I should start with a disclaimer here:
All of my clients are lovely people who make the work smooth and their interactions pleasant.
And that’s no coincidence.
The people who make things difficult are usually easy to spot before they become clients. And if you think you might be one of them, that probably means you are.
So if you’ve been shopping for a freelancer without much success (or you can’t seem to keep one on the team for long), it might be time to step through the glass and see how things look from the other side.
Here’s a little guide to show you how to put them off:
Step 1: Belittle their skills
“I would do it myself, but I just don’t have the time.”
There are some projects that are a perfect fit for an intern or the work experience kid. Things that almost anyone can do—that just require boots on the ground and bums on seats and the determination to not get bored.
But there’s a reason why you’ll never see a ‘freelance intern’ or a ‘freelance work experience kid’. No one’s ever going to seek out the services of a specialist in filing papers or an experienced sticker-placer.
Most freelancers aren’t truly experts in their field. But they do all have a focus on a particular set of skills. And if everything they did was just about ‘putting in time’, they would be instantly replaced with the lowest-paid worker around.
The real problem with this statement, though, isn’t the attitude itself. It’s the fact that it never should have been said in the first place.
It adds nothing. It helps no one. It doesn’t explain the task or convey the needs of the business, or illuminate the potential problems that lie ahead.
It’s essentially a boast. And it’s a real turn-off.
Step 2: Disregard all notions of quality
“We just need 1,000 words of content to fill out the page. Shouldn’t take you more than half an hour.”
I know, I know—sometimes you’ve got tunnel vision with the problems your business faces. Your website doesn’t have enough imagery, so you need a designer to knock up some quick graphics.
Your search ranking is awful, so let’s vomit some keywords and spread them around a new page.
You’ve been falling behind on your blog schedule, and you need a big batch of posts as quickly as possible to help you catch up.
These are real problems, and they can feel urgent. But if you hire a new freelancer and tell them to start spamming out limp content, they’re not going to feel enchanted with your new relationship.
Now here’s the real problem:
As freelancers, when we hear stuff like this, we know you won’t get the results you want.
A random assortment of graphics isn’t going to improve your bounce rate. A misguided blast of stuffed keywords isn’t going to push you higher on the Google results page.
And a thousand-word article written in half an hour with no goal, purpose, or direction? It’s going to do exactly what you said it would:
It’s going to fill out the page. And nothing more.
Step 3: Engage in clumsy negotiation
“I’ve had a cheaper quote for the same job from someone else.”
When we hear something like this, we’re happy for you. We’re happy that you’ve found someone of equal skill and experience who can produce the same great results in the same short time—but at a much lower price.
But we’re curious as to why you’re sharing this good news with us. Shouldn’t you be biting off their hand to reap the benefits of such a bargain?
Here’s the reality:
There’s a reason why you haven’t taken that other offer.
Maybe the cheaper freelancer has been taking ages to respond to your queries. Maybe they’re so busy that they can’t start the job until next month. Maybe their work doesn’t seem as professional as you’d like—or maybe they never existed at all.
Most freelancers like to show flexibility. It’s the same kind of flexibility they enjoy from the freelance life they chose.
There’s often room for negotiation. But it involves a bit of give and take.
If you want to buy a year’s worth of work in exchange for a discount, that’s reasonable.
If you want to produce the basic content yourself and have your freelancer touch it up, that’s fine, too.
But if your opening gambit is to ask for a discount for no reason at all?
We’re going to wonder just how one-sided this relationship will be.
Step 4: Offer empty promises
“Let’s start with a free sample. We’ve got loads more work in the pipeline after this.”
On the face of it, this sounds like something that might be reasonable.
No business likes to take a risk and eat the cost. And a freelancer who makes a small sacrifice now could end up earning more in the long term.
But when you peel back the skin, there’s not a lot of weight behind this logic.
What they’re really saying is this:
“We’re not willing to risk a bit of our money. But we expect you to risk an equal amount of your working time.”
This shaky reasoning might work if the freelancer is the one knocking on your door. If you’re a big-name brand that the freelancer admires, and they’re desperate to work for you, you can probably get away with it.
But in many of these cases, it’s the business that approaches the freelancer. And if the freelancer you’ve selected looks too risky for a paid sample, you should probably keep looking—because you haven’t done a good job of selecting in the first place.
So what about that empty promise of ‘work in the pipeline’?
It sounds nice enough. But if you can’t slice off a thin strip of the massive budget you have reserved for that massive pipeline—and invest it in a paid sample with a promising freelancer—then we have to start to wonder just how massive that future really is.
Step 5: Remind them who matters most
“We need this done by tomorrow. Our payment terms are 120 days.”
We get it—you work in a fast-paced industry. You’re a company that’s reactive and responsive, operating on the brink of the cutting edge as you respond to consumer demands with your lightning-fast reflexes.
But let’s be honest here: any sense of urgency gets completely forgotten when you have a bill to pay.
If you’re going to demand immediate results, the least you could do is promise immediate rewards. (Or better yet: pay in advance for your high-demand jobs.)
As freelancers, we usually have an idea of how businesses work.
We know your cash flow is important to you. But ours is important to us, too. And when you tell us you want your results now, but we’ll get ours eventually?
You’re really only saying one thing:
Your needs are the only ones being considered.
I’ve got a few clients who often pop up with some last-minute work that they really need tomorrow.
For some of them, that’s just the nature of their business—every day matters, and they need content as soon as the information comes through to their office.
For others, they’ve just got a lot on their plate. They’re juggling multiple brands with a small team, or they’re jumping on opportunities as soon as they pop up.
But they’ve all got one thing in common—and it’s something that means I’ll never have reason to quibble:
They all pay their invoices on the same day I send them (regardless of whether the job is urgent or not).
And would you believe it? They’re some of my favourite clients to work with.
So if you’ll allow me to speak on behalf of freelancers everywhere:
You want it done tomorrow? Then pay us tomorrow.