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Freelance business writing: Are revisions part of the job?

A friend who is new to freelance writing—but an accomplished writer with varied online experience—recently had an experience that shook him to the core. Although he did his best work on a website writing assignment, the client was critical of his work and required rewriting. As it worked out, the revisions were fine and the client and the writer developed a better understanding of how to work together.

Coincidentally, I also had an unhappy experience lately while ghostwriting an insurance executive’s feature article in a trade publication. All was going well with my new client.

He provided the topic and appreciated my perceptive questions about how to handle it. He liked my suggestion of interviewing insurance agents to apply real-world examples to broad marketing principles. The interviewee loved what I wrote . . . a lot.

All went well until the client saw my draft, which he determined did not match his usual writing style.

I offered a free rewrite but he declined. Fortunately I had been paid in advance and there were no angry words, but I expect no future assignments from him.

How could it be? The freelancers I read online never seem to have this problem. Why are all our peers so effortlessly successful while we struggle?

Could it be that problems are more common than we’ve been led to believe?

Despite our best efforts the first time around, clients, in my experience, often want revisions. Sometimes they want several rounds of revisions. I simply can’t believe that everyone else is nailing expectations right off the bat.

Some experts who preach value pricing and “charge what you are worth” also offer only one round of revisions. Apparently no one asks for more. And some don’t even address the issue of revisions at all.

Sorry, I don’t buy it.

Revisions are part of the job. While some clients are fine with everything they receive, others frequently want revisions. Perhaps even more than one round.

This doesn’t mean we have failed.

Nor does this necessarily mean the client is a PITA and should be fired.

The need for revisions depends on several factors.

Some assignments are pretty obvious and don’t leave lots of room for interpretation. Sometimes the client provides clear information about what they are looking for. And a more comprehensive creative platform or project proposal certainly may certainly head off problems. So no revisions needed.

Still, revisions are a reasonable possibility in freelancing writing. They are not a sign of failure, they are simply part of the creative process.

Sure, sometimes a single rewrite is sufficient but not always. To demand client satisfaction so early in the game can feel smug and unresponsive to the client.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m not recommending pricing arrangements that ignore the possibility of revisions and can lock you into underpayment. Instead, I suggest providing for them in some way in the contract, perhaps through an add-on hourly rate or by initially pricing the project to allow for revisions.

Originally posted 3-8-17

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