Editors and clients come and go who want too much for too little, have never before hired a writer, do not pay, or are otherwise too difficult for you to waste your time. By quickly recognizing and rejecting these people, you can move quickly on to customers who will pay handsomely and are a pleasure to work with.
Here are seven signs a potential client must be let go before you even get started.
1. They have never hired a writer.
Someone contacts you from out of the blue, says they are looking for a reporter to write a brochure, and asks, ‘can you do it?’. When you ask how they heard about you, they say they read some article of yours on the Internet and liked the style. The style, however, is not appropriate for a brochure. They do not know you by any other means, and you do not know them from Adam.
You ask how many writers they have hired in the past? They say ‘none’ or ‘we have a staffer in the office who does some of that when she is not too busy with her regular duties.”
These are signs of a newbie. They do not know what to expect, they do not know how to work with you (or any writer), and you wonder if they will even take you seriously. This usually indicates someone who thinks “anybody can write” and those people usually put little value on writers’ services.
Your best response? Duck and run, head for the hills! Do not take the work, do not even consider it. Period.
2. They do not know what they want.
They mention they have hired other writers and it did not work out; they did not get what they wanted. You ask what they want, and the response is vague, confused, or uncertain.
If you dig further, they cannot describe in detail what they want. They cannot talk in terms of project scope or hard deadlines. They are unable to provide samples of other work that exemplifies what they would like to get from you. If a client can’t tell you what they want, you may spend weeks going round and round about what they do want…and you aren’t likely to get paid extra for their hemming and hawing.
Never mind what they want. What you want is to politely end the conversation.
3. Your fees are too high, they try to lowball you, or they are surprised you actually want money.
If you state fees you can live with, and they cannot understand why you want so much, or they question the fee or the basis on which you derive it, you could tell them what they get for that price, what is included. And, you probably should. On this basis alone, you should not necessarily nix the deal.
However, if they still balk at your rates once they know all you have to offer, this is your cue to say goodbye.
4. A shaky, new venture (start-up) = poor odds of getting paid.
If this editor or client represents a new venture, particularly one that does not sound promising, and there is no formidable parent company or bigwig investor involved, they could flop before they drop your check in the mail. In these cases, you will see the Pearly Gates before you see that money. Even if a they do have an investor, you may still be at the bottom of the food chain, resulting in no payment – ever.
5. They want you to submit whole articles for consideration.
Experienced writers call this writing on spec, or speculation. You do all the work with zero promise of publication or payment. If you would not take any other job on such uncertain terms, why take this one?
6. They sound unprofessional or disrespectful.
If they sound adversarial, talk down to you, treat you like you are not a person, act like they are doing you a favor, or give the general impression that they do not really like writers as a species (these people are out there, believe me), then your new title, should you decide to take this assignment, will be ‘chief poop upon’. And, that is no poop!
7. You cannot check them out because they do not provide full company and contact information or a web address, or there are specific questions they avoid answering.
This peculiar creature wants to have a working relationship with you while remaining a stranger. Closed or distant people who conceal their contact information or skirt reasonable questions are likely hiding something. If you ask and they do not tell, do not wait around.
Remember: If they are too new, too clueless, too cheap, too unreliable, too demanding, too controlling, too mean, or too much of a question mark, then you cannot unload them too soon.
David Geer is a ten-year veteran technology journalist. See to learn more about David.