Blogger in Residence, Aidan Bennett, explains how best to keep copywriting clients happy and provides advice on practicing impression management.
There is one simple rule I’ve found that holds true for ninety percent of the instances in which I’ve been engaged to write something, whether for free or paid, that is clients will meddle. Whoever engages you to write something, odds are they will meddle, they will pass suggestions and in many cases they’ll redraft your work with little to no prior experience. There are ways to avoid this, you can work in tandem with an editor with whom you have a rapport, sharing some of the work load and creating a barrier. Another way is to establish boundaries with the client from the offset, but this is likely to damage your relationship with the client in its initial stages, and can potentially affect your business through word of mouth and missed opportunities. The best way to keep a client happy, and to maintain your sanity through minimising the extra unpaid work they often create, is to use tact.
What do I mean by tact? I mean use your people skills. When you first meet a potential client, to the point when your interactions with them stop, you have to be on your toes, you have to evaluate them, consider what they require and adjust everything to suit. When in the initial tentative stages with a client, you should employ impression management, meaning you should portray and project a certain image to the client. The best way to think of impression management, other than reading up on some sociology, is to think how people of particular standing in your immediate community portray what their roles in society are. Think of how any other professional appears to be a professional in their chosen field through the first, base impressions you have of them. Everything from facial gestures, to language and clothing are essential composite ingredients in effecting the impression of a certain designation, adjust each as required to appear as you wish to clients.
While you’re practicing impression management, which you may simply have already as an instinctual skill, think of how to build upon a client’s first, base impressions of you. The best way to do this is to develop a working process, a paradigm in which your interactions with a client are run according to a script. By developing and refining your own working process you can begin to lead clients through a streamlined experience, in which both parties’ expectations are met. An essential step in developing a working process for a streamlined experience with clients is figuring out the best way to corral clients, to limit their input to the point where it’s of benefit and doesn’t simply impede you.
Managing client expectations is an art, an individual and subjective art. The trick is to appreciate that many of your clients will fancy themselves writers, and many will want to have input in your work. The mantra ‘The customer is always right’ is true of the hospitality and retail industries, when it comes to professional paid services it’s a crock. The trouble with writing as an occupation is that, in most forms, it isn’t esoteric or overtly technical enough to dissuade clients from passing suggestions and making ‘corrections’ at the drop of a hat.
There is no hard and fast way to manage client’s expectations, each client is different and each have different requirements. There are many materials on the internet which give methods for managing client expectations, these should provide a good starting point. The trouble, as stated in the above, in my experience, is that ninety percent of the time the client will meddle, and most of the time you’ll be hard pressed convincing them that they’re wrong and you’re correct. The best remedy, when you find your quoted hours repeatedly blowing out due to constant interpretations from your client is to acquiesce. If you’re writing for free then you’re at least getting exposure to an audience and a learning experience, if you’re being paid then it’s their money and they may bring you repeat business.