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3 Things to NEVER Say to a Freelancer

Having been a freelance writer and designer for over 28 years, I have heard a lot of horror stories from potential new clients about their relationships with other freelancers. Unfortunately, as with any business there are good ones and bad ones. I did notice lately that I was hearing the same complaints over and over.

"They just disappeared!'

"I never heard back from them in answer to my email or phone call or message until 2 weeks later!"

"I paid them for the project we talked about and now they are saying it will take longer and wanting more money!"

Why is it that clients are saying these things? Why do they go to the next freelancer asking for lower rates, impossible deadlines, and inadvertently punishing the next freelancer for the sins of the prior one?

Perhaps because they said one or more of the following statements to their newly hired freelancer:

"I'm not on a deadline…no rush…just like to get it done as soon as we can."

This is what the client said but this is the actual translation of what the freelancer heard….

"You can put other jobs in front of me and I won't complain. If a higher paying job comes in, do that one first."

To be fair, freelancers never know when or even if new work will come in, and have to design their livelihood around this fact. So giving them the option of placing your job further down their to-do list can easily be justified in their minds. However, this is a business transaction and should be honored as such.

So what should the client have said?

"I have a timeline of 4-6 weeks to complete the project. I'd love it if you could send me a milestone scenario of when you can get Stage 1 done, Stage 2 done, etc. so that we can both keep moving forward."

Why does this work? Simple…accountability. They are promising the client a timeframe that they agree to stick to. On the flip side, this also makes the client responsible for reviewing proofs and sending notes back in a timely manner. Again, as with any business transaction, there should always be rules in place that both parties agree writing.

"I'm easy to reach by phone or text or email or Skype or Zoom…whatever works best for you. I just want us to be able to stay in touch."

Actual translation of what the freelancer heard….

"I'm going to be blowing up your phone via voicemail and text, your inbox, and your Skype whenever a thought pops into my head."

Nothing is more counter-productive to a freelancer than sending them a change via text; then a link to a design you like via email; trying to catch when their icon goes green on Skype and abruptly texting them or calling them for a random comment or question. Keep in mind that the more qualified and productive a freelancer is, they could have 5, 10, or over 15 clients at a time. Various methods of contacting them will inevitably fall through the cracks. True, some freelancers just ignore clients or think they don't need to respond but the ones who make a full-time living out of freelancing want to keep their clients happy.

Also, going back and forth over one email here and one voicemail there is slowing your project down which means possible missed deadlines and inevitably more invoiced hours.

So what is the answer?


"I prefer to communicate via email. If you prefer a different method, just let me know. We can decide on one tool to communicate, and that way you know all the information we exchange and all proofs will flow via this channel."

There are several ways to streamline communication. Dropbox is one of the best ways to keep files in one place including word docs with proofing notes, additions, new graphics, etc. It can be shared by all in the project and everyone will get a desktop notification when someone alters/changes a file so there is no need of constant communication back and forth.

There is also Basecamp, Google Hangouts and many more that allow for collaboration for teams larger than 2-3 people.

"I've got a budget of around $2, you think you can get my project done with that amount?"

What the freelancer heard:

"I just want the project to fit in my don’t be too creative or take too much time…I just want you to stop when we get to that amount. Then we'll nickel and dime each other to death after that."

What the client should have said:

"I am sending you a scope of work that includes everything I want done for this project that includes 2-3 rounds of edits. Can you do this project with this information and for that budget?"

I know it is often difficult to know every last detail of what your project will entail or what is the acceptable amount of time to do it in. Don't hesitate to start a conversation off with a freelancer you are considering by showing them what you want; add a couple of samples you found that you like; write out doable milestones. Let the freelancer tell you his/her thoughts and/or ask questions. They will be able to return with a clearer grasp on the project and even more importantly to you, a proposal that is fair and easy to follow. Again, it is a question of accountability.

If they agree, for example, to a website of 5 pages with 2 forms, with 3 rounds of edits…both of you are now accountable to stick to this. If you reach the point where everything you agreed to is finished but you find you want some additional work done, re-define your scope of work in writing and let them tell you how many more hours of work will be necessary and at what agreed-upon hourly rate.


There are a lot of freelancers who take advantage of a client who doesn’t prepare well for hiring a freelancer. Again, as with any profession, there will always be some bad apples.

However, if you drop these 3 comments from your conversations and setup a solid, agreed-upon process, both you and the freelancer will build a mutually beneficial relationship that hopefully will continue on for many more projects in the future.

Click here to download sample "Scope of Work" templates.


M. Page Jones is a published author and award-winning graphic designer who has been in the business for over 30 years primarily as a freelancer. She runs MPJ Creative Services ( that has clients from all over the world.


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