When Writing Clients Create Crises
Carol Tice | 10 Comments

Crisis Writing Clients Need to Pay MoreI got a new client recently that I was very excited about. It was an ongoing account for eight short articles a month, from a decent-sized, established company. They had a big list of topics ready to go. I thought it sounded just great.

Then I started trying to work on the account, and everything changed. This client turned out to be a crisis-creator. And even though it represented more than $1,500 a month in income, I dropped them.

It turned out the client didn’t really want short blog-type pieces, they wanted full-blown reported articles. They also wanted me to interview their experts and ghost some of the entries for them (a fact they hadn’t mentioned up front). Their experts weren’t very readily available, I’d have to try and try to reach them before finally getting an interview time, so deadline panic became the norm.

It quickly became clear that this client was a massive pain in the butt. Also, the services they really wanted I would have billed at three to four times the rate I’d quoted them for the “quick blog pieces” they originally claimed to want.

Some writing clients are really dysfunctional and tend to create crises in your schedule. If you end up with a crisis client, you have to decide if it’s worth hanging onto them or not.

I have another crisis client right now. They pick their topics v e r y   s l o w l y…then they take forever to OK a story outline. Then…the minute they approve it, it’s due in one week flat. Kinda crazy.

But they’re paying me $1 a word, and I’ve decided they’re worth it. Which brings me to my main rule of crisis clients: They need to pay a lot.

Often, you get the deadly combination of crisis-creating client AND they pay sorta crummy. Those two do NOT go together!

When I worked as an entertainment-industry secretary back half a lifetime ago, I saw that the production office often had a sign posted on the wall. It was a triangle with the corners labeled “Good,” “Fast,” and “Cheap.” Below it would say: “Pick any two.”

Clients who want good work done fast because of their crisis-creating proclivities need to pay top dollar. Otherwise, you’re letting them turn their crisis into your crisis.

Don’t let that happen! My philosophy is that your crisis is my opportunity. I happen to have the ability to turn around complex stories fast — if you need that, pay the freight.

Photo via Flickr user alancleaver_2000

10 comments on “When Writing Clients Create Crises

  1. Richard on

    Carol,

    I enjoy all of your posts but this was one especially great. One of my teachers in ad school about a hundred years ago told me the "Pick any two" story and I've had more than one occasion to use it with a client. I've never been able to give clients anything but good work, so I always try to get a reasonable amount of time, good money, or both. Kind of tough in this economy, but I'm trying to stick to my guns. I have a couple of quotes on a yellow post it note on my computer. One says, "If you charge more, people will respect your work." The second is "Under promise and over deliver, but never under price it."

    • Carol Tice on

      As I think I've said above….just set healthy boundaries. You know how they're going to behave, so anticipate the problems, and just don't let their problems become your problems. They have a crisis and suddenly need it tomorrow? It's gonna cost more.

  2. Lee Lefton on

    Carol,

    I enjoy all of your posts but this was one especially great. One of my teachers in ad school about a hundred years ago told me the "Pick any two" story and I've had more than one occasion to use it with a client. I've never been able to give clients anything but good work, so I always try to get a reasonable amount of time, good money, or both. Kind of tough in this economy, but I'm trying to stick to my guns. I have a couple of quotes on a yellow post it note on my computer. One says, "If you charge more, people will respect your work." The second is "Under promise and over deliver, but never under price it."

  3. Lynn on

    Truer words Carol!

    A magazine editor that I no longer work for was just too prone to sudden changes, so I quit. My name and bio at the end of a story (and the tiny amount of pay) were just not worth the trouble. I'm much happier now and found better work because I freed myself from this endless cycle of crazy.(there are great editors out there, trust me) I still get e-mails from other writers involved with this editor, to which I say, she can't be changed…but YOU can change.

  4. Carol Tice on

    Hi Brian —

    I find that crisis clients cannot be reformed. You're dreaming if you think you can fix their dysfunctionality. All you can do is set boundaries with them — ie, "I'm going to need a week's notice to turn this around" or whatever it is. You can deal with their crazy, you can turn down some of their assignments, or you can get rid of them altogether.

    Those are pretty much the options. You have to assess the level of disruption they're creating and decide if you want to go to that crazy place with them, or whether it's not worth it to you.

    Was actually just dealing with mine today…after 2 weeks of keeping me waiting on a package they told me I would be writing, they announced 3 fully reported articles would be due all in one week flat…when I already have like 6 articles for other accounts due next week. I responded that I thought I'd realistically need a little more time, and we've got it down I think to me doing two of the articles and have an extra day or two.

    The trick to crisis clients you're keeping is to totally accept that they will keep creating crises. I've made a decision they pay enough for me to deal with their dysfunction. Look for whatever wiggle room there is in their crazy demands…and do it or don't. We all have our standards of what's too much crazy at too little pay.

    Carol

  5. Irene on

    Great points, thanks! I've just been forced to say no to a crisis client of my own, too, and had one or two problems with them in the past. These days, I just listen to my BS detector and say no upfront if I can sense the client is a potential major pain.

    Thank you very much, reading this is a real relief to me!

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