Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Educating Difficult Clients

A writer friend of mine has been having trouble with a new client. She was hired to write web copy and supporting marketing material (brochures, etc). The client is ready to send over the down payment and signed agreement, but my friend is having trouble getting the client to focus on a target market.

The client doesn’t understand why it’s so important and is annoyed with the writer’s insistence that they focus on this detail first. The client wants her web copy and other materials yesterday. My writer friend is beyond frustrated. “She just doesn’t get it, Kim. I feel like we keep having the same discussion over and over. I can’t get her to understand how important it is to focus her marketing message.”

I think most of us have worked with this type of client before. In my experience this client doesn’t really understand marketing. They just want you to write something amazing that will result in more business. It just doesn’t occur to them that there is a process involved. They over simplify the services and value we provide.

In my experience, getting a client to understand the importance of something like focusing their marketing message on a target audience involves quite a bit of education. In the past the time I spent educating and convincing a client to provide me with necessary information was much more than the time I’d allotted for research and writing.

My friend, however, is much smarter than I am. She asks lots and lots of questions in the very beginning – before she sends out her agreement or accepts down payment. She sends interested prospective clients a questionnaire to complete first, and they discuss it in detail by phone – because one question often leads to another. This gives her a much better idea of what she’s dealing with and she adjusts her contract and payment accordingly.

Thankfully she saw the signs early on that this client would require more time to help her understand the basics of marketing. She very wisely included a certain amount of consultation time and included it in her rate. And just like that I’ve learned something new from this writer that I will apply to my own freelance writing business.

Even though we are writers, we may from time to time be called upon to provide professional consultation. The knowledge we possess is valuable. Do you give it away freely, or offer fee-based consultation in addition to the writing services you provide?


Susan said...

I really like your friend’s approach in regards to having a questionnaire. I don’t do estimates very often (it is usually hourly), but for the few times that I do take projects that require estimates, this would really be useful.

Also, in regards to your last question (give it away or fee-based), if it is before the project starts and is limited, I give it away. My rationale is: Is this project a good fit for me? Do I have the background that fits what they need? Or are there red flags all over the client and/or project? Because sometimes my answer is: “I am not the freelancer for you.”

Thank you and I enjoyed your post.

Admin said...

Susan, I like her approach too. I've learned a lot of new business approaches from her - that's one of the benefits of having an accountability partner who's been doing this longer.

I understand your answer about giving some information away for free. you have to give them enough that they know you know what you're doing and trust you and understand what you can do for their business. This is also a time to assess a client to determine whether or not you can help them -keeping an eye out for those red flags.

Lori said...

While there have been a few clients that needed to be led to their focus, I've had one client like your friend's client. It was impossible to please them. They wanted the impossible, and no amount of convincing them it was impossible would do. They wanted me to write a 750-word article. Doesn't sound hard, does it? But they wanted a comprehensive outline of the state of the workers compensation industry. In 750 words. Not one word more, either.

Needless to say, I didn't do it right. I told them it was impossible. They insisted it could be - and will be - done. Their PR woman called me in the middle of these gawd-awful revisions and said "It's not you. You're the fourth writer they've gone through."

At that point I didn't care. I was glad to be rid of them. And needless to say, their article was never written by a freelancer.

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