How to Filter Out Problem Editorial Clients
Savvy freelance editors often have a preternatural ability to zero in on dream clients and to steer clear from troublesome ones.
Ideal clients are those that are effortless to work with, straightforward and clear, and earn you the most money in a short period of time.
In contrast, challenging clients are usually those that ask you to work below your standard rate, demand a lot of changes mid-project, request frequent meetings, and seek to micromanage the way you work.
As a freelance editor, there are client situations you don’t want to find yourself in. When you sense a prospective client is going to be problematic, swerve quickly to avoid them.
1. Your client asks for unreasonable discounts.
If your client tries to talk you down from your standard rate, it can be fair to consider offering a discount if you think the project is interesting or could be an excellent addition to your portfolio.
But if you agree to an hourly rate and the client tries to undercut the proposed number of hours to pay you less, it demonstrates that he or she doesn’t understand the investment that is required on your part. Instead of offering an hourly rate, charge by the service or project. If the prospective client continues to balk during negotiations, it’s time to walk away. Learn a few pricing and client intake strategies to help you filter your client list.
2. Your client asks for work beyond the scope of the agreement.
A few weeks after I completed the edit of a client’s book, the client contacted me to ask if I could make “some small editing changes” to his manuscript based on some feedback he got from reviewers. I asked to see the reviewers’ notes. Many of them were content-specific and quite substantial. I quoted him a rate. Without blinking, he demanded an amount that was a fraction of what I had quoted him. After a few more back-and-forth discussions, I decided to walk away.
It’s not uncommon for me to indulge a favorite client from time to time, but in most situations, you want to be wary of doling out too many favors.
It’s not uncommon for me to indulge a favorite client from time to time, but in most situations, you want to be wary of doling out too many favors. Clients that are coddled can develop a sense of entitlement and become more difficult to deal with later on.
To avoid any misunderstanding, learn how to devise a comprehensive contract that covers all the contingencies and outlines what the client can expect (e.g., number of allowed revisions).
In my own contracts, I clearly state that the budget includes this number of full revisions for the type of editing work requested. Any amendments by e-mail should be tracked and acknowledged by your clients. Save a PDF copy of your correspondences pertaining to work terms for written evidence of your agreements.
If your client demands extra work, reply with something like this: “Yes, what you requested can be done. Since it wasn’t included in our original budget, the extra time the new work demands will cost X. If you’re amenable to this, I’ll draft an amendment, and we’ll proceed.” Friendly and professional is always the way to go in discussions.
3. Your client asks for discounts or pro bono work in exchange for the promise of future work.
As a small freelance editing business, our core staff is just two people– me and my production editor. Because we’re small, I’ve noticed some clients use this as leverage during negotiations. We’ll often hear an argument along the lines of “Well, if you do this for free, we’ll consider you for future work in the future at a bigger budget”, or the classic “This project would be great for your portfolio!”
Small doesn’t equate to being desperate. Our credibility and reputation is based on the work we produce, not on the number of projects we’ve taken on. You shouldn’t be “begging” for projects either.
Of course, if a successful company shows an interest, you can offer to do the work at a discounted rate, knowing that you’ll benefit from having the project under your belt and listed prominently in your portfolio. For everyone else, politely pass on doing anything for free.
4. Your client uses your ideas for free.
Freeloaders are those who call you up, pick your brain over several conversations, and 2-3 proposals later never follow-up. In reviewing potential book manuscripts for publication under our small imprint, I often end up writing one page critiques that I give away for free to prospective authors. These evaluations often include specific areas of their manuscript that need improvement.
One way to avoid having your brain picked clean is to do a careful filtering of prospective clients.
Some freelance editors may cringe at this, but I’m happy to do these abbreviated editorial consultations if it helps to gain the client’s trust. Still, I’m also keenly aware that many people will simply contact me to hear what I have to say and then walk away to implement the ideas on their own. It’s underhanded but a hazard we all encounter working as freelancer editors.
One way to avoid having your brain picked clean is to do a careful screening of prospective clients. First, get a sense of how serious the client is. Don’t devote the time preparing a full-on proposal or arranging meetings if you don’t think the prospect is committed.
To assess their commitment, ask clients to answer a few preliminary questions. For any book projects we take on, I always ask prospective authors to give me a sample chapter, a book outline, and to answer a few questions regarding the book. This gives me an idea of its content and fit.
For freelance editing work, ask for a detailed project description and budget. Serious contenders will need to think through their editorial needs and will be eager to share; non-serious ones will usually just walk away or never give you the information you request.
5. Your client wastes your time.
A variation of this type of problematic client is someone who just has no clue what they want. They contact you with vague ideas about what they are looking for. They sound excited to talk to you and want to learn more about what you can provide, but don’t actually give you a clear picture of what they want (or need).
As a freelance editor, you’re not there to offer “editorial therapy” (unless, of course, you’re offering a type of developmental editing or writing coaching service). Point these clients in the right direction and offer to do another consult once they have a clearer idea of what they want.