by Leo Wiles
01 July 2016
As a freelance creative, chances are you’ll work for probably hundreds of clients over your career. Some of them mad. Some of them bad for your health. And then those with whom we have a mutual attraction that would be beneficial to retain.
A great client will recommend you to others, and take you with them from job to job. They’ll also trust you to deliver the goods, respect your professionalism and, if you’ve really cemented the working side of the relationship, will think of you first when they have a new campaign, editorial idea or project that needs sparkling copy.
Having these clients in your corner can put topping up your super, travelling overseas and eating out back on the freelance perk list. Not only is repeat business more lucrative, it’s far less stressful than having to land a new client for each and every great idea you have.
So how can you become one of those six-figure freelance writers people want to hire?
Never bullshitting the client is as important as having two sources, quoting verbatim and letting the client know before time that the story’s not panning out let them know instead of fudging it. The same goes for flogging a killed story to another publication. Be upfront and let the prospect know that the piece has been killed for x reason, (such as a change of editor or the bean-counters got involved), that you believe strongly in it to the point that you want a new home for it and can re-angle to suit them if need be.
Nobody likes a stalker. Understand how they like to communicate, with what regularity and via which means.
Turn copy in BEFORE the deadline, proofread when you’re fresh and make sure the subs have all the links, contact details, images etc. that they need so that you’re not adding to anybody’s workload. Add a few pars about potential social media rollout you’d like to do to support the published piece with their permission to show that you’re serious about your work and how to promote it (and them).
If the client is commissioning work, chances are they don’t have time to write it, let alone workshop it. Do not be the problem child who whines or wants to talk them into hiring you with an idea they’ve already turned down. Instead of crazy eyes, be the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed writer who suggests five other knock-out ideas.
No matter how big the oppositional wallet, or how smooth-talking the commissioning editor this, is a case of one in the hand is worth far more than two in the bush. If you are bursting with ideas, choose a client in each niche and treat them both with respect.
One of our core strengths as writers is an empathic ability to read people, and using it with clients is even more important than with interviewees. Find the common ground and leverage the positives – be it shared experiences or a life stage that you have in common.
Clients are in different professional stages with different stresses to freelancers, and varying budgets. Recognise those who want evergreen seasonal standbys – and those who want to shake the world by its shoulders and break new ground. Know which one you’re dealing with, understand the platform and or channel, the potential budget they have to commission and pitch according, because there’s no point pushing water uphill.
If you only pick up the phone when you want something, they’ll dread your calls. Instead, ensure that your interest in them lasts longer than the assignment. Comment on their magazine/business/Facebook feed. Retweet their stuff with ‘genuine’ interest, ask them to coffee, remember their kids/spouse/cat’s names and where they last went on holiday. When they leave one job, congratulate them on their next adventure. Acknowledge big work anniversaries, becoming a parent and other such MAJOR life stages.
Know when to get off the phone and understand what level of engagement the client actually wants. As an editor I was so flat-out that I just wanted to get down to brass talks with writers – many of whom didn’t seem to realise that just because I picked up the phone, it didn’t mean I had ten minutes for them to give me a blow by blow account of their latest pitches or child’s new toileting habits.
For really big projects such as annual reports or a large year-long series, it’s important to touch base. For a six-month contract, I prefer fortnightly contact. For anything over a year, monthly contact to reassure them that we’re on track and or make sure there are no surprises is a good rule of thumb. It’s also a great way, when your fee is being broken up into instalments, to remind the client that even though you’re not in the office you’re still hard at work.
Even is you missed this round of commissions, using ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ is as useful now as it was hoping for that second bowl of pudding.
Being grateful is not the same as being obsequious. If you have worked with a stand-out client who made your copy shine brighter than it had when it left your Mac, say so with a follow-up email or a personal note in a Christmas card. However, if you realise that a huge chunk of your annual earnings came from the one blue chip company it’s time to ring Interflora or set up a tab /giftcard at their local coffee house as a way to show you appreciate their business.
What ways do you maintain good relations with your clients?