5 Biggest Lies Freelance Clients Could Be Telling You

Before you agree to a freelance job, you should know what you’re getting into. Be aware of the ways that clients try to get more out of you.

All of my current clients are awesome. I have no complaints about the people I work with right now. However, the current situation hasn’t always the norm for me. Indeed, I’ve done my share of projects that never seem to end, and “spec” pieces for exposure.

As a result, I’ve learned that there are some lies that freelance clients tell in order to get you to work hard for very little. Here are 5 of the biggest lies freelance clients could be telling you:

5. Other Freelancers Work for a Lower Rate

So, this isn’t exactly a lie. Because other freelancers probably do work for a lower rate. But what sort of experience do they have? Are they any good? I’ve had clients lowball me in the past: “I can pay someone else half what you’re asking for!”  To which I’ve answered: “That’s great! Hire that person.”

Setting freelance rates is a fiddly task no matter what you’re doing. There are always negotiations, and different items to keep in mind. You might even be willing to lower your price a little bit to be accommodating. However, if you have the experience and the skill to warrant a higher price, you should charge it. Don’t let someone try and force you into accepting $5 for a 500 word article, based on what they can get a non-native English speaker to do off a freelance bid site.

4. It’s Just a Small Project

Ah, the “small project” that turns into a behemoth. The client tells it’s just a small project, and offers a few broad strokes. You think that it’s going to only take a little bit of time, and you offer a rate that reflects. However, once you accept the price, and you start working, some of the details are filled in and you start doing more than you expected. Endless revisions may ensue. Additionally, you might get a client that says, “Do you think that maybe you could do just this small extra thing?”

Soon, you’re wondering why you’re working for so little. Before you take on a project, be clear about how many revisions you are willing to do, and get more details from the client. Make sure to get it in writing — and not just over the phone. Even just having an email with the details is legally binding, so be sure to keep something you can refer back to, and be clear that you will re-visit the cost if things start to be more work than expected. And, of course, you need to be prepared to fire a client if necessary.

3. Your Compensation Will Based on a Percentage of Profits

There is a reason that I don’t accept payment based on pageviews. It’s because you never know how much promotion the site is doing, and you will have to do a lot of extra work to get enough pageviews to make writing worth it. The only way I accept payment based on pageviews or percentage of profits is if that is a “bonus” on top of a regular rate.

Watch out for freelance clients who insist that you will receive a percentage of profits — once they become successful. That success may never be realized, and if it, you have no idea of knowing how much the client is making. Unless you are a partner, or have some official ownership in the venture, run the other way when this proposal is put to you.

2. If this Goes Well, I’ll Have More Work for You

This is the lie most often told by those who ask you for a “spec” piece. The client says that s/he is testing out different writers, and you should submit something on a specific topic. You won’t be paid for it, but if your work is good, you’ll be hired to do more work in the future. The problem? Chances are that the client is just looking for a few free posts. All of the potential freelance writers turn in their “spec” pieces, and the client has a ton of content — for free. Don’t be suckered into future work. Future work won’t pay the bills, and you can’t rely on it for a successful financial future.

Send the potential client examples of your work, and point out that if they want something from you, they have to pay. At the very least, insist that if the client doesn’t use the piece, s/he returns all rights to you so that you can offer it elsewhere, and if the client likes the piece s/he will pay for it after the fact.

1. This is Great Exposure

My favorite lie is this one. Not long ago, I had someone approach me and ask me to contribute twice-monthly to a blog. For free. “It’s a great opportunity for you to get some exposure and maybe attract new clients!”

I don’t have anything against writing an occasional guest post for a friend’s blog, or bartering some of my skills for something else in return. However, doing a project for the exposure, or writing regularly for the exposure soon becomes an exercise is disappointment and futility. You can get exposure by creating an online portfolio, and highlighting your work on a blog, and then promoting it through social media.

What do you think? What are some of the lies freelance clients tell?

Image source: Jessica Hische

0 thoughts on “5 Biggest Lies Freelance Clients Could Be Telling You”

  1. Carrie Smith

    This post is really timely! Some of these lies I’ve experienced recently and it makes me feel good to know I wasn’t just going crazy. I decided to change my view a little and use the sort of “take my skills or leave it” approach. I don’t charge outrageous prices, but I’m starting to create a solid reputation. My articles have been getting lots of exposure and good feedback from media outlets. If they want a good thorough job done, then I’m their girl!

    The “Great Exposure” one has burned me twice in the past 6 months. I finally worked up the nerve to quit because it was stressing me out to no end. Thanks for sharing this advice, it’s really helpful for freelancers like me.

    1. Miranda Marquit

      It’s amazing how many people try to take advantage of freelancers. Especially those just starting out and trying to make it work. And they seem to think that you’ll just be so grateful for the “opportunity.”

      1. When I started back in 2007, I took on a client that (my very first and I was VERY green online) paid me $500 a month for 35 posts a week. Yes! a week. 5 a day, seven days a week and I did this for 6 months straight until I burned and crash and could barely look at my PC without getting nauseous. Lol.

        Thankfully that job did lead to bigger and better things, and I did learn a lot. After the 2nd year, my rate increased and I didn’t have to write as much and to this day, I am STILL with that employer. Simply because I am grateful they took me on – not knowing anything about web writing, SEO, blogs or anything at all.

        Sometimes when you start out, you have to take what’s offered and then it’s UP TO YOU – to make it work and turn it into something else. Something better.

        But since then, I have have become more established in my writing practice and now have clients coming to me. That is the desired end result, when they come to you. I had another client (recently) who wanted to preview all my work and then make silly edits, that didn’t make any sort of gainful difference. I had to kick him to the curb, because I for one – do not like to be micro managed.

        We all have our client horror stories, for sure. Lol.

        1. Great you can laugh about this now, Missy! I like that you ditched that high-maintenance client. As a freelancer, I (we??) often get advice (from non freelancers) to take business wherever you can get it. What is a better reward for self-employment than choosing NOT to work with people who make you crazy?

  2. Related to “it’s a small project” is the “chicken salad out of chicken poop” problem. This happens in statistical consults fairly often. The client has some data and they want you to do some regression, ANOVA, etc. The first problem is the data set is too small, or too collinear or whatever. The second problem is they don’t know that until you give them a report that says they don’t have evidence for their hypothesis. They then want more advanced, time consuming methods to try to tease out what they want. You might be able to do it, but you might end up spending a long long time. I’m now very clear with my clients that they are hiring me to do techniques A B C and give them a summary. If they want me to try D E F … X Y Z, then they can hire me to do those at the same rate. However, at no point am I guaranteeing that the data will say what they want only that I will look for it to the best of my ability.
    Also I love the “others work for less” line. I charge a ton for consults and I always hear that line. I like to ask them who does consults for less so I can subcontract to them.

    1. Miranda Marquit

      I can see where stats can get tricky. My husband did a stats consult once, and ran into much the same problem. The data didn’t show what they wanted. But it’s not like you can MAKE it happen. I like your idea of subcontracting. Good one! But you do have to be careful. I’ve been burned by subcontractors before.

  3. Sean @ One Smart Dollar

    You hit on some really good points here. Low balling offers and understating jobs are two of the biggest things that go on.

  4. I haven’t really dipped my toes into the freelancing waters, but from reading other blogs, another problem seems to be that sometimes clients don’t really know what they want! When the boundaries aren’t clear a small undertaking can balloon into a much larger project.

    1. Miranda Marquit

      That can be a real issue, too! It really helps sometimes to ask the client to really think about what he or she wants to accomplish, and have a discussion about realistic steps that lead to that point.

      1. Agreed…I recently came from a job where I did a lot of writing and design work for people from different departments who weren’t clear in their own minds what they wanted…including my boss. Usually it ended badly…endless reworking of projects and a lot of hemming and hawing and finicky little changes that didn’t improve the outcome.

        The standard line I got from these indecisive people was, “I’ll know it when I see it.”

        Now, when I meet with potential clients, I follow up by sending a list of important questions for consideration before I start their project, and I warn them, “I’ll know it when I see it” will cost you a lot more money!

  5. You nailed it. I work in television, and it is the same “game”. I may lose a few jobs here and there, but there is always a new door that is a smooth negotiation. I sometimes here from my colleagues, “Be glad you didn’t do that gig!” or, “I’m still waiting to get paid.” Sticking to fair and honest rates, and paying others fair and honest rates always turns out best for everyone. I try to remember to always be polite and respectful to the “liers.” Sometimes people are limited on their budget because of upper management. Other times the cheapest price because their fair rate. I call that the “walmart mentality” – where discounted prices for personal merchandise is somehow suppose to translate into professional services world. It just doesn’t make sense.

    The clients are not totally to blame. People who don’t understand the value of their skill, live in fear that something better will not come along, or have so much debt that they will take any rate to pay the bills are causing the “dumbing down of rates.”

    Stick to your guns, be confident, and have fun!

  6. Great to hear others are experiencing these things…I’m a recent startup and have already been approached with most of these. I even got advice from a fellow freelancer about doing things for free for the exposure. Sadly, that friend is now looking to get out of freelance and go back to working for someone else as his venture has not been profitable. Really, I think if you do free work for people who can afford to pay you, it says something about how you value your own work.

    One thing you briefly mentioned, Miranda, that I would give more attention to, is the offer to barter a service. This might be o.k. if it’s a service you really need and is applicable to your business (i.e., free web service or computer peripherals) but my experience has been that, a) people are wanting to trade services that are neither business-related (e.g. life coaching, herbal products) or b) there is no way for you to accurately determine the value of what they offer and whether or not it’s equivalent to what you’re giving them.

    I am currently trying to extricate myself from a deal where I am paid to find survey subjects for a legitimate scholarly research project associated with a local university. This isn’t a writing job, but something I took on as “easy money” while I was building my business. The agreement was that I’d be paid by the person who completed the survey, and it is taking a phenomenal number of phone calls to get one actual conversion. At this point, I’m making about a dollar a day for work I’ve come to despise. This is related to your point #3…I will never again take a job based on performance, especially when you have the variable of hundreds of other people whose response you can’t predict! This will be a good lesson for me in future writing projects.

    Enjoying all the great comments today.

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