Dealing with difficult clients: The best tips for freelance journalists

by Vanessa Plentinger

"We would need that to be a real in-depth article, 4000 words, due tomorrow. That's fine right?"; "Just write whatever and however you want. We'll like it for sure!!; "Yeaah, some parts I didn't really like. I don't know why ,but here are my tiny corrections..." –  Any freelance journalist will hear those phrases throughout their writing career. Working with many different publishers and therefore many different personalities can be tough at times. Here are our best tips on how to deal with particularly difficult clients and turn them into happy regulars!

Trying to understand the difficult client

A well-balanced business relation between freelance journalists and publishers is crucial to collaborating successfully. But some clients take the phrase "the customer is king" way too literally and will try to abuse their power over you as the service provider. Obviously, you will not be able to avoid working with any difficult clients since you're dependent on frequent gigs to evolve as a writer and to turn your passion into a fruitful business. Try to take the perspective of the difficult client: What could drive their behaviour? Do they have a point in criticizing your work or mode of operation? If you were a dissatisfied customer, how could someone change your mind? Sometimes, reflecting on these questions and acting accordingly, will help you turn things around.

Dealing with difficult clients: The best tips for freelance journalists

Client-Freelancer-Communication is key!

Even though you as the freelance writer are in charge of the main part of your collaboration: Teamwork will still make the dream work. As cheesy and repetitive as it might sound, professional and effective communication is the only way to reach your mutual goal of publishing one or more great stories, you can be proud of. When working with difficult clients this can actually be a life and energy saver as they will feel like they've got everything under control and therefore will not feel the need to micromanage you. Elaborate a joint workflow by:

  1. Trying to discuss the more important bits on the phone, via video call or in person. This will lead to way less misunderstandings.
  2. Talking about all the requirements, timings etc. in detail. This might take more time in the beginning but will spare you a lot of confusion, uncertainty and errors later on.
  3. Demanding regular feedback to ensure you're on the right track. This will also save you from rude awakenings shortly before the deadline. Furthermore, a general feedback in the end will help you optimize your collaboration with this rather difficult client.
  4. Setting a maximum number of correction loops. Otherwise some picky clients will find a new "problem" after every new draft.
  5. We know, the intrinsic hesitation to confront a client like this with a problem is huge. But if you come across any unforeseen obstacle (e.g. not being able to meet a deadline because the necessary research takes more time than anticipated): Let the client know right away and suggest a proper solution, like shortening the next deadline or leaving out a rather unimportant part of the story. Find some more tips on time management and writing efficiently here.

Help the publisher decide

Sometimes the editors or publishers you work with seem to be so nice and trusting, if they tell you, that you're free to write whatever. Don't be fooled! In some cases this might work, but most of times it will lead to chaos. It's pretty subjective which kind of style or wording you like or would choose, so it's nearly impossible to entirely meet your client's taste . In order to prevent you from coming across as an unskilled writer or having to make lot's of corrections before the final deadline, tackle the issue in advance. After receiving a vague job description let your maybe not so difficult client know, how much you appreciate their trust in your abilities but that you would prefer a clearer outline. If you recognize them being uncertain about what they really want, try to make suggestions that fit their publication's style as well as your writing. In that way, everyone will be happy with the result.

Dealing with difficult clients: The best tips for freelance journalists

The client is always right. Nope!

Yes, it should be your top priority to meet your client's needs and expectations, but not at any cost. You've still got time and a reputation to loose there. We need to dethrone the customers and start to see them as equal business partners and normal human beeings. They're not immune to failure and it is your right and duty as freelance journalist and author of the work to correct them e.g. if they make wrong assumptions about how much time and effort you will have to put into a task or if they even demand corrections that are wrong. Needless to say, that you should always stay polite and be able to provide valid arguments for your point of view. If the oh so difficult client gets offended by that and might even start attacking you verbally, never ever mirror their bad behaviour. The latter should definitely make you rethink any further collaborations with this specific publisher.

Dealing with difficult clients: The best tips for freelance journalists

Know what your work as a freelance journalist is worth

Another sort of difficult clients are the ones who will tell you right away, that they want everything from you but are on a tight budget. Or they might even suggest to "pay" by mentioning your name on their website or reposting your work and profile on their social media. That's a nice gimmick but will not fill your fridge. Calculate your rates carefully and prepare a proper explanation about how you set your prices. Obviously as a beginner you can't charge too much as you need to make a name for and prove yourself. But the more advanced you'll get, the higher your rates as a freelance journalist can be and your customers will be happy to pay for your excellent work. If not, then just don't accept this particular job offer.

Let The Story Market become your agent

You've had enough of searching for new jobs or arguing with difficult clients? Challenge accepted! At The Story Market we offer a gigs service where our carefully vetted customers aka. international publishers can hire our freelance journalists for new stories. And while you can focus on your writing, we will take care of all the administrative work like detailed job descriptions, contracts and payments. Find out about all our services for freelance journalists here!  

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