Client Red Flags, Part 2

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve broken my list of red flags into two. Here’s the second list:

The Disappearing or Disorganized Client

Clients who wander off during the early stages of discussing their project are likely to wander off during the part of the project where they’re supposed to do some work or, you know, pay you. If, during the onboarding process, they miss phone calls or don’t respond to emails within a reasonable length of time, they’re probably going to be painful to work with. Proceed with caution.

By the same token, clients who are disorganized during initial talks can quickly become time-consuming pits of need. It’s fairly common for an author to say, “Oh, wait, don’t use that version of the ms, use this one,” but if they do this more than once in the early stages of discussion, tread cautiously (and it should go without saying that once you’ve started editing, they can’t change drafts).

If the potential client can’t seem to remember what you said in your previous email or seems to be mistaking you for one of the other editors they’re thinking about using, treat the situation as if the red flags are waving because they are.

Client Continually Reopens Negotiations

Related to this is the client who wants to reopen negotiations once you’ve agreed to the basic parameters of the edit. It’s one thing for a project to evolve, where, for example, you do an edit and then the author decides to purchase additional coaching. And negotiation is part of the process in the early stages: “I won’t be able to revise the novel according to the deadline you have in the project quote—can we move that out a week?”

But it’s another thing for agreed-upon details to be subject to re-negotiation: “I’m going to be a week late, okay?” after the edit has been scheduled or “My budget has changed, I won’t be able to pay what we agreed for the edit” after you’ve begun the work. The client who wants to continually reopen negotiations is often one who is not committed to the process.

An earlier, more subtle signal is when the client has a lot of questions about the process: “What happens if I don’t have my ms finished by the time the edit is scheduled? What happens if I decide to go with someone else after I pay the deposit? What if I don’t like your work? What if I don’t need any of the coaching you include in the package, can I get a refund on that?”

It isn’t that clients shouldn’t have questions. It’s that the volume of questions suggests the client isn’t ready to commit and doesn’t feel confident in their decision. Often, maybe even most, times this has nothing to do with you. Point the author to your policies and let them know that booking with you is a firm commitment to you. Proceed knowing that this is a red flag.

Hesitating at the Down Payment

Related to the client who wants to re-open negotiations (because they’re not committed) is the client who doesn’t want to pay the down payment (also a clue that they’re not committed). You’ll hear this as “Can I book the slot but make the payment next week?” or variations on the theme. You may be tempted to accommodate because maybe they’re just waiting for their paycheck and who hasn’t had to do that. But the best policy is simply to say that you can only book the spot once you have the down payment. They can check back with you next week and see if the slot is still open then.

If you’re not careful, you’ll be holding this slot open for a month and then you’ll hear, “Whoops, time got away from me, can you hold open NEW TIME for me?” Until you finally retire, having never worked on their project.

The “Everyone Else Sucks” Client

It may feel warm and fuzzy to be the ONE editor who isn’t a blithering idiot, but a client who has steamed through a lot of editors, none of whom has done a good job, is waving a red, red flag, and you should consider yourself warned.

Now, it does happen that some editors are incompetent, and when a client finds this out, they get mad and go in search of a new editor. And it sometimes happens that the client has had a couple of unsatisfactory experiences, and this is, in fact, because the editors don’t know what they’re doing. In some cases, the only one at fault is the editor(s).

But we’re not talking about rocket science, so having a slew of unsatisfactory business dealings with editors is at some point more about the client than the editors. Even if all of them are incompetent, where is the client finding them in the first place and why is the client making the same hiring mistakes over and over?

Often, the problem isn’t in the editor(s) but in the client, who doesn’t know what they want, doesn’t understand the editorial process, doesn’t know what an editor does or doesn’t do, and is unwilling to learn.

Yes, you can see where that might be a problem.

In this case, I recommend scheduling a brief phone call before going too far with the client. This will be a quick and fairly straightforward way of figuring out whether the client merely had a run of bad luck or is a run of bad luck.

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