Freelance Writers: How to Tame the Client from Hell

Your client schedules meetings one hour before the start time.

When you tell her a job takes two weeks, she’s demanding her deliverable two days after you start.

Your client doesn’t show up for meetings (even if she scheduled them.) Sometimes she has a (poor) excuse as to why she didn’t show up. Other times, she completely blows you off without any explanation.

It’s easy to call this person the “client from hell.” She has unrealistic expectations, doesn’t respect your time and expects your best work for free. At the end of the workday, you’re cranky and filled with complaints. “I’m a professional. Why does she keep doing this to me?”

Here is your reality check. Your “client from hell” isn’t causing your unhappiness. You are – by letting it happen.

It’s tempting to put up with the behavior because, hey, it’s a client – and who wants to lose money? The issue is: setting boundaries with clients is extremely important. If you haven’t been 100% crystal clear with a client, it’s time to put your big girl (or boy) pants on and deal with the situation head-on.

Here’s how to change the situation:

– Know it’s OK to say “no”

Just because a client wants to meet right now doesn’t mean you have to accommodate them. It’s perfectly acceptable to say, “I’m afraid that I have other obligations at that time. I do have availability tomorrow at X or Y time.” If they want a deliverable earlier than promised, simply reiterate your expected delivery date. Being friendly yet firm can go a long way.

– Yes, you can charge for meeting time

This will change your life. Clients will respect your time much more if they know they’re paying for it. Just make sure that this is in your contract (and yes, you really do need a contract.)

– It’s OK to charge for missed meeting times

I’ll stay on the line for 15 minutes. If the client doesn’t show, I’ll bill them for the time. (I’ll waive the fee if there was an emergency and that’s why the client couldn’t make it.)

– Rush jobs = more money

Many freelance writers charge a 20-50% premium when the client needs a fast turnaround. That way, your time is covered (especially since you’ll have to move your schedule around to accommodate your client,) and your client gets what she needs.

– Out of scope = additional charges

It’s great when a client wants more work. It’s not so great when they don’t expect to pay for it. If the client requests something out of the original project scope, send them an email asking them to authorize the additional charge. Wait until you receive their approval before you start.

Will your client from hell kick back? Maybe. But if they do – and your client is truly driving you nuts – it’s OK to let them go. You’ll find another client to replace them soon.

Here’s what typically happens instead: Meetings are more streamlined. Rush jobs may still happen, but the client is prepared to pay for them. Your “client from hell” transforms into one of your favorite clients.

That’s a wonderful win/win for both parties.

What else would you suggest? How have you handled your own clients from hell (we’ve all had at least one …)

(Special thank you to the LinkedIn SEO Copywriting group for the post inspiration!).

12 replies
  1. Scott Orth says:

    Excellent post Heather. We’ve been dealing with the epitome of the “client from hell” recently.

    It’s very easy to get caught up in doing whatever the client asks… especially when it’s a large, high-revenue client.

    But when your sanity is at stake, you’ve got to make the call to let them go. For me, it’s only the 3rd time in 15 years I’ve had to cut ties with a client. It’s better to build the relationship when you can. But in some cases you just need to let go.

    And as you said, you’ll find another client to replace them.

    • Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      Ugh, Scott. I am so sorry and I feel your pain. Even if you know it’s the right decision to make, letting a client go is still hard.

      It’s great that you’ve only faced this three times over 15 years. That definitely shows you know how to choose and take care of your clients. Well done!

      I’m sure your next large, high-revenue and easy-to-work-with client is right around the corner… :)

      Good luck!


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