Top 10 Phrases No Freelancer Wants to Hear (and How to Fix Them)

by Carly Schuna

1. “We’ve chosen another candidate.”
Somebody else just snatched up a gig you really, really wanted. This is a bummer, especially if you love the subject matter and/or you needed work badly.
The Fix: Thank these clients for their consideration, and ask if they’re looking to fill any other positions. If they’re not, politely restate your interest and let the clients know that you’re available for future projects.

2. “This is all wrong.”
You just turned in your work, and the client hates it. Nightmare!
The Fix: Have a conversation with these clients to find out their concerns. If their comments seem reasonable, offer to revise. If what they say is ridiculous, you may still have to revise, but try explaining your point of view. It could cut you some slack.

3. “I’d like to have a conference call with you on the weekend/at midnight/during your sister’s wedding.”
These clients think that being a freelancer means you are happily available at any hour of the day.
The Fix: Politely explain that you’re unavailable during the requested time. List your normal working hours and ask to find a time that works for both of you.

4. “I have a ninety-seventh revision request.”
This client is never satisfied, and I mean never.
The Fix: If you don’t already have one, incorporate a revision clause into your contract that mandates the client pay you for rewrites. If you do have one and the client is seriously bothering you, consider raising your rates.

5. “Would you accept [amount grossly lower than what you quoted]?”
The client seems willing to hire you but unwilling to pay you more than sweatshop wages.
The Fix: If you feel there’s a strong possibility of a raise, you may want to accept the gig. If you really don’t think the client’s offer is fair, though, turn it down and lobby for your original quote.

6. (Said for the billionth time): “You should be getting your check any day now.”
Ah, the client who doesn’t pay. This one is a classic!
The Fix: Ask for the name and contact information of someone in the client’s payroll department so you can check up on it yourself. In the future, specify an acceptable pay period and penalty for late payments in your contract.

7. “I need this by tomorrow/tonight/5pm/three hours ago.”
Is this client serious? The deadline that’s being requested is insane.
The Fix: Politely tell the client when you can have the work done, and ask to work with your suggested deadline instead. If you can make the crazy deadline at some sacrifice to yourself (sleep/meals/sanity), propose a rush fee that will make the project worth your while.

8. “You call this writing/editing/blogging? My toddler/grandmother/poodle could do better than this with a broken pencil and a stone tablet!”
Rude clients… thankfully, we don’t come across them often, but they do exist, and it’s not a pretty day when they come out and show their faces.
The Fix: Kill with kindness. Apologize (even if you did nothing wrong) and offer to rewrite the work. As soon as the job is finished and you’ve been paid, get the heck out of Dodge—no one should have to work with a client like that.

9. “Unfortunately, we don’t need your services anymore.”
For some inexplicable reason, the client is showing you the door. Curse the fickleness of freelancing!
The Fix: The client has probably thought about this decision carefully, so it’s best not to protest. Instead, part ways as kindly as possible. Thank these clients for their business, and let them know that you’d be happy to work with them again anytime.

10. “This is great, but I have completely changed the terms of the contract.”
After you do the work you were assigned, the client pulls a 180 and expects you to come along.
The Fix: Kindly remind the client of the original terms and assignment. If you’ve done the work, you’ve fulfilled the contract. It’s fine to re-negotiate future terms with the client, but make sure they’re fair and you’re still being offered a good rate.


  1. says

    I have a question about number 6. What kind of penalties can you set up when you are doing small projects for tiny fees? Besides not working with the client again, I’m not sure how to punish someone who has nothing to lose by not paying me.

  2. Candidate #11 says

    @Melody – you make a reasonable effort to collect from them, keeping records of everything you send. Eventually, you’ll have to decide if it’s worth pursuing them in small claims court.

  3. says

    #10 sounds like it could be grounds for a lawsuit–unless the contract has a clause allowing reworking to be done.

    There was one potential freelance assignment where a client told me they needed a 1,200-word feature, complete with a detailed accounting of all sources and research used, and they needed it in three days. I told them, two weeks, yes. Three days, no way.

  4. says

    On #8, at the very least, when the assignment was over I’d tell them that I wasn’t working for them again and exactly why–because I don’t tolerate boorish, unprofessional behavior. Myself, I don’t respond well to comments like that. I’d be tempted to tell the person right then and there that my toddler/grandmother/poodle could be more polite and considerate.

  5. Dee says

    I think if a client says #2 – Perhaps, I neglected to initiate a conversation that talked about writing style or point of view, etc. (My fault)

    If I heard #3 – I haven’t clearly stated my office hours. (My fault)

    If I heard #5, #6, or #10 – A written agreement hasn’t been established, I haven’t done my due diligence, and the client thinks I’m not a professional if s/he thinks that I’ll accept a contract revision without prior discussion. (My fault)

    I think a few of these items should be covered with thorough inquiry, dialogue, and contract negotiations at the onset of the relationship.

  6. says

    Thanks for the laughs. Fortunately, out of the handful of rude clients I’ve politely showed the door to, the word “poodle” has never come up. Forunately. 😉

  7. Phil says

    Re: No. 3. Tell the client you have another appointment. Client has no need (or to be blunt, no right) to know it’s a personal appointment. But having too many of these appointments can cost one a client.

    For several years, I coached a daughter in basketball, taking time in the early evening, which meant I couldn’t take some west coast calls late in the day. So I worked hard to schedule those calls earlier or later (after practice). Some were unable to be rescheduled. But I never missed a practice — even when my daughter missed half a season with an injury — I had “appointments” with others on the team.

  8. Ann G. says

    #2 – I had a client who did that. We discussed the project including what topics she wanted covered, the POV, and that she wanted them in present tense. Then she told me to write the articles from my point of view, so I did them and was paid. Two months later she said they were crap and that they needed to be from her point of view and that I needed to redo them or give her her money back. That’s when I learned to put in a line stating any edit requests must be made within seven days.

    I have also heard #3, and the client knew I had office hours. His response was “Oh, I figured it would be easier for you to handle a conference call at night rather than during your work hours, and it works better for me if we set up the phone conference after my own work hours so we need to set this for 6 to 8pm west coast time.”

    I turned him down. I’m on the east coast and wasn’t staying up until 11pm for him.

  9. #4 says

    #13… thanks! :)

    Melody, #11 answered that one before I even got to it. I was thinking along lines that were a little different, though, as in specifying an additional “late fee” in your contracts that a client should be responsible for if they don’t happen to pay you on time. I once waited eight months for a payment and was about ready to give up on the client–then I got paid one day, completely out of the blue! I won’t be working with that client again, though.

    Richard, re: number 10–exactly. And wow about the 1,200-word feature. Did the client agree to give you a looser deadline? (Also, I have no doubt that you have an exceedingly polite toddler/grandmother/poodle.)

    Dee, you’re absolutely right. Almost ALL of these could and should be covered in clearly stated contracts before the deals begin. However, that often doesn’t happen. When I started out with freelancing, I knew nothing about contracts, and I was rarely asked to sign one. The clients I worked with simply made a verbal agreement with me. That can work out well sometimes, but now that I know more, it sure makes me feel safer to have a contract in the bag!

    Amy, it’s only a matter of time…..

    Jenny, thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

    Phil, that’s a great way to handle such a situation. Even if an ‘appointment’ is personal, it’s still, in many cases, just as important as a professional meeting. I bet your daughter and her team appreciated your hard work and dedication.

  10. #4 says

    Ann, yikes! Those are examples of instances that I also wanted to point out to Dee. Dee, your clients are incredibly lucky! When I wrote this list, though, I didn’t have reasonable clients in mind… I had the kind of clients in mind that Ann mentioned. Fortunately, there aren’t tons of them out there, but every so often you’ll realize you’re working for someone who is totally unreasonable, and this list is meant to be a few suggestions for how to handle those clients.

    Ann, I am confounded as to why that client might have possibly thought it would be “easier” for you to handle a work matter NOT DURING YOUR WORK HOURS. I’m glad you stuck to your principles there.

  11. says

    @ #4: No, the client passed on it and said they needed it in three days. Made me suspicious. I suspect he’s the same guy who will go to a mechanic and say, “I need my engine completely rebuilt. Can you have it done by the end of the day?”

    The mechanic would spend the rest of 2008 laughing himself into a hernia.

  12. Phil says


    While I agree three days is too tight, if they provide resources WHO ARE AVAILABLE, it’s not unreasonable — look at daily newspapers. Of course, they’re not starting cold. Also depends on other clients who already have time committed to them. In slow periods, and if sources are available, 1,200 words in three days is doable — being able to meet tight deadlines will also give one a selling point for future work. It also leads to a lot of stress, though, so each writer has to decide when the stress isn’t worth it.

    One possible suggestion: Impose a “rush” fee.

  13. says

    Good list, but what I really liked about it was that you didn’t just list 10 problems — instead you went a step further and gave readers real solutions they could use to fix their freelancing problems.

    Great Job!

  14. Candidate #11 says

    @#4, sorry, I wasn’t trying to take away from your response. I was thinking past late fees, when you’ve billed multiple times and they still don’t pay.

  15. #12 says

    I’ve found the best way to deal with rude clients is to say, “I’m sorry my work didn’t meet your visions,” and offer to rework it (within my revision clause parameters). If they want a new writer or throw a hissy, I calmly bow out, then give their name to a certain “writer” I know who not only isn’t such a great writer (I know, I’m mean… but honest!) but also has a bloated ego and a wicked temper.

  16. #4 says

    #11, I will take out my boxing gloves and battle you right here, right now. Just kiddin’… I didn’t realize you were talking about later stages of a client’s irresponsibility, but what you said was right on the money, so thanks!

    Jenna, it was my pleasure. I’m glad you liked it!

    #12, whoa, that’s hardcore. I suppose that’s one way to deal with an unreasonable client, but I’m not sure I’d go that far. People have lots of different working styles, and even if I thought a client was insane, I’m aware that many other people may not think that and may even enjoy working with the client. But hey, if that works for you, then great.

  17. #7 says

    Hi #4. I’m way too familiar with “You should be getting your check any day now.” Last summer one of my biggest clients went belly up. But not before they strung me along for months. I did get 2/3 of what I was owed simple because I required a deposit and religiously called to remind them that they owed me money. Last I hear the CEO was in Canada hiding from the IRS.

  18. #4 says

    YIKES, #7, let’s hope that’s an extreme example. I hope you spread the word on Preditors & Editors and/or similar sites.

  19. #7 says

    The word’s spread. I think karma is powerful, too. Having the IRS tracking you can’t be a joyful experience.

  20. says

    When you do “freelance” you are advertising yourself first of all as “free.” Each of these 10 phrases are things we’ve all heard time and time again, and guess what? They are the realities of life as a free–lancer and there are NO, NO fixes that work time after time. Work hard, work smart, try to work for reasonable people, but in the end, as a freelancer, you get what you get. Sometimes you get paid what you’re worth, sometimes you don’t get paid at all. Sometimes your work gets respect and sometimes the clients are so disfunctional they would not know great writing if it hit them in both eyeballs. No whining, no looking back, no regrets. Write and remember that you are “free” and freedom has its price.

  21. says

    Five years of free lance architectural graphics taught me that the client is not happy unless he feels he has cheated you. He has to go away from the project believing that he’s gotten something for nothing. The trick is to build some wiggle room into your contract so that you get paid what you deserve while making it look like you’re taking a bath. One way of doing this is to provide an estimate that’s much higher than what you expect to charge, then offer it as a “guaranteed maximum price” and offer to work for time and materials within this context. Thus, if you expect to take ten hours to do the job, offer a GMP reflecting 20 hours, then bill them for 15 and “give back” the remaining five. They’re happy (they feel they’ve gotten their job for less, and you’re happy (you worked 12 hours, billed for 15, and walked away with the client’s gratitude).

    As a friend of mine, a wood carver, puts it “When they get out the chisel, you get out the gouge.”

  22. Colleen R.S. says

    Excellent suggestions. I think I’ve delt with all ten of these just this week! It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who is faced with these challenges.

  23. Joanne says

    I never want to run into a #8…
    somehow I don’t think I’ll be the type to grin and bear it 😉

  24. says

    There should also be a clause that clients give their real name address and phone number since many of us have deal with clients who only deal with you via email and some who refuse to pay and you can’t even track them down.

  25. ac says

    I’ve got to take exception to the fix for #8. I *never* apologize and say “I’m sorry” to a rude person for their rudeness/disappointment/whatever. I will say “I regret that you feel this way.” This applies to professional and personal dealings with rude/childish people. When I screw up, sure, I apologize then, but when someone else is just being a jerk, that’s their fault, not mine.

  26. says

    To Davidlongriver:

    You wrote: “Work hard, work smart, try to work for reasonable people, but in the end, as a freelancer, you get what you get.”

    With a defeatist attitude like that, you’ve doomed yourself before you’ve even begun. Tell me why professional freelancers should be amenable to settling for less than anyone else in their field?

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