Freelance Frustration

The meeting had been postponed from Tuesday to Thursday to now, Friday afternoon. My client looked at me and said, “I need this piece on Monday.” I’d waltzed over those green fields before–and with this client. Her chronic disorganization resulted in many emergencies.

My weekend was fully planned by then, and I said, “Tuesday is the earliest I can get this to you.”

The client looked at me and said, “You are a freelancer. You work nights and weekends. That’s why we hire you. Monday.”

I looked her directly in the eye and replied, “I’m a freelancer because I own my business. And this weekend I’m booked.”

She didn’t blink, “What are you doing this weekend that’s so important–more important than this job?”

“Not part of this discussion,” I said. “Let’s continue to focus on the due date of the project. After a few more tart responses we agreed on Tuesday.

I’m sure clients have a long list of the trespasses of freelancers. But it’s my blog, and today it’s my turn to wake up clients to behavior that gets the best response from freelancers.images1.jpeg

1. Just because you put off facing a project, does not give you permission to set the freelancer’s hair on fire. If you like working under pressure, if you enjoy saving the day by causing emergencies so you can ‘solve’ them, please do it in your own office with the door closed and the phone firmly on the hook. Diva-like behavior is not appealing to anyone else, least of all a freelancer. And you aren’t the boss, you are a client, and there is a world of difference there.

2. Please know what the project is about. You should be capable of summarizing the main point in under 60 seconds. You should be able to tell the freelancer what the end product should be in the same time. When you start with the history of the project, we don’t know what to listen for or what the important details are. So you’ll be repeating that part anyway.

3. Freelancers have lives, just like you do. We may work on weekends on occasion, but most of us have plans on weekends, evenings, and early in the morning. Don’t assume that time is available for you.

4. Client meetings take up at least part of every day. That means we don’t check our emails every two minutes. When I am with a client, she has my full attention. I won’t take phone calls or check my emails. I will do the same with you.

5. Please do not send me every email you have ever received and sent on a project and expect me to read them “for background.” If the project is due in three days, don’t send 12 files totaling 600 Megs of data. I won’t have time to read them.

There are other tips, too. Scope creep, paying on time (and including my invoice number on your check), honesty about the job (if I’m the fourth writer and you’ve fired the other three, I should know), and the names and phone number of subject matter experts you want me to contact is all part of building a good relationship.

Freelancers will almost always jump through some hoops, even ones that are on fire, to please a client. We sympathize with your emergencies, unless we sense you don’t care. Which brings me to the last plea–if you care about quality, please don’t expect a 24-hour turnaround. When you insist on an impossible deadline and we meet it, no fair complaining about lack of quality.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach who works with companies to create a corporate culture of cooperation and understanding. She is perfecting other miracles as well. See her work at You’ll find her artwork there, too.

6 thoughts on “Freelance Frustration

  1. What an OUTSTANDING blog post! One of the things I frequently remind myself, my husband (who freelances graphic and web design) and my clients is the old adage:

    Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.

    How many times have I (or we) gone to someone asking them for the world in, you know, 15 minutes, because I (or we) didn’t plan well? I’ve done it more than a few times, I’m sorry to say. And because I like to treat others as I desire to be treated, I had to figure out what could stop my last minute-ness. All it took was a few tweaks to simple systems in my office, a focus on crystal clear communication and my presence of mind when communicating with vendors. Now my business and my life are much better. And when I go above and beyond for a customer, I make sure they lovingly know about it!

    Jessica Chapman Clark, Founder

    • When you are a freelancer, you have to substitute blame with client education and be a careful, thorough communicator and your own follow-up system. Even then, it isn’t always perfect. People who work in corporations think completely differently than freelancers. I know, I used to be one.

  2. When I was a freelancer I charged double or triple for “emergency” projects. The most lucrative result was $30k for a job that was worth $10k on a normal schedule. Of course, the client had to deliver part of the project too; they were hopelessly late and missed their “deadline” but my portion was on time and so was the check. Never got rich, but the occasional “emergency” can sometimes be lucrative.

  3. Graphic designers may have it even worse. Everyone has an opinion on color.
    Paul–Every now and then I have this hideous thought: I could get really rich by letting clients blame me and then pay me large amounts of money. Now, I know it’s not realistic, but doesn’t it sound good? If I hear one more time, “I showed your marketing plan to my wife. She was an English major in college and she thought. . .” ARGHHH!

  4. Well said! I wish everyone who hires freelancers would read this first.

    You wrote: “We sympathize with your emergencies, unless we sense you don’t care.” So true. I’ve had clients who seem to think they are paying me to take the caring off their shoulders. If I sense that, then the next time they call I will likely tell them I’m unavailable.

    And thanks for giving us a powerful retort to the classic “freelancers should be willing to work evenings and weekends” demand…

  5. Good grief… been there done that. Clients like that are one of the reasons I stopped being a full time freelance graphic designer. I think the worst ones were those who wanted all sorts of things that weren’t in my field of expertise or in the contract – like advice on what colour to paint their office walls – and wanted it for less, no – better yet, free. Those who weren’t prepared to actually trust my work were difficult too – micromanaging to the nth degree – why hire me, if you’re going to tell me exactly what to do every step of the way?

    Sorry you had to go through that – and well done in negotiating so well and clearly. It’s easy to forget when you’re self employed that you can have weekends and holidays free too!

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