First rule of freelancing – don’t be a pain in the arse

Jonathan Wilcock

So What If Ltd – brand voice, ideas and words

I have a design agency client who gives me work every month, and has done for the last few years. They’ve never spelled it out for me, but I’m pretty sure the main reason I get work from them consistently, is because I am NOT a pain in the arse.

Bear with me.

The very first job I got from them, they needed a Copywriter to finish off a job another freelance writer had started. It was a pretty complex project – a posh coffee table book for the refurb of an iconic ’70s office building in Amsterdam.

It involved interviewing the investors and architects, and making sense of a whole pile of research that had been done with on-site staff and building occupiers, as well as trawling through the 40+ years of the building’s history.

So why did I get the job? Why did the previous Copywriter not finish the project? And why am I still working for this client today?

My client was in a pickle. Their Copywriter, who by all accounts was a pretty decent writer, had ‘acted up’, because the agency’s client couldn’t make up their mind about something or other. The writer had played their Prima Donna card and hacked the client right off.

This freelancer had made the fundamental mistake of thinking they were irreplaceable, and had thrown their yams out of the yam cart.

The client told the agency in no uncertain terms that they didn’t want “that Copywriter working on my business anymore”.

So what’s an agency to do, they asked around and found yours truly.

It was a messy project, more a detective job than a creative exercise. But, I put my professional forensic writer’s hat on and waded through thousands of tangled words and half-written stories. I met up with the main client, who was fashionably late and fabulously wealthy. We got on just fine and the project went swimmingly.

I made it my business to understand what the task was and did everything I could to bring things back in line. Letting the agency’s client know their project was important.

Asking the right questions through the correct channels. Smoothing out old bumps and patching up any damage that had been done. Being as un-pain-in-the-arsey as I possibly could be.

The project was completed. The client was happy. My client (the design agency) was happy. And so was I.

It may not end up in my portfolio, but writing that coffee table book taught me a great lesson. Well, it graphically reminded me of something I already knew; I don’t just provide words, I provide a service.

It doesn’t matter how talented or clever you are as a freelance Copywriter. Even if you’ve won all the awards. If you’re a crotchety doom-monger who turns the process into a drudge or a fight, eventually people will get fed up. Life’s too short for hissy fits.

So don’t be a pain in the arse, be a pleasure to deal with. Do great work, deliver on time, be courteous – solve problems and don’t just fill pages with words.

Clients may never thank you for being one of the ‘good guys’, but you can be pretty damned sure, they’ll be very quick to show you the door if you’re not.

Here endeth the lesson.

Love and patience x

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a Senior Freelance Copywriter.
You can drop me a line here, or email

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