Complaining About Your Freelance Writing Clients

carson-brackneyI don’t gripe about my clients on my blog.  Other people do.  In fact, I see a great deal of grousing about PITA clients on freelance writing blogs.

Sometimes, these complaints are presented as part of an educational effort.  You know, “this is how to handle a bad situation” stuff.  There’s a moral to the story, so to speak.  That makes sense to me.

In other cases, it the posts read more like invitations to commiseration.  Sometimes, they’re nothing more than cathartic rants.  I guess I can understand the underlying sentiments in these situations, but I can’t really imagine myself doing something like that.

It’s not that I don’t occasionally get PO’d, mind you.  I just tend to reserve my moaning for those unlucky people in my more immediate social circle.  There’s nothing fundamentally wrong about releasing steam in public, it’s just not part of my personality, I guess.  Plus, I know it isn’t part of my business plan.

I thought I’d take a little time today to argue against publicly railing against your annoying clients–even if you make every effort to keep their identifying information under wraps.

My clients read my blog.  They don’t necessarily subscribe to the RSS feed and drop everything when they notice a new post, but I know that they check in with some regularity.  They mention posts in our conversations, etc.

I’d hate to alienate or upset any of them by calling them out in public.  Even if I didn’t share their name, business type, info about the project, etc., they’d know that I was raking them over the coals for the world to see instead of handling the situation with a one-on-one conversation.

Additionally, I realize that I have imperfections and that I make mistakes.  I’d hate to stumble upon their post about “my dumb-ass writer who apparently didn’t bother to read the last page of the project specs because I’m now waiting for editing so I can have the stuff this afternoon instead of using it this morning, as originally planned.”

If I screw something up, I don’t really need to encounter our dirty laundry in the public sphere, even if my name isn’t Sharpied on the waistband of the undies for all to read.

I also realize that some of the stuff that can drive me up the wall is nothing more than pure accident or a byproduct simple communication failure.  In other cases, I’ve found that PITAs can be resolved rather easily with a little quality back-and-forth.

Venting doesn’t seem to contribute much to problem resolution.  If someone irritates me, I can let loose with a stream of expletives down here in the office where no one else is going to hear them.

I’m anything but a doormat.  I don’t do the subservience thing and I’m more than ready to stick up for myself if I’m being wronged.  I just don’t see the value of doing it in a public setting.  It feels rude to me, and I generally have a high threshold for rudeness.

Additionally, I know that some clients find me via my blog and that others look it over after receiving a referral before they contact me.

I can see how railing on bad clients could turn them off.  Who wants to volunteer to work with someone who makes a point of publicly mocking or criticizing his or her clients, right?

You can argue that posts like that might send a message–that you expect a certain standards of behavior and professionalism from those with whom you work.  That’s not a horrible argument, but I wonder how many prospective clients are more likely to see those gripe posts an indication that the writer is a cantankerous PITA.

Besides, it seems much more reasonable to outline expectations in one-on-one discussions.  Heck, you could even outline them on a separate page of your site/blog if you feel that strongly about some issues.

Let’s say I needed to find a lawyer.  I wouldn’t be magnetically attracted to the shyster with a blog post about “his stupid client who apparently doesn’t want to win this case, based on his unwillingness or inability to provide me with the necessary documentation.”  I’d look for someone slightly more professional who didn’t seem quite as likely to fly off the handle if it took me a few days to find a receipt from 2002.

I don’t think I’d set up an appointment with the insurance agent who blogged about “annoying customers who take a high deductible to save money on their monthly bill and then gripe about it when they have a claim.”  I’d avoid an accountant who mocked clients for misunderstanding their potential deductions, too.

In other words, I just can’t believe that openly grousing about your clients does much to encourage business.

At the same time, I really do enjoy reading Kathy Kehrli’s Irreverent Freelancer, where she makes a point of raking lousy would-be clients over the coals.  I also do see the value in revealing atrocious experiences so that others can learn and benefit from them.  Obviously, I can’t consider myself a hardliner on this.

So, I’ll dump it in your laps…  What do you think about it?  Do these public attacks on frustrating clients serve a greater good that justifies the potential downside?  Are there particular standards that writers should follow when calling out a bad apple from their client barrel?


7 responses
  1. Deb Ng Avatar

    Here’s what I think…

    As a sometimes client the last thing I want is to hire a writer who calls out clients or gripes about them, because I don’t want to be on the receiving end. Even if the writing is amazing and creative, I wouldn’t hire someone who publicly rants about clients. I tend to avoid negativity anyway.

    I think if bloggers inform readers or traps and pitfalls, that’s never a bad thing. Nowadays clients are Googling their writers. First impressions matter. So if you’re going to discuss the dark side of freelancing, it’s not a good idea to name names.

  2. Jenn Avatar

    I would never dream of calling out a client on my social media accounts or blog, but I have been known to gripe about truly dreadful Craigslist calls for freelance writers (you know, the vague, misspelled ones with no payment mentioned …) on Twitter. Is there a danger in doing that, do you think? In some ways, that can serve as a “writer beware” for others. It’s a fine line between public service and unnecessary trash-talking, though …

  3. Irreverent Freelancer Avatar

    Carson said, “I’d hate to alienate or upset any of them by calling them out in public.” But why would you keep a client you feel the need to call out publicly? Any client who makes an appearance on Screw You! is no longer a client–with very good reason.
    .-= Irreverent Freelancer´s last blog ..The Ultimate Get-a-Clue Freelance Request for the Week of March 1, 2010 =-.

  4. P.S. Jones Avatar

    I say it’s fine to get a blog post out of a client experience, but only if you can make it general enough that no one could say that you’re talking about one client. The reason you should necessarily call out clients is because you’re not always right and you don’t always know the whole story. You might end up embarrassing yourself and the client.

  5. Carson Brackney Avatar

    Hi KK-

    Well, you’re absolutely right that a dreadful client shouldn’t remain on the roster. A few things, though…

    First, I often see client complaints that don’t measure up to “Middle Finger Award” standards taking heat on writer blogs. In those situations, it just seems more reasonable to deal with it “behind closed doors,” so to speak.

    Second, I still wonder about the reaction other prospective clients might have to some of the rants I read. I know that I’d be turned off a little from working with a client who blogged big ol’ rants about his/her latest writer–even if I knew I would do a much better job than my predecessor.

    Maybe when we’re out on the fringes with the crazies, it’s a little different. Railing on some of those ads you find probably has less impact in that regard than griping about less egregious offenses.

    One other thing… I was thinking about Irreverent Freelancer, which I read regularly and recommend to others, and wonder if you may have found the best way to bring the heat without hurting your business. You keep the action on another website dedicated to the issue and you primarily shine a light on the Really Really bad operators. Perceptually, that may be quite different than when one bags on his/her own clients as part of their primary business presentation.

    Thanks for the comment. As noted, I’m not necessarily a hardliner on this stuff.


    1. Irreverent Freelancer Avatar

      I honestly don’t worry about it. The prospective clients who see my blog and decide not to work with me because of it? I consider myself better off for not having to contend with them in the first place. It’s precisely that type of client who is going to turn into a Screw You! situation. Experience has proven this to be true. Then, and these are the really good ones, I’ve had clients who know all about my blog before they work with me who then go on to commit the same sins I rant about. When I start hard-nosing them, they get all defensive with “I know all about your blog.” Oh really? Then why did you hire me in the first place? It’s not something I ever intended to result from it, but my blog is probably one of the biggest determining factors in ensuring I get screwed as infrequently as possible.

      I agree with you in one regard: It’s ALWAYS best to first attempt to deal with client problems behind closed doors. One only makes an appearance on my blog when such attempts have utterly failed. And I bet a lot of your readers would be surprised with how much leeway I give my clients before I go the exposure route.

      I didn’t mean to sound defensive, and I also didn’t mean to overlook your mention of my blog. Thanks for the shout-out.
      .-= Irreverent Freelancer´s last blog ..The Ultimate Get-a-Clue Freelance Request for the Week of March 1, 2010 =-.

  6. Carson Brackney Avatar

    KK- Maybe it’s all a matter of degree. I tend to think that your MFAs are almost ALWAYS extremely well-deserved, after all. I think the stuff that rubs me the wrong way is the griping I see about clients who are just a little more high maintenance than others or who happen to be three days late with a payment or who request a change in the nature of the project due to unforeseen circumstances, etc.

    Those folks might be a PITA sometimes–and there ARE occasions when the issues inch over into *Screw You!* territory, but I see a number of writers pulling the trigger on initiating a gripe session a lot more quickly than I think is justified.

    I don’t know where one draws the line between “ugh” and “I want the world to know about this massive PITA with whom I’m dealing.” I do think there are potential consequences when the line is drawn in the wrong place, though. You seem to draw it in a good spot, which is why I mentioned the blog in the first place–unlike the complaints that really make scratch my head, you’re not going haywire on someone just because they fell slightly short of Perfect Client status.

    I didn’t think you sounded defensive, btw. Plus, this conversation has been valuable in terms of adding a little dimension to the original post. Thanks!

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