Taming the Dragon Client

Forrest ReadingOver the years, my clients have taught me so much about being the best freelance writer and editor I can be to them. As 2013 comes to a close, I take stock of all those lessons learned, some naturally, and some the hard way. The hardest lesson of all has been in taming the dragon client.

The one constant I have found in the freelance world, is that as freelancers, we must never assume that the client understands the basic “functionality” and “operational” aspects of our side of the business. More often than not, when a client becomes “troublesome,” it is because he is unaware that his actions are inappropriate.

If a client is new to hiring freelancers, or has had experience with freelancers that are not considered the professional freelancer, then he can pick up some very bad habits; habits that he is completely unaware are considered “bad” to the professional freelancer. The same can be said of the new freelancer as well.

Professional freelancers must be prepared to teach a client how to manage his contract freelancers in order to better serve his business. Not everything is cut and dry in the freelance world. In a brick and mortar situation, state and federal employment laws, not to mention corporate policy, govern employee relations. The relationship between freelancer and client is set by the agreement between the two.

Here are a few basic tips to taming the dragon client:

Contract-be sure you have a contractual agreement between you and your client. It should be one that delineates the expectation of both entities beyond the scope of the assignment:

  • It should clearly state the services that you will provide
  • The due date for the services
  • The compensation amount for the services
  • When the compensation is to be paid
  • How the compensation is to be paid
  • How long the contract will last
  • Notice to end the contract
    • This is something for both sides, just like giving notice in a regular working situation.
  • The grievance process
  • How the work is to be used
    • Work for hire is still a grey area-a client that puts their name on a piece you wrote is, no matter how the law in the U.S. may view it, committing plagiarism. The client did not write it, and as such, if they do not wish to give the freelancer byline credit, then the byline should be empty or simply list unnamed contributor
    • Can you use it in your portfolio?
    • Is the client going to sell the work to a 3rd source?
  • Will you be a 1099 contractor, thus needing the 1099 form filled out
    • This form should be filled out at the same time as the contract
    • If an agreement for the 1099 is not made prior to beginning the services, the freelancer is not obligated to sign the document. Address this in the forefront.

The Time-sucker-some clients simply do not realize that their constant interruptions, changes, “touch-base” communication is sucking up time faster than a Hoover sucks up dust.

  • Meetings should be scheduled in advance just as you would any other meeting, setting a time to begin and end
  • Come to the meeting with an agenda in place
  • Take notes
  • Give the client a warning that the time scheduled is coming to a close
  • Recap the meeting before closing out
  • Close out the meeting on a good note

Something to remember with the dragon client is that they have no concept of time, no concept of your commitment, no concept of your commitment to other clients, and no concept of your financial obligations to anyone other than to them. A client may not intend to come across selfish, but by-enlarge, they are. They have a business that they are trying to build and profit from while they are in the process.

Signs of a Dragon Client:

  • We don’t need a contract…run!
  • Consistently late to meetings or rescheduling meetings…this is a sign that they are completely unaware that you, too, are operating a business
  • Calls last minute meetings, or just simply calls out of the blue, without any notice
  • Late paying invoices
  • Says something to the effect of, “I’ve got so much going on, let’s put off writing (or whatever other component exists in the contract) for this week…they have no idea that your finances have just been thrown for a loop

Not all Dragon Clients can be trained to become great clients. There are going to be times, as a freelancer, you are just going to have to bite the bullet and send them back into the mystical land of finding the right freelancer.