Are all copywriting clients made of sugar and all things nice?
No. In fact, you have a higher chance of working for a toxic client than your dream client.
This post was written by TCCS member, Rashida Tayabali
Do you have a client whose phone calls and emails send shivers down your spine? A client who demands you answer their emails at once, and follows up with a phone call if there’s a few minutes delay. And who always seems to be unhappy with your work but can’t tell you why?
If you do, should you stick it out hoping they will turn into a prince?
You should fire them.
In this post, I’ll be sharing how I fired a client for the first time, and how you can do it too—confidently and coherently.
Signs of a problem client
In my copywriting business, I’ve had a dream run for five years, with appreciative clients and great projects. But last year I finally met my first P.I.T.A (Pain In The Ass) client.
On paper, he sounded ideal. He wanted to lift his profile in his industry and needed someone to create content for his new website. After an introductory call, I sent in my proposal and briefing form.
The warning signs were clear almost immediately. The client:
- Sent me two-word answers for some questions, and started calling me frequently to tell me about his plans
- Told me about the bad runs he’d had with service providers in the past who took him for a ride because they didn’t deliver. (At this point, I was upfront with him about my experience and assured him I could deliver what he wanted)
- Haggled me on price. I stood firm and told him my rates were not negotiable
- Liked lengthy chats on the phone, and needed constant reassurance and handholding
- Said he’d need to borrow money from family to pay me (clang, clang clang!)
Despite the alarm bells going off in my head, I was keen to do the work because it was an interesting project. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and submitted the first draft on time.
Lack of proper feedback
I waited for feedback, but instead, I got… crickets.
After following up numerous times, I finally got an email saying he’d read the copy but it wasn’t what he wanted.
I scheduled a call to go through the changes. The client had provided some feedback (and a lot of waffle) via email that I addressed in the second draft. With the first version falling flat, I agreed to rewrite the copy from scratch (against my better judgment).
Still, I wanted to salvage the relationship and deliver on my promise of providing good service and content.
I sent in the second version.
I waited for client feedback, but nothing concrete came in. By this time I was losing money and time on this job.
One thing was clear: he didn’t like the new version either, but couldn’t say why.
Breaking up with the client
The client raised the point that I didn’t do a good enough job because I was bilingual. (He was bilingual too.) Apparently, people who have mastered more than one language are poor writers.
On another unscheduled call, he heard my baby cry in the background and suggested I was distracted and unable to devote enough time to his work.
My self-confidence was starting to take a hit because of the client’s comments. And really, who needs this kind of negativity in their working life?
So I made the decision to end the business relationship with the client—not by email but over the phone.
I explained clearly that despite writing website copy in two different ways it hadn’t met his requirements, and so it was better for me to refund the deposit.
I even suggested it was better for him to write his own content after he admitted, “There was nothing really wrong with the copy. I just don’t like it”.
How to know when to let a client go
If the process feels hard, and the client is always unhappy with your work and starting to show the P.I.T.A warning signs or becoming personal, it’s time to let them go. Fire them on the phone or email, but don’t burn your bridges. Offer to find them another copywriter who might be a better fit (but warn the writer in advance). Stay firm on the firing and don’t take them back.
Honestly, I shouldn’t have accepted the client when he didn’t fill out a proper brief.
I shouldn’t have gone ahead and written the second version, or ignored the warning signs.
You live and learn. Now I pay attention to warning signs and don’t take on a client if alarm bells start going off.
Over to you
Are you working for a similar client who’s causing you grief?
When did you last fire a client?
If your answer is “Never”, it might be time to start.
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Rashida Tayabali is a copywriter and features writer. She loves creating clever copy for clients that inspires their audience and leads to the right action through storytelling.