How Good Writer-Client Relationships Go Bad

Writer-client relationships can be like marriages. There is an initial chemistry. Things go well. And then the relationship can turn sour, usually for the same reasons marriages fail: boredom, infidelity, and money.

Clients Who Become Bored With Writers

Clients can become bored with writers. They may begin looking for someone New, Fresh, Different without considering consistency is the main underpinning for any brand. Bored clients rarely ask their current writer to come up with new ideas. They unfairly assume he can’t, without considering they may have placed a stranglehold on creativity from the outset of the relationship. Generally, clients become bored with the writer, not the writer’s work.

A study of boredom in relationships by Harasymchuk and Fehr found “lack of interest in partner” was number one reason for breakups, and this was a matter of perception not reality. In other words, boring people get bored. Martin, Sadlow and Stew confirmed this in their work on the phenomenon of boredom. To quote, “…boredom is associated with a diverse range of undesirable personality traits and dysfunctional behavior.”

Some people are simply prone to boredom, namely those with low self-motivation, a negative outlook, neurotic impulses, and an inability to focus. Bored people are restless and dissatisfied, constantly changing things around them to cope with their internal immaturity. If you get dumped by a client under these circumstances, send them an email with a link to this article. It won’t replace your lost income, but it will give you the small satisfaction of saying F**k You.

Clients Who Are Unfaithful To Good Writers

Client infidelity may reflect dissatisfaction with the relationship. This dissatisfaction may or may not be justified. Some writers get lazy, miss deadlines, or fail to communicate. Or the writer may be too costly. These problems show up early in the relationship and are usually resolved quickly. Clients fire writers they don’t like or can’t afford without much ado.

More perplexing is the long-term client in a good relationship who begins to think the grass is greener on the other side. This occurs most often when a client has achieved success. Mirroring real-world marriages, monied clients are more likely to be unfaithful because they have more opportunity. They are constantly approached by other writers or small agencies who want their business. They can afford to engage in multiple relationships by hiring more than one writer at time before leaving their long-term partners. Writers will notice lipstick on the client’s collar, like slowing work flow or being pulled from certain types of assignments or difficulty in getting feedback.

Marriages are most at risk when there is an imbalance in power and esteem. In a writer-client relationship, the writer works at the whim of the client.  Some clients understand they are getting value for what they spend. Other clients automatically assume being in control makes them superior. The old adage, “The customer is always right,” is not true. It means that when push comes to shove, the client has the money to pay you, so shut up. Egotistical clients are very likely to treat writers with disregard and fire them summarily. They have the mindset of a husband who leaves his wife for a hussy.

Problems in long-term, productive writer-client relationships usually occur around the 10-year mark, about the same time infidelity occurs in marriages. A client may begin to feel he has outgrown the writer who helped him grow in the first place. Or he may hire managers who mark their territory by bringing in their own talent. No one is unhappy with the writer. But they aren’t loyal either. Studies of infidelity indicate that people who report their marriages are “pretty happy” are almost as likely to have affairs as those who say they are unhappy. On the other hand, people who report that they value loyalty in themselves and others are more likely to be happy in their marriages. In other words, loyalty is not earned so much as given.

Clients Who Break Up With Writers Over Money

The ending of business relationships has been a field of academic study since 1980. They tend to follow a pattern of (1) predisposing factors, (2) precipitating events, and (3) attenuating factors. In the world of writing, commoditization is a predisposing factor. Commoditization is the perception that all writers do pretty much the same thing. It came about with the Internet, which broke apart the apprenticeship system and allowed untrained writers to compete directly with trained writers for clients. The Internet also allows anyone to build a website and call it an agency. So, you have untrained agency owners buying and selling the work of untrained writers to unsuspecting clients.

Because many clients don’t understand writing, and replacement writers are readily available, pricing has become a dominant force in writer-client relationships. Any relationship based on price is tenuous. When clients do not understand what they are buying, they inevitably feel they are paying too much for it. The puts the writer in the impossible position of having to explain himself. Most clients do not like feeling ignorant, so even if marketing could be explained in a few soundbites (it can’t), the writer is dead meat.

Caniels and Gelderman found that companies make a very clear distinction between “partners of convenience” and true strategic partners. Partners of convenience are chosen because they are easy: cheaper, faster, more responsive. They can be easily replaced because clients have little invested in them. All beginning relationships are partners of convenience before they mature into more collaborative strategic partnerships. Typically, the success of these relationships is dependent on interpersonal factors, such as trust and communication. In fact, Kelly, Schann, and Loncas determined that most problems in business relationships are related to communication.

The Internet encourages broad social exchanges and the flow of technical information, but it strips out the emotional richness that clarifies ambiguity in relationships and makes trust easier to establish. As a result, business relationships – including writer-client relationships – that are formed and develop online (including email) tend to be transactional exchanges. In these relationships, the exchange relies very much on price and both parties can easily switch partners because there is no sense of interpersonal commitment. In other words, online writer-client relationships remain stuck in partners of convenience mode.

Money is the number one cause of relationship troubles in the offline world. It is even more problematic in the world of writer-client relationships. A writer is likely to be hired based on money and fired based on money, very quickly. And it almost always comes down to money.

Pay peanuts, and you get monkeys. – David Ogilvy