Monday, September 20, 2010

Who's Afraid of the Client?

Last week I was contacted by a freelance writer who is just getting started. She’s been providing commercial writing services on a part-time basis for about six months now. Her problem: she’s extremely intimidated by the clients she works with. I can definitely relate.

About four years ago, when I first started freelancing, the idea that someone was willing to pay me and trust me to write for their business, let alone pay me well to do so, was unreal, terrifying, unbelievable and utterly exciting. Hammering out mutually agreeable terms and explaining my services in a way that made me sound like a professional, confident writer who knew what she was talking about was a challenge.

Fear of interacting directly with clients is what makes some writers choose writing for content mills over finding clients on their own. They want to avoid stress and uncertainty at all costs.

As I told the writer who emailed me, take a deep breath and fake it. Some people are able to project confidence right out of the gate; but the rest of us had to fake it for a while before it seeped in that we are in fact capable and qualified to do this thing and do it well. Hear are some of the most stressful freelancer client scenarios, and tips on how to deal:

Fear of Talking with the Client

In the beginning, just the idea of interacting with clients can intimidate some writers. The good news is that today’s technology makes it easier than ever to avoid direct communication via in person meetings and phone calls. Email, IM, Skype and texting allow you to get the information you need easily. Some writers never interact with clients directly. It’s certainly possible. In some cases, however, you will need to have some direct contact with a client at some point.

Solution: Write out your presentation – even if you’ll only be discussing it over the phone – so that you’ll be prepared. Preparation will increase your confidence. Also, attend networking events when you can. It’s a great opportunity to flex your in-person communication skills so that you become more comfortable expressing your thoughts and ideas verbally.

Fear of Pitching Your Ideas

Freelancing for newspapers and magazines helped me overcome this fear. I mainly do commercial writing so most of my assignments are to carry out the specific instructions of my clients. However, from time to time I am asked for my professional input and I feel that familiar stage fright slide into place. It’s a simple case of fearing rejection (nothing simple about that though…).

Solution: If you’re asked to pitch ideas for a client, preparation is key.
Learn as much as you can about the company, the client’s objectives, the market, competition, etc. This type of strategic preparation will help ease anxiety.

Fear of Negotiating Terms of Service

This was always a big one for me. I have clearly detailed terms of service. Every so often I’d come across a client that wanted to negotiate whether or not to pay a down payment, when to make the final payment, etc. I’m open to negotiation. Unfortunately, I allowed fear of losing a client to cause me to accept terms I wasn’t too crazy about on more than one occasion. Naturally it came back to bite me on the arse. I much prefer that all negotiations be mutually acceptable.

Solution: Don’t automatically become defensive when a client brooches the idea of negotiating certain terms. Try putting yourself in your client’s shoes to see if there is any merit to the request. For instance, is it an issue of trying to avoid internal politics? Are weekly in person meetings preferred over phone conferences because of upper management directions? Don’t be afraid to say no to negotiations. It’s business, so if you don’t benefit from the terms in the end, the project will end up being more trouble than it’s worth. Trust me.

Fear of Making Changes to the Project Schedule

Being able to meet deadlines is crucial to your success as a freelance writer. I’ve had more than one conversation with a client who declared they would rather work with an average writer that religiously meets deadlines and follows through on promises than the most talented commercial writer that consistently misses deadlines here and there. Time is money after all.

That said, sometimes life happens and anyone can suffer an unexpected setback. Most clients operate in the real world so they understand about rescheduling deadlines as long as you approach the situation professionally.

Solution: Let the client know about the situation right away. Don’t waste time hoping that everything will work out in the end. Be careful not to over apologize – confidently explain what happened and offer a solution. The goal is to maintain your client’s trust and confidence in you that the project will be completed.

Fear of Requesting More Research Information

Delivering a project that’s complete, meets the needs of your client’s target market depends on you getting the information you need. In some cases your client will need to provide information (e.g. past marketing materials, whitepapers, reports, statistical information, company bio, graphics, etc.). Most of the time you’ll get this information with no problems; but in some cases clients may not feel as urgent about getting you the information you need. The situation can become even more complicated if the client hires other contractors to work on the same project and you need

Solution: Compile a detailed list of all the information you need along with an explanation of how important getting the information you need is to the success of the project.


Yazz said...

This article is all me. I can relate to it totally, but, through networking with other bloggers, I am learning to face my fears.

I've noticed though that I don't mind feedback from a client requesting revisions, because that helps me to have a better view of what exactly the client expects, because sometimes the clients are not extremely clear in the beginning.

But I definitely can related to the part about not believing that someone would be willing to pay me well to write for them. I am working on overcoming this fear NOW!

Kimberly Ben said...

Yazz, it's definitely a situation where the more you work with clients the more comfortable you become - as with most things in life. Hang in there, keep at it - eventually you'll become much more comfortable navigating the client/customer relationship.

Yazz said...

Sorry it took me soooooooooo long to respond to this post, thanks again for all your help and advice.

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