Artwork for podcast Copyblogger FM: Content Marketing, Copywriting, Freelance Writing, and Social Media Marketing
Thriving Freelancers and Clients from Hell
20th February 2017 • Copyblogger FM: Content Marketing, Copywriting, Freelance Writing, and Social Media Marketing • Copyblogger Media LLC
00:00:00 00:28:10

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What’s a freelancer’s biggest nightmare? Clients from hell! Guest Bryce Bladon shares his experience on how to cope — and how to avoid problems from the outset.

If you haven’t checked out Clients from Hell yet, you’re in for a treat. This entertaining blog pulls together anonymous stories about those clients who give us aches and pains.

In this 28-minute episode, Bryce and I talk about:

  • Why Bryce sees freelancing as an amazing opportunity — for the right people
  • What’s great (and not) about freelance life
  • Bryce’s problem with “aspirational freelancing,” and what he did to combat it
  • Two recommendations for staying out of problems with clients
  • Bryce’s thoughts on the wisest way to get started with freelancing

Listen to Copyblogger FM: Content Marketing, Copywriting, Freelance Writing, and Social Media Marketing below ...

The Show Notes

  • If you’re ready to see for yourself why over 201,344 website owners trust StudioPress — the industry standard for premium WordPress themes and plugins — swing by for all the details
  • For our freelancing friends — I wrote this for you to share with potential clients and help them see why they need you! 5 Situations that Demand You Hire a Professional Copywriter
  • — be sure to check out the resources and podcast as well
  • Bryce’s free email course answering the question, Is freelancing for you?
  • I’m always happy to see your questions or thoughts on Twitter @soniasimone — or right here in the comments!

The Transcript

Thriving Freelancers and Clients from Hell

Voiceover: Rainmaker FM.

Sonia Simone: Copyblogger FM is brought to you by the all-new StudioPress sites. A turnkey solution that combines the ease of an all-in-one website builder with the flexible power of WordPress. It s perfect for bloggers, podcasters, and affiliate marketers, as well as those of you who are selling physical products, digital downloads, or membership programs. If you re ready to take your WordPress site to the next level, see for yourself why more than 200,000 website owners trust StudioPress. You can check it out by going to Rainmaker.FM/StudioPress. That s Rainmaker.FM/StudioPress.

Well hey there, welcome back everybody. It is so good to see you again here at Copyblogger FM, the content marketing podcast. Copyblogger FM is about enduring content marketing trends, interesting disasters, and enduring best practices, along with the occasional rant. My name is Sonia Simone, I’m the Chief Content Officer for Rainmaker Digital and I like to hang out with the folks who do all the hard work over at the Copyblogger blog. You can always get additional links, resources, the complete archive for the show by visiting Copyblogger.FM.

I am super tickled and delighted today and I would highly recommend, if you would like to raise your blood pressure with something other than politics, just kind of make a refreshing change of pace, I have to recommend you check out The stories are … They’re engaging, they’re enraging, they’re hilarious, they’re painful, and I’m so glad that we managed to convince their Editor in Chief, Bryce Bladon, to come today and talk with us about Clients from Hell. So Bryce, thank you, thank you for being willing to show up, and we would love to hear more about your site.

Bryce Bladon: Sonia, thank you so much for having me. The site is, it’s all in the name there. It’s anonymously contributed stories of horror and humor from people working on the front lines of the freelancing industry.

Sonia Simone: It’s amazing. I haven’t been a freelancer for a while and it’s amazing how viscerally these stories hit you. It’s just highly recommended. How did you get started with the idea? It’s such a great idea. What sparked the idea and then how did you kind of get it rolling?

Bryce Bladon: You know what? To be perfectly honest, and this comes up every time I talk about the site, I was not actually the original creator. I helped the original creator basically grow the site and I’m still with it. It is built on that foundation of commiseration and these very universal experiences freelancers of all shapes, sizes, and colors have to endure in their … Well, hopefully not their day-to-day life, but some of us aren’t quite so fortunate.

Sonia Simone: Yeah, yeah. I mean, there’s even stories about contractors, like building contractors, it’s really fascinating how the same issues come up again and again for people who do very different things in their freelance life.

Bryce Bladon: Mmm-hmm. (affirmative)

Why There s Still Room for More Freelancers, Especially Copywriters

Sonia Simone: Well, let’s … I want to talk a little bit about freelancing, because although your site does focus on interesting disasters, you’re a big booster for freelancing. You see it as a model that’s on the rise. I certainly see, I mean, in my own experience, when I was sitting around thinking about … Thinking, in my job that was not going particularly well for me, “Wouldn’t it be great to go out on my own and go freelance?” which I eventually did. I believe that you said that freelancing really is the future, especially for copywriters. I was just curious about why you think that is and do you think there’s enough work to support increasing numbers of people who are coming into that market?

Bryce Bladon: Well, oh, so many questions there.

Sonia Simone: So many questions.

Bryce Bladon: Yes, to almost all of them, I’m sure. I’m sure that will come to bite me in the butt later, but I think all of those things are things that I believe. I absolutely do think freelancing is the future. The typical nine to five, 40 hour work week … I mean, that was just basically built out of one guy s car factory and it just became ubiquitous practice, because it made the most sense at the time. Year after year, there are just more tools empowering people to work for themselves in some way, shape, or form. Now, for most of us, and the reason we care about it is because it empowers a lot of us to write for who we want, when we want, and all that fun stuff.

When you talk about the amount of work for writers, I mean, that is always a difficult thing to quantify and I’m not even sure how you’d go about measuring that, but it s at least been my anecdotal experience and the experience of people I’ve spoken to, that the kind of work that blends creativity and technical knowhow, like copywriting for example, is the kind of work there’s really no substitute for at this stage of where we are as a society, as a world, all that fun stuff. There’s a lot of talk about automation stealing jobs, and tools to make certain things you can do easier, but there’s really no substitute for a good, original copywriter in any shape or form.

Sonia Simone: Yeah.

Bryce Bladon: It was a few years ago where I came across the idea of pitching my services to agencies that were trying to hire a full-time writer, but pitching to them as a freelancer. There’s a whole anecdote I can tell here, but basically, I was just finding agencies. Companies, they are so, so hungry for writers of … Quality writers, at the very least.

As a result of that, it’s not a job … Typically, their needs don’t qualify for a full-time employee, but for a contract employee, for a freelancer, and in some cases even a consultant, it fits such a perfect need and I can’t overstate how good its been for my career to explore that space and to … I feel like kind of a jerk saying it right now, but to kind of take that work away from full-time people and instead of one full-time employee, who’s sitting on his hands for half the 40 hour work week, a place would hire me. I wouldn’t be quite as available, of course, as a freelancer, but I could be a very useful resource and it’s … Again, anecdotal experience, so take it with a grain of salt, but every client I’ve had like this over the years, they’ve wanted to hire me on as a full-time employee.

Sonia Simone: Right.

Bryce Bladon: They’ve wanted to keep me on. Sorry, that comes across as very braggy, but what I’m trying to underline is, if somebody wants to work with me that much, it’s probably not me. It’s probably the actual demand for the work I do, let’s be clear on that point.

Sonia Simone: Oh, Canadians.

Bryce Bladon: You’re not wrong.

Having a Good Relationship with a Client is a Two-Way Street

Sonia Simone: It’s a good quality, it’s a good quality. I will say, I have been on both sides of that desk, the freelance desk, and I think sometimes good freelancers don’t realize that it’s not only necessarily the clients who are from hell. There’s a lot of terrible freelancers, unfortunately. There’s a lot of copywriters who are not good with deadlines and there’s quite a few writers who are not too good with client briefs. They don’t deliver what’s required.

Now that’s always a dance, right? Because, sometimes what’s required is insane, so then we have a conversation. Yeah, I think for people who are professional, they approach their craft and their profession in a serious way, they have good skills and good work habits, good work ethic. Yeah, I do think the company that wants you really, really wants you and it’s usually multiple organizations. I want to … Yeah, go ahead.

Bryce Bladon: I was just going to say, I’m sorry, we’re both being too polite now, and that s the worst. But you’re so right that there are freelancers who are from hell. I run a site called Clients from Hell, and a lot of people just assume that I must hate clients. Absolutely not, and to be perfectly honest, in my own personal decade of working as a freelancer, I’ve really only had one or two, or maybe as many as three clients I would qualify as from hell. It’s one of those things that I don’t want to quite elevate it to a rite of passage, because that legitimizes people acting like jerks, but it is one of those things that once you’ve been burned you kind of know what to watch out for.

Sonia Simone: Yeah.

Bryce Bladon: If you do read the stories on my website, you will absolutely know what to watch out for. Perhaps, to a comical, like Batman villain-esque degree in some cases, but you get the idea. The other aspect of this and the part that I really try to bring up whenever I talk about the site. Yes, the site is a lot of fun and we poke fun at silly clients, ignorant clients, and sometimes just anger inducing clients, but a lot of the time it is very much a two-way street.

A client from hell emerges from a set of circumstances that the freelancer absolutely has a hand in shaping. There are certain characteristics a client can have, where they’re probably just going to be bad to work with and you know how to watch out for those. Things like ambiguous expectations for what are they expecting to come out of the work you’re doing for them, they’re unappreciative, they’re disrespectful, they devalue good work, things like that.

I could go into way more detail about each of those, but there are things a freelancer can do that contribute to those ambiguous expectations. There are things freelancers do where they don’t do the work they promised to do, or they burn a client and as a result, that client is less trusting of the next freelancer they work with. It creates this really sort of hostile relationship and … It’s my opinion that freelancing, what makes it such a great thing, is you get to do the work you want to do the way you want to do it.

The catch-22 here being, you have to do the work and you have to do it relatively well. If you’re creating an environment, if you or your client are creating an environment that isn’t built on respect and trust and mutual benefits, it’s probably not going to be a terribly positive experience for either of you, and no one, either of you, is particularly at fault. It is a two-way street a lot of the time.

Sonia Simone: Actually, let’s talk with you a little bit more about that. I think that fear of a horrible client does kind of stop some people. It’s always like the people, the good people who get stopped, right? The bad people just go right forward. The people who do have a good work ethic, they’re very talented, and they could actually have a really nice freelance career, but they’re worried about getting burned on money and they’re worried about these terrible clients that we hear so much about. Do you have … I mean, I know what I’ve seen come up again and again. Do you have some, maybe one thing that you see come up again and again where a good freelancer gets taken advantage of because they’re not wise about a particular area of that life?

Bryce Bladon: It’s hard to limit myself to just one-

Sonia Simone: Yeah.

Two Recommendations for Staying Out of Problems with Clients

Bryce Bladon: To be perfectly honest. I’m going to give you two.

Sonia Simone: Yeah, go for it.

Bryce Bladon: Kind of related. One mistake I see a lot of first time freelancers make … I run a course, by the way, called Start Freelancing, we have a few hundred students, so I’ve conducted a bunch of surveys, I’ve reached out to people that ask after this stuff and one of the things I asked was, “Why haven’t you gotten into freelancing up to this point?” A lot of people are scared of those variables, those ambiguities of working with clients that can bite them in the butt. The fear of … I compare freelancing to dating a lot of the time. At least working with clients as a freelancer. That fear of a bad breakup.

Sonia Simone: Yeah.

Bryce Bladon: That fear of entering into a relationship with someone and then finding out they’re someone else. It all boils down to this fear of the unknown, this idea that something could go wrong, so why even start? Again, I’ve been freelancing for ten years and over that time I’ve had, at best, a handful of bad clients. And that is pushing the definition of what a bad client is. I’ve had projects I didn’t love how they turned out, I’ve had clients I’ve chosen not to work with in the end, but I’ve only had one or two bad clients, really, truly awful clients. And it was less them being an awful client and more of them being an awful person.

Which brings me to the second mistake, and the mistake I see a lot of those very nice people making. That is, just a failure to stick up for yourself and to ask the potentially hard questions. This can be as innocuous as not bringing up your rates earlier on in the conversation, and it can be as extreme as a client continually expanding the scope of work and putting unfair expectations on you that were wildly outside of your agreement, and you not wanting to shake the boat, you just wanting to be a pleasant person to work with, you just being too polite and not pushing back and not saying, “Hey, great idea. Unfortunately, it’s not what we agreed upon. It would take me X amount of hours more.”

Sonia Simone: Yeah.

Bryce Bladon: Just having that conversation, and that conversation does not need to be rude. That conversation, bringing it up, does not make you a bad person. In most cases, it makes you a professional, and that’s what professionals do. They talk about this stuff, they bring it up. Yes, you know what? I still get awkward talking about money with my clients. I still feel weird pushing back sometimes, but as long as you’re polite, as long as you’re professional, only the worst kind of people are going to have a negative reaction to that, and if you run into those people, it is just a great litmus test for, “Hey, I don’t want to work with you anymore.”

Sonia Simone: Right, right. Because it’s not going to get better.

Bryce Bladon: No, no it isn’t.

Sonia Simone: It’s not like they’re going to blow up when you set reasonable expectations and then later they’re going to be great. Yeah, and that would be, I’d say, the thing I see over...