Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Servicing Online Clients vs. Working with Clients in Person

My accountability partner and I are in the midst of a (friendly) debate. She has been running a very successful freelance writing operation in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, CA for more than 11 years. Her business has flourished over the years. She belongs to a number of small business groups around town which also happens to be where she acquires most of her clients.

Now I’ve been freelancing full-time since 2007. When I first started I was servicing clients almost almost entirely online(my first two clients were from a craigs list ad). These days I may occasionally deal with clients locally who seem to be more comfortable meeting face-to-face once or twice. It’s not something I encourage as a mother with four kids under 11 because quite frankly time is not always on my side.

My writer friend has recently expressed an interest in working with clients on an exclusively virtual basis reducing the number of times she has to schedule in person meetings. Because she’s such a likable person and really knows her stuff, face-to-face meetings tend to work in her favor. She’s built an impressive business by taking time out for meetings in person, but they can be so time consuming – especially when she has to drive for over an hour into Los Angeles fighting insane traffic to meet with a client only to fight bumper-to-bumper traffic back home to Santa Barbara as well.

The problem as she sees it is the town she lives in is a very close knit community of people who value knowing one another. Entrepreneurs and other businesses prefer doing business with one another face, but they are also good about passing along referrals. She’s not sure of how to transition her business to operating as (mostly) a virtual operation. She recently partnered with a couple of website development firms who send clients to her that are in need of copywriting services from time to time which is a start. I’ve been trying to brainstorm with her to come up with a strategy to make it happen.

I haven’t had a problem with this because it’s how I’ve always operated. I think part of what could be holding her back is apprehension. Sometimes the first steps to doing something different are hardest.

Do you work mainly with local clients in person, exclusively online or have a mix of virtual and local clients?


Lori said...

The number of local clients I work with is miniscule. I have met with plenty of them, but for some reason I'm coming up against ones who aren't willing to open their wallets wide enough, so to speak. :)

My virtual clients give me referrals. I'm happy that last year was mostly referral work for me. It takes time, but it happens, especially if you ask for it. Nothing wrong with asking a happy client if they know of other businesses in need of writing or editing services...

Susan said...

Hi Kim,

I think that this is a great question, and one that every freelancer should ask before and even periodically once you start taking projects because it also depends on “how” one prefers to work. Approximately 95% of my current clients have been virtual (and even the local ones rarely say “come to the office”).

Over the last few years, though, I’ve had some request everything from 1) occasional in office meeting (in office = truly local, 30 minutes away up to …several hour train ride), 2) completely in office for a few weeks, or 3) project ends on site somewhere overseas.

I now refuse to work entirely in office because in my mind that = employee and I tell people that up front. I do take the occasional overseas project, with the understanding they pay for travel and travel time because I enjoy those projects.

As for local meetings, if it is within 30 minutes okay, beyond that I am very upfront and say 1) my policy is to charge for travel time and 2) subject to time availability.

Because your friends sounds like a great in person (as in likable and presents well), she may occasionally want to meet to see what is out there and get more referrals.

I’m just one anecdotal example, but I’ve had clients refer me internally (in the company) to other teams – because they like the work, and most have never met me. Your friend should remind herself that it is the quality of work they ultimately like and not force herself to do this if she doesn’t want to.

I put on my webpage, by the way, charge for travel along with a rate. If a client needs to pay a couple hundred dollars for a meeting that can be done in 30 minutes over the phone, they may realize the savings and change.

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