Why Are We So Afraid of Speaking Out Against Deadbeat Clients?

After publicly outing a deadbeat client in an attempt to receive payment, I was surprised by the amount of people who reached out with similar experiences. I wondered….with so many people privately sharing their stories, why is no one willing to go on record?

When I learn of people wanting to work with my former deadbeat client, I want to send them a note so they’re aware of what could happen. Instead, I tell myself it’s better if I stay out of it.

Why the silence?

As a freelance writer who also has roots in the blogging community, I see this sort of thing all the time. We’ll whisper about questionable clients with our friends, but we’re never willing to warn people away.

Why?

  • Is it because we’re not willing to burn bridges? There’s an unwritten rule among freelancers that it’s never a good idea to burn bridges. We’re told we may need those clients again one day, or that they may be in a position to recommend us to others. So we might quietly vow never to work with them again, but we don’t completely dissolve the relationship.
  • Is it because we’re afraid of being labeled disgruntled? Angry or frustrated people are often written off as “disgruntled” and ignored. Disgruntled people’s opinions are automatically discounted because they’re seen as reacting over not being able to cut it within an organization. No freelancer wants a reputation for being “disgruntled.” Disgruntled people don’t land clients.
  • Is it because we’re afraid of how it will make us look? When I spoke out against my deadbeat former client last year, many people were more interested in having a conversation about how I’d never get hired again, than discussing the shoddy treatment I experienced. By speaking out, they felt I made myself look bad — more so than the company I outed.
  • Is it because we don’t want to hurt (former) clients? My former deadbeat client and the people who worked with him were once my friends. I didn’t speak up for 18 months because I didn’t want to hurt them. I didn’t wish bad things on anyone, I just wanted to get paid.
  • Is it because we’re embarrassed? Admitting to being ripped off by a client might paint us as weak. It’s embarrassing when the online freelancing community finds out about non payment, because many of them turn it around on us — as if it’s our fault we didn’t get paid.

When do we say “enough?”

I was inspired to write this post after a conversation with a friend. We discussed whether or not it was irresponsible to keep information to ourselves, even as we watch other people go through the same thing. For example, when people apply to my old company or for my old job, should I warn them of payment issues? I feel guilty seeing other people go through what I did. I especially feel guilty if it causes a hardship for that person’s family.

What is my moral obligation with all this?

Regardless of the circumstances, speaking out against clients is considered taboo. No one wants to be the jerk who tells it like it is. No one wants to be seen as the disgruntled bridge burner. Is it worse to keep it to ourselves and fight quietly to get what’s ours, or share our experiences so no one else falls victim?

Discuss…

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