to walk away if the situation is becomes uncomfortable.

So, tell me, have you had any bad clients? How did you deal with them?

Gaines is a mental health counselor by education who, after more than fifteen years in that field, decided to follow a teenage dream and earn his living as a writer. At, he writes daily posts designed to help individuals and businesses to a brighter future. In his spare time he rides a tractor, plays with a Great Pyrenees puppy named Glory and reads as much as possible.

Leave a Reply


Another type of bad clients are usually members of your family, so don’t really do any work for them unless you really have to. I’m not saying every family member is potentially a bad client, but I’ve heard so many writers complaining that it almost became a sort of a rule.Reply to Online
Yes, you should think real hard before you decide to work with your family. Sometimes it’s no big deal, but you never know if they value your work or even like it. ElnaReply to Elna
You’re exactly right Keri. Most of my clients have been great, so I have nothing to complain about! But, it is hard to tell if a prospect will be a good client or not. I often get worried after I submit my post and don’t hear from the client for a bit. But, as long as I receive payment within the allotted time frame (as per my contract details) then I have nothing to worry about. Great post Gaines, and I’m glad you decided to guest post for us! ElnaReply to Elna
Thanks Elna, I have to admit that I have become a fan of your writing both on this site and your own, so I value the opinion.Reply to Gaines
Great tips, Gaines! And the post image is amazing 😀 I guess I’m lucky in that I haven’t had any really “bad” clients. They’ve all been perfectly professional and respectful, and I’ve had many that are a downright pleasure to work with! However, I have had a couple that just weren’t a good fit for me, whether in work styles, communication styles, or personality. It made it so that I dreaded the work, and dreaded hearing from them. I think freelancers should know that it’s okay to part ways with a client if they’re not a good fit or you just don’t enjoy working with them, even if they’re not “bad” clients per se. Life’s too short to not enjoy your work, and one of the main benefits of freelance writing is being able to choose the clients that are the best fit for you in every way! 🙂Reply to KeriLynn
Thanks, KeriLynn! I hope no one ever has bad clients, but it happens. I have been fortunate also, but in 7 years as a freelancer I have had a few (especially early on). I did like your point about fit. It is important for a strong working relationship. GainesReply to Gaines