When Freelancers Piss Off Clients

June 24th, 2009 by Bob Bly

HH, a freelancer I hired to write an e-book for me, sent me the first draft of the manuscript today as an attached Word file with his e-mail.

He ends the e-mail: “P.S. I’ll send me [sic] invoice under separate email.”

My question: Why, HH?

I just got your FIRST draft a minute ago. I haven’t even opened the file, much less reviewed it. And I certainly haven’t given you my comments so you can make the necessary revisions for the next draft.

Sending an invoice along with your product is bad form — it leaves a bad taste in the client’s mouth. He feels the only thing you care about is getting paid, not whether the copy is good.

But sending an invoice with a FIRST draft — when the project is not yet completed — can really piss off the client, as it did me in this case.

BTW, our agreement calls for payment upon completion.

To me, completion is an acceptable manuscript. Most publishers and business clients feel that way.

If the term “completion” is too vague, this rule of thumb applies: any ambiguity in the agreement is the fault of the vendor, not the customer.

If HH expected a check upon submission of a first draft, he should have specified that in his agreement and has me sign it.

He did not.

So what do you think?

Did HH make a major faux pas with his client — me?

Or am I getting crabby and difficult in my old age?


This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 24th, 2009 at 4:18 pm and is filed under Writing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

79 responses about “When Freelancers Piss Off Clients”

  1. Richard said:

    Nope not crabby and difficult, very cheeky of the freelancer, however you have to admire the balls in attempting to invoice you. :D

  2. allan said:

    Crabby and difficult, and that’s a good thing. The ability to respond appropriately is an important attribute.

  3. denise said:

    I don’t see what wrong with giving the writer a half payment for the first draft and the balance upon completion of the final draft. He did do a major part of the work. Cranking out the first draft can often be the most challenging part of a writing project. There should also be a limit to the number of drafts you require… otherwise the rewrite could go on forever without payment. Think of it from his point of view.

  4. Neil Sagebiel said:

    The fact that you’re ticked about it tells me HH messed up. I happen to agree with you on invoice timing, but beyond that there’s usually a good reason why clients are irritated. (Unless the client is just a jerk, sometimes the case but usually not.) If you irritate a client over a billing issue, you messed up through poor communication or some other reason. And that’s not good for you or your business.

  5. Bob Bly said:

    Denise: I paid HH half his fee IN ADVANCE, before he even began the work. The bill in question was his fee for the balance, which as I said, was payable upon completion. I also didn’t mention that the text was not acceptable, and needs a lot of extra work before I can publish it.

  6. Ken said:

    We always insist on half payment before we begin work, then the balance when the client is happy with the finished product.

    You obviously aren’t happy…and the product isn’t finished, so he should’ve waited. You’re probably crabby and difficult, too.

  7. dianacacy said:

    You’re not crabby and difficult. You just understand what the terms are.

    Maybe I’m strange, but when I do a writing job for someone, I’m on edge until I hear back that they’re happy. Then, I’m engrossed in getting to the revisions. Because with that type of job, there’s always at least one revision pass before it’s where the client wants it.

    Hopefully, the person learns from the experience before HH’s career suffers from it.

  8. Greg said:

    Your writer violated the firs rule of business, imho. Do what you say you are going to do! If you cannot, then discuss the reasons with your client.

    Freelance writing should not be a commodity but that does not mean that you should not put service as your number one product or business behavior.

  9. John Soares said:

    HH definitely blew it. He should have done exactly what you and other commenters have said — wait until all the writing work on the ebook has been completed to your satisfaction before sending an invoice.

  10. Kurt said:

    Be careful here I have seen a case where an artist who had a great portfolio submitted subpar work under the same terms you described. He also sent his invoice in at the initial submission.

    When we refused to pay for the work until he revised it to our satisfaction he sued us. After 8 months the case came before a judge and he simply said “I ain’t no art critic” and ordered us to pay in full.

    Bad for his business, yes because we have told all who would listen what a snake he was. I don’t think he cared. Bad for us as well because we paid twice for the job we contracted with him for.

    So if I was you I would not get angry but instead just send back your comments on his draft and restate the terms taking care not to let it become a confrontation.

  11. Bob Bly said:

    Kurt: you might be right, though writing a book is less subjective than art, because the e-mail correspondence between me and HH (which I saved) shows specific items I required him to put in the book which he did not.

  12. Don said:

    Personally, as a service provider, you’ve got the point there. You already paid him in advance, so what else he want. Your willingness to pay in advance gives you the credibility of being a good payor. What he must to is to wait for your approval of his work before sending an invoice.

    In my case, I usually give 1-2 days allowance before deciding if I need to send an invoice to my client. Simply because, most clients are too busy with other deals. Some will automatically pay for my fee, while for some, I still need to send an invoice.

  13. Cathy Miller said:

    Wow-the fact that you paid him in advance & he billed you for the 1st draft is really bad form.

    I have a client that I can’t get to agree to 1/2 up front nor do they want to pay my full fee from A to Z. So we have compromised that my role is to provide the draft (I mostly do ghostwriting of articles for them)and they are responsible for any changes. It’s not how I like to work but it’s what they want. So the terms are all spelled out in my contract. That is the only way I would bill after the draft. And even at that I don’t send it with the draft.

  14. Karl Rohde said:

    I’d be annoyed.

    But when I do bids for work, I expect a 30% deposit on the value of work before anything starts, 30% upon reaching an agreed milestone and then balance due on completion.

    Admittedly this is in IT Consultancy, however, as I move to freelance writing, I actually see very little difference to this payment model.

    All client’s are provided this payment structure up front. Some refuse to pay a deposit.

    The next response from my company is usually “Next”.

  15. Dianna Huff said:


    Do you think you would have received copy at a higher standard of writing if you had paid more for your copywriter? ;-)

  16. Bob Bly said:

    Dianna: Yes, but my business model does not allow me to pay what a Bob Bly or Dianna Huff would charge to write a book. And I have found that, for $500 to $800, I can get a pretty good e-book researched and written on almost any topic I need. It won’t be as good as you or I would do. But it will be more than good enough for my needs, especially after I make my edits.

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