Freelance writers pursue business clients for all of the right reasons. Businesses can offer
writers lucrative assignments that are mutually beneficial. They make the business look
good and they help the writer’s bottom line. Most businesses have lots of work and pay
generously. So why do so many writers flub it when it comes to dealing with business
clients? As tough as they are to land, they’re even harder to keep happy long term. That’s
because writers and business people think very differently.
Know Who You’re Working For
Business people think differently. How well you can keep your business client
satisfied with your services depends on both the quality of your services and your ability
to understand what your business clients need.
First of all, business clients think differently. They think everybody is in business.
As a writer, you may roll out of bed at the crack of nine and stagger to your computer
with a cup of coffee and work in your underwear. Writers know this. Business people do
Therefore, do not tell your business client about your various unsavory and
unprofessional habits like letting your toddler answer your business line, cooking dinner
while you proofread their articles, or drinking beer while writing taglines.
Know How to Present Yourself
If you can afford it (and even if you can’t) get a dedicated phone line for business
and answer it like it was a business line during business hours, which by the way, start
somewhat before noon. If you can’t manage to talk on the phone with the sound of
cartoons in the background, let it go to an answering machine and call back from a quiet
Business people get nervous trusting their multimillion dollar babies to people who
watch cartoons in the middle of the day. Yes, I know it’s your kids who are watching the
cartoons. Business people get nervous trusting their multimillion dollar babies to people
who work sitting next to their kids all day.
Always Be Reliable
Second, realize that business people remember what they say to you. If they say
Thursday is your deadline, don’t let Thursday roll by without turning in your project or
even calling them. Meet your deadlines. Stay within the scope of the assignment.
Incorporate their suggestions. You can forget everything your spouse or kids or Oprah
Winfrey says to you over the course of the day, but don’t practice selective deafness when
your clients speak.
Third, you need to see things through your clients’ eyes. Your client is concerned
with two things: his or her career and his or her company. You would think that would be
in reverse order, but it’s not. You always want to make your client look good, first and
foremost, and if you can do that in such a way that the company benefits, bonus! But
serve your client.
Do you know why? Because companies don’t hire writers, people hire writers. Your
client is a person. Make sure his or her needs are met in terms of writing (make him look
good by delivering a top-notch product on time and on budget) and let him worry about
saving Wall Street.
Fourth, it is okay to suggest new ideas to your client if you do it subtly and then
pull back. Think of it like throwing pebbles at a window at night and then running away.
Rarely have I seen a client jump at an upsell (that’s what they call it when you get one sale
and you turn around and right away talk the client into buying something bigger or
better), but I have had a lot of good results with the pitch-and-run approach. A few
months later the client comes to me with a brilliant idea. They tell me what I told them!
And then I can agree to the new job and applaud their incredible brilliance.
Finally, remember that people who work in the corporate mainstream are often
overworked but not in the way that writers are overworked. Most of them spend long
hours in uncomfortable clothing. They often have to travel or sit in endless meetings. This
translates into something few writers appreciate: most corporate denizens feel completely
powerless when it comes to control of their own time. It’s a weird sensation and one that
does not sit well with most people.
For that reason, always respect the time of your business client. Keep phone calls
and emails short and on-point. Don’t bother them with idle requests or superfluous
questions. Keep chit-chat out of the conversation unless you get “led” by the business
person that some personal banter is permissible.
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