The most irritating things freelance clients say x10

This article simmered inside me for years. And back in 2013, when a bad cough was just a bad cough, and I had both cabin fever and medicine with codeine in it, I unleashed the cat from the bag. Details were changed to protect the guilty.


1. It won’t take you long. I know you said you’re in labour, but my wife says labour can take up to 14 hours.

What I should have said: ‘I may never come back from maternity leave. Allow me to refer you to another writer [who wronged me gravely in the past].’

2. I’d rather you write our copy and then, if we see hugely improved traffic, like 10,000 uniques a month [for a corporate website], we’ll give you a royalty.

How to handle this one: ‘I’m afraid I can’t open a job for you without a proper quote, signed acceptance and a deposit. The balance will be due on sign-off. But I’m happy to look at a profit share if our relationship goes further.’

3. I know we said the copy should speak to our outstanding, no-holds-barred customer service. But we don’t want to imply that we’ll be available to take client calls outside of office hours. So please change it.

What I suggest you do: Don’t judge the client. Just do it. Whether it’s ethically dodgy for you or not. Try to educate them next time, if they’ll take it.

4. If the re-drafted copy I gave you [200 words] won’t fit into a 25-second radio ad, can’t you just ask the voice-over artist to read it faster?

What I suggest you do: I find that simple maths works best here. For radio, it’s 2-3 words per second of recording time. If that fails, tell them the studio won’t allow a VO artist to read an ad that’s too long. Make something up.

5. What do you mean, you needed a signed quote to start? Haven’t you started? I saw that in your quotation, but I didn’t think it applied to us.

What I should have said: ‘No, no, you’re right. The terms and conditions are really there for my health and for the attention of other clients. Not for you. Even though we don’t know each other from Adam and this is our first project.’

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6. I know I wrote ‘program’ and you changed it to ‘programme’, but are you sure that spelling is correct? My daughter says it’s wrong.

How to handle this one: With an extract from The Economist Style Guide. Complete with a link to more information. Don’t mention the daughter.

7. You know the 100-page hard copy proof we’ve booked? Can you proof the pages on-screen and write down the changes? Printing’s expensive.

What I should have said: ‘You’re not going to pay me the balance on this job, are you? You’re going to tell me you don’t have the money. FOAD.’

8. We don’t use email in this office. Can you fax [the 20-page copy deck] to us? Or print the stuff out and drop it off? We’ll make changes on the pages, and you can collect them afterwards.

How to handle this one: This depends totally on you and the lengths you’re prepared to go. I’ve decided not to work with clients who don’t use email.

9. We want to be really different. You can go crazy. Make us stand out. But don’t write anything ‘risky’; we’re a conservative company.

What I suggest you do: Try to explain the different styles and tones that companies can choose from when it comes to copy. Ask as many questions as you need to, to find out exactly what the client has in mind. Ask for concrete examples. In cases like this, unfortunately, it’s your job to get a proper brief from the client, whether they know how to give one or not.

10. If you don’t want to do our [massive volumes of] work for only R5k, fine. Just be a freelancer and work from home forever.

What I should have said (and, in fact, did say): Thank you. That’s the plan.

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