Wednesday, December 26, 2007

How to spot a micromanaging client

Today, Kathy Kehrli blogged about oDesk, a freelance bidding site that has been using the disgruntling Elance situation to market itself. Judging by the article Kathy linked to, oDesk = eSlavery 2.0, oDesk is the micromanaging client's wet dream.

I'll let you read the article for yourself, as this blog post is actually about a different, but related topic: the micromanaging clients themselves.

Any writer who has been freelancing for a while has probably experienced the misery that comes from working for a micromanager. As Kathy noted in her post about oDesk, "I got out of the corportate world precisely because I didn't like slaving away for others and being watched over my shoulder." That was also part of what inspired me to leave my technical writing job for the freelance life, and I imagine many full-time freelancers have similar motives.

Unfortunately, freelancing doesn't guarantee that you won't run into micromanaging clients — it just gives you the freedom to turn and run the other way when you do. Here are several warning signs that I usually take to mean a client is going to be way more trouble than they are worth; feel free to comment if you think of something I've missed.

Signs a client will try to micromanage you:

* The ad emphasizes ridiculous stipulations, or states outright that they have high (read: supernatural) expectations of their freelancers.

* The client insists that you must be available during certain hours, whether or not you a) are actually working on their projects at the time, or b) usually keep those hours. (Most freelance projects can be performed without constant supervision — and if they can't, they shouldn't be outsourced, in my opinion!)

* The client contacts you once a day (or more!) asking where you are on the project and/or whether you're done yet, regardless of how long you have until the deadline.

* The client wants you to stay signed in to AIM, wait by the phone, or be otherwise constantly available to her/him during office hours.

* The client suggests that you should drop all of your other clients and work solely for her/him (but still, presumably, on a freelance basis).

* If the project is paid hourly, the client insists on a time sheet accounting for the hours spent on it, with notations indicating what you did and when.

* If the project is paid at a flat rate, the client continually talks about how easy it is and how quickly you should be able to finish (hint, hint).

* The client won't take no for an answer, instead attempting to beg, cajole, or threaten you into doing what s/he wants. (Particularly if you've turned down a project — the harder s/he tries to force you into it, the faster you should run in the other direction!)

* The client just feels high maintenance. (Sometimes you have to follow your gut instinct on this one.)

The beauty of being a freelancer is that you don't have to put up with micromanaging clients. If you feel a client is being unreasonable, finish out your contract and refuse further work as professionally as possible.

If the client is really unreasonable, you might even consider backing out before the project is finished, but be careful: You run the risk of not getting paid for the work you've already done, and you may do some damage to your reputation if you do this too often. However, don't put up with difficult or disrespectful clients for your career's sake, either — most likely working for them is not going to benefit you enough in the long run to justify putting up with it now.


Kathy@TheFlawlessWord said...

Wow, you really did a thorough job on this one. I'm not sure I even consciously think about this stuff anymore. I just know when I read an ad if it's a definite stay-awayer. (There I go, making up words again!)

Katharine Swan said...


The ones I hate the most are those with perfectly normal ads. Sometimes it's not until you get into the job that you realize how creepy the client really is.

You learn from experience: Most of those things on the list I have encountered personally. The most disturbing ones were the client who wanted me to stay signed in to AIM all day long, and the client who essentially insulted my career by saying I could do so much better working solely for him.

Jeanne Dininni said...


My favorite ads are the ones that ask for the moon and the stars and then offer next to nothing for all the talent, experience, expertise, and hard work they require!

These advertisers are not functioning in reality--though it's likely that the reason they continue to get away with this sort of nonsense is because many writers are desperate to break into "professional" writing and are therefore willing to settle for such ridiculous terms.

There are, of course, circumstances under which one might decide to work for low--or no--pay (and I myself currently do so in a few carefully chosen instances); but this must be the writer's freely made choice, and any so-called market that demands so much, while offering so little is probably better to avoid.

Thanks for your very helpful advice!

Best wishes for success in 2008!
Jeanne Dininni

Katharine Swan said...


I know what you mean about the ads who want practically everything for next-to-nothing. GRRRR

I also agree with you that it's okay to volunteer your services, as long as it's on your terms. Certainly little or no pay is NOT worth dealing with the stress of a demanding client.

Clients who are getting free or almost-free work ought to be less demanding and more grateful, yet the opposite is often true: These clients not only PAY sweatshop wages, but work their writers like they actually ARE in a third-world sweatshop!

Jeanne Dininni said...

How true that is, Katharine--and yet we writers are really the only ones who can put a stop to it, aren't we? Because the reality is that the only way a client can put a writer into "sweatshop" conditions is through the writer's own complicity in the "crime."



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