The freelance writing client from hell


I haven’t updated my blog in a while because I am a terrible blogger.

No, seriously, I’ve been distracted by a sudden boost in my freelance writing business so I’ve been busy completing lots of new jobs.

Since I last posted, freelance writing has gotten a lot better. I’m enjoying the process much more, and slowly learning how to deal with working on my own.

All of my clients are completely delightful – apart from one of the most recent ones. They have been the client from hell.

The client from hell

I let them haggle me down my usual price because I thought the work was interesting, and they hinted that we would probably work together on future projects. I always value a long-term client.

They also framed it as their ‘budget’ not being big enough, which I totally understand when it comes to technology startups. I get it. So I took on quite a big job for much less than I could potentially charge another client.

What a huge mistake.

Where it all started

When we were haggling, I had a tiny bad feeling in the pit of my gut, but I ignored it. You have to take chances and when you run your own business. It’s a bad idea to be shy or hesitant.

First, they treated me to an hour-long phone call where they described the blog post in great detail. That wasn’t a problem in itself, because the topic was very interesting and I wanted to learn all I could about it.

Then they wanted the post turned around really quickly. I thought, that’s going to be tight because I have so much other new work, but what the hell. I want to please them as they’re a new client.

Working all the Sundays

Then I got an email on a Sunday asking if the post was ready as that was the due date. I would never agree to have work ready on a Sunday as I don’t like to suggest to clients that I work weekends. If I do, that’s my business.

I thought maybe we’d crossed wires. I thought I’d told them the first full week of February, but I didn’t have it in writing, so I spent the Sunday frantically putting the post together. After already having an incredibly busy week full of new client work.

Then, apparently they didn’t receive the email, which was fine. I sent it again during the week. The post came back with many, many edits. They made my head hurt.

They said it wasn’t what they were looking for and maybe they should move on to someone else. I bent my rule of only one round of edits (which is all I allow at such a low price) because I wanted them to be happy.

I spent another Sunday rewriting the post for the following Monday. All was quiet for a day or two. It wasn’t looking good.

Apparently, I can’t write

And then – they came back saying it just wasn’t what they were looking for. I still couldn’t understand why. There’s a possibility that I may be completely stupid and can’t read, but I think it’s unlikely. I have dozens of other satisfied clients.

And then the nastiness started. They were very rude to me over email, accusing me of not being the writer I said I was (that really hurt). They said my work was full of grammatical errors, and I didn’t understand the topic I had been asked to write about.

Now, of course, I cried a lot when I was dealing with all of this. No one likes to be told they’re shit. But a little voice inside me was telling me that this was all nonsense. Because I am a good writer. I have lots of clients. And I know what I’m talking about.

Lessons I learned from this

A freelance writer is only as good as their brief. And whatever happens, there’s no need for nastiness. It may be very British, but I’m always polite, even if I’m totally disgusted (apart from when I lost it on the phone with Virgin Media).

I had no idea how bad a client could make you feel until today. But I also felt annoyed on the part of my business, which I’m very proud of.

I couldn’t resist having the last word. I told that client I regret not charging them more. It could be petty, but I almost felt they were expecting me to be a pushover because I’m a girl, and I’m young. Freelance writers have a reputation for being desperate for money.

Because I’d been so busy, I’d forgotten to send them my contract stating all commissioned worked must be paid for. As a consequence, they’ve refused to pay. I’ve lost many hours of work, and more than a little bit of confidence.

I’ll definitely review what happened to see where I could have done better. But my policy next time will be to only work with clients who I feel 100% chemistry with. I’ve been doing this too long to pick up the dregs of the work.

It’s time to be much more picky with my clients.

I shared this story because I wanted to get it off my chest, and to let other freelance writers (or aspiring writers) know that they’re not alone. We’ve all been there, and it really sucks. But just try to remember the nice clients, who are definitely out there.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve had a similar experience with a client.

CatherineCatherine Heath is a freelance blogger and copywriter for B2B SaaS companies. She’s obsessed with the field of personality systems theory, and she also likes drawing, yoga, meditation and being in nature. 





  1. I’m so sorry to hear this Catherine, but I think you will learn a valuable lesson from this and move on, having learnt more from such an experience.

    Sometimes, I think we writers have to understand that just because it is a company/business, doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of nasty and underhanded tactics. Thirteen years of working in various office environments proved an eye-opener for me in this respect (I’m so glad I’m freelancing now!).

    I’ve been lucky with most of my clients; like you said, you tend to bond with the best ones. However, I have had one or two nasty ones. One particular client had a website riddled with errors, to the point where it looked so unprofessional and really bugged me. I did her a really good promotional piece which was all grammatically correct and perfectly spelt. But, she hated it and had a rant at me. Apparently her problem was that people would know it wasn’t her work as it was all correct! Still, she paid and used my work – you just can’t win with some people can you!

    I think you are wise enough to put this down to a bad client and just move on, because for the one or two bad apples, there are hundreds of clients who will treat you with the respect that you deserve.

    Thanks for sharing this with us all and keep at it!

    1. That sounds awful Clair, I’m glad you got paid! I definitely think a lot of people are just out for themselves, which makes sense in the business world. I like to think if I’m nice to people that’s what I’ll get back, for the most part it holds true. I’ll definitely keep going! :)) Thanks for sharing.

    1. It was bad, I checked out your article and there was some good advice on there! I definitely agree with what you said about going with your gut. I’ve raised my standards for the type of client I’ll consider working with now!

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