When you work for yourself, running a business, or as a freelance contractor, you’re always thinking about the next potential client. As a ghostwriter, I often find myself in situations in which I’m trying to decide whether or not a client is someone with whom I want to work.
I remember meeting a client a few years ago who told me he had an interesting story so we met at a restaurant, and started to talk. He explained that he wanted to write about his time in jail, which sounded interesting. I asked him what he was in jail for. He matter-of-factly told me he’d killed a guy…at which point I thought, “Check please!” Then, I thought about it some more. Maybe it was self-defense??? Yes, we’re always looking to land a potential client – to make it work somehow, provided, of course, they actually have money to pay.
I’ve also realized that most clients fit into one of five categories. I’m pretty sure this isn’t true only for ghostwriters as these general characteristics span across the board. Let’s consider these five types of clients that you may be familiar with:
1. Ideal Clients: First there are the clients who are 100% professional. They know what they want, can afford your rates, and are ready to work. They respect what you do, you respect their wishes as a client, and the process is smooth sailing. Oh, how we wish there were far more of these clients!
2. Unsettled, but Good Clients: Next there are the clients that really want to work with you. For ghostwriters, it means they want help writing a book but they aren’t exactly sure what they want. They have the enthusiasm, but they need direction. One minute it’s a business book, the next minute a “how to” book, then it’s a historical look at Renaissance Art, and then they decide it’s definitely a book to inspire shut-ins to get out more. Then, it’s a business book again! These clients need time to examine and re-examine the possibilities before they commit. In some cases, they may be better served with a book proposal.
Provided you get the “budget” discussion out of the way early on, it then takes patience – play therapist and let them talk while you listen, and provide guidance. I’ve found that if you hang in there, and let the process run its course, they can become very good clients.
3. The Keep Your Teeth on your Tongue Client: These are clients with whom you might like to work but you need to be ready to put your teeth on your tongue, as the saying goes, and know when not to say anything. They may be arrogant, condescending, know-it-alls, blowhards, or all of the above. As long as it doesn’t become personal, it may be worth a shot. I’ve managed to work with some good clients with very different personalities and beliefs. We respected one another professionally. Talk with these clients, meet with them – get a feel for what they are all about – then trust your gut instinct to say yea or nay.
4. The Erratic Client: These people are simply unreliable – you can never plan a schedule because they will usually change the plan. Often, their stories are inconsistent and, when it’s time to get paid, there’s always a problem with their account, or “Paypal just isn’t working right today.” You may rein them in but they will likely disappear again. I’ve been working on a book with someone since 2013… months, even years go by and then he re-surfaces. It’s okay with me as long as I’ve been paid up to date. However, these clients are usually a lot more trouble than they’re worth.
5. Run Away Fast Clients: If it is clear that they have no money, or they offer to pay you on the back end, run away. Don’t fall for the old: “It will be a best seller and they will make a movie out of it, then a TV show, and a Broadway Play!!” Not going to happen. If they have unrealistic expectations like, “I need a 200-page book written in a week,” don’t work with them. I once had someone ask if I could guarantee that the book would sell 40 million copies. I asked him if he was Stephen King. Likewise, if the client drops names about their famous friends, wants to become your best buddy, or has an ulterior motive (like a timeshare to sell…or swap for your services!), be ready to sprint.
There may be other types of clients – we all find some that defy categories, but these are client types that you will see on a fairly regular basis. Decide which category they fall into, and how you are going to act – don’t waste valuable time chasing potentially bad clients. And, remember the three basics of freelancing:
1- Get money up front
2- Don’t buy into pipe dreams (including back end deals)
3- Have an out clause in your contract
Rich Mintzer is an author, ghostwriter, ghost blogger, and content writer. He runs Your Book Your Way.
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