I have had a couple of problems lately with clients who don't tell me the full story of what they want, yet expect me to know it anyway.
Client #1 was someone who hired me to work on a personal letter. Aside from the obvious problems that arise when someone else is writing a letter that is supposed to personal, this client was continually unhappy with what I wrote, but gave me little or no direction as to why or what could be done to fix it. Usually, the client simply said, "This doesn't work for me."
As you can imagine, after going through both of the two revisions I include in my project rate, I was mighty sick of hearing "This doesn't work for me."
Client #2 has been an ongoing issue. They hired me many months ago to write some web copy for them. As they were a new client, I requested 50 percent of the project fee up front, and they agreed. I did everything right, yet they still have been a pain in my you-know-what.
First it was nonpayment. The project stalled at 80 percent completed, because they were supposedly waiting for keyword research they'd ordered in order to complete the remaining web page. I clearly stated that I was willing to wait a few weeks, but if it took longer than that I would need to be paid for the work completed so far. They completely ignored that email — no response whatsoever.
Some time passed, and with no word at all about the project, I emailed them again. And again. And again. Finally, I sent an email letting them know I expected payment for the work already done, and that if I did not receive it by a certain date (two weeks out, I believe it was), I would report them as nonpaying clients — and the first place I would contact would be the company they are affiliates of.
That finally received a response: I had an email from them within just a couple of days. They claimed they were "on holiday," and whined about why I had to be like that. They said they'd pay me when they got home, which was supposed to be in less than a week. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it didn't happen.
What is surprising is that a week or two later, they unexpectedly did pay me. I had been too busy to follow through on reporting them, so imagine my surprise when I received payment! It was in full, too — I had told them that, in light of the payment issues, if they wanted me to finish the project they would need to pay me for the remaining work in advance.
At last they sent me the keyword research and asked me to write the final page of copy. I did, as per what they had told me about what they wanted and the keywords they had given me. When I turned it in, however, they informed me that it was not what they wanted. I explained that there was no way to change the copy to what they wanted and still use the same keywords, as the two targeted entirely different markets.
This is when it gets really fun: They decided that they wanted to make the page a "double" page. Basically, they wanted to use the copy I'd already written and have me write what they'd originally wanted, and put it all on the same page so that they could get double the copy for the same price.
In hindsight, I could have refused. I could have stated that I had written the copy as per the information that they had given me at the time, and that giving me different information entailed a change in project scope. I could have charged them for the additional work, or refused to do it altogether. But I didn't. Instead, I told them I would write the additional work at no charge, but that any future work would need to be renegotiated.
Here's a big surprise: When I turned in the new copy, they didn't like it. They want me to rewrite it, but are only giving me vague directions on what it should include. They might be offering to pay me to fix it, but then again they might be demanding their money back — their English is so atrocious I can't tell. (The line says, "send me the pay for this page!" and in the context I can't decide whether they meant "payment" or "invoice.")
I decided to say NO. I really don't want to work with these people anymore, not even if they do pay me to fix the page. I had taken the job assuming — from their description — that it would be fairly quick and easy, and priced it accordingly. Months down the road, the job has entailed much more of chasing payment and waiting for the client than actual writing. A big fat NOT WORTH IT!!!
The moral of the story: Before providing a quote or accepting a gig, make sure you get complete details about what the client wants. Ask them to clarify anything that seems ambiguous, and don't take the job if they can't.
Furthermore, never assume a project for a new client is going to be "easy" — always build a "pain-in-my-a$$" fee into quotes for new clients. You can always adjust your quotes later if the work does turn out to be exceptionally easy.
Update: After receiving my email declining further work, Client #2 responded, calling me "moody and emotional." (Oh, is that what it's called when you "fire" a client who has been nothing but trouble?) With that in mind, I'd like to update the moral of the story to say: Never work with a client who patronizes you!