You are currently viewing 7 red flags when looking for private clients as a writer

7 red flags when looking for private clients as a writer

If you’re starting out as a writer, you may think you’re willing to work with anyone. However, it’s important to find good writing clients.

How do you know if a writing client is good or bad without even working with them? Don’t some problems arise during the project? While that is certainly the case, there are also many red flags during the initial conversations that you need to pay attention to.

Don’t just work with anyone. Look out for these seven red flags when you’re looking for new writing clients.

They’re not willing to pay for a trial article

Let’s start with the trial article. All writing clients will want to see samples. You’re in an artistic type of business, so they want to make sure your style fits their needs. That’s not the problem here.

The red flag is how they go about asking for samples. Most (the good ones) will ask for previous samples you’ve already written. They could be on your blog or on a revenue share site or they may be on someone else’s website under your name. I recommend having some social proof pieces at the ready and even having a “Samples” page on your website.

Others may ask for a trial article. The good clients will pay your standard rate for that trial article. After all, you’re doing work specifically for them. Good clients understand that.

The bad writing clients will want that trial article for free. They may even call it an “audition.”

I’m not in theater. I don’t audition for projects. Either take my samples or pay me for a piece. Clients that want free samples set off my spidey senses.


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They’re already haggling your rate

Moving past the sample pieces, there’s a huge red flag when it comes to your writing rate. Good clients will ask for your prices and then either say yes or no. If they just can’t afford you, they’ll look for another writer without hassle. Others will just take the rate because they want to work with you.

Bad writing clients will haggle. They want you to do the work for less…much less. I’m not talking a couple of dollars less (hey, that could be worthwhile depending on the client) but 25% or more of your rate. The red flag clients want the content for as cheap as possible.

And guess what; they likely won’t pay! These are the clients I’ve found to be the hardest to get money out of in the past.

Yes, I’ve had to deal with these types of clients. When I was new in the business, I accepted the lower-than-I-wanted rates just to get some experience and have a couple of clients. It was a huge mistake on my part.

Another red flag is how they negotiate terms of payment. You should have a rule of 50% of the project upfront. Bad clients who don’t intend to pay won’t be happy about that. Don’t accept their terms when you’re the one offering the service. You don’t see Google accepting your terms to use its service, do you?

They say they have “lots of work”

Hands up if you’ve heard of potential writing clients say “I have a lot more work for you if you’re the right fit.” You are most definitely not alone.

It’s everywhere. Some clients don’t realize that this is a red flag. On its own, this isn’t something that will turn me off a client. When it’s mixed in with other red flags I run.

Clients tend to say this as a carrot. The usual idea is that they want you to accept their lower rate with the promise of paying more in the future. Then when it comes to doing the shorter project, they say you’re not a good fit. They may even not pay for the work you’ve already done!

Don’t fall for it!

They’re unwilling to sign a contract

You have a writing contract, right? If not, you need to create one now. It’s the best thing legally for you before starting on a project.

I’ve had potential writing clients who have refused to sign my contract. They may have their own with outrageous terms or they say that they don’t sign contracts—that they’ve never done it with previous writers.

Guess what; this is a huge red flag. Why would they not want to sign a contract for business reasons?

They wouldn’t have a choice if they wanted to hire a photographer. They certainly wouldn’t have a choice when it comes to getting internet service or even their website hosting. What’s the problem with signing a contract with a writer?

When they have a problem, it tells me that they don’t view my service as important. They don’t even view it as a business. And they want to get out of paying for something. I don’t work with them.

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The writing clients talk badly about previous writers

Something that immediately turns me off a potential client is what they have to say about previous writers. That work may not have been up to standard, but there’s no need to talk negatively about someone to a new writer.

I don’t even usually ask why they’ve come to me. Some clients will say their previous writer left or things didn’t quite work out. I don’t pry and I don’t need to know. Good clients will keep the relationship professional and that’s it. It’s like I don’t talk to a client about how bad my last one was!

Bad clients like to share everything that went wrong in the past. They want you to know the problems before and during the project, and they can be downright awful about the other writer. Many of us work in some smaller circles, especially when it comes to particular niches. We run into each other on social media or may even know each other from the past. Chances are we know who the clients are talking about—and chances are I’ve found out just how bad the client really is.

Even if you don’t know the writer, clients mouthing off about their past contractors is just disrespectful. I refuse to work with them.

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The expectations aren’t reasonable

There are some potential writing clients who won’t know just how much work goes into writing content. It’s as simple as that. So, they don’t quite realize their expectations aren’t realistic. That’s okay. Most of these clients will just need you to point them in the right direction.

I’ve had clients question my packages and during a discovery call make it clear that they have no idea how long things take. I explain and we chat about what they need and their pricing.

The problem clients are the ones that demand services or have wild expectations for the amount they’re willing to pay. They may have a 10-page document of rules for all articles, with points that contradict each other. When you ask for clarification, they just say “it’s all in the document and easy to follow.” They may you feel stupid for not being able to follow these not-so-simple instructions.

I now take one look at documents sent. If the article requirements have more than two pages of instructions, I immediately turn the client down. They’re not worth the hassle. If they’re problem clients to begin with, guess how bad they’ll get!

You have a gut feeling

Trust your gut. It’s something I wish that I’d done years ago.

There have been times that my gut has told me a client is going to turn into a problem. I’ve ignored it, usually because I’ve needed the money. Then the client has turned into a big nightmare that I struggle to get pay from.

Your gut will tell you if someone seems like a bad client. If your gut doesn’t trust the email exchange or the discovery call, please listen to it. This is a huge red flag!

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Which red flags have you fallen for in the past? What have you noticed when it comes to bad writing clients? Share your thoughts in the comments below.