All posts by Jake Poinier

The Client Is Always Right

Yeah, yeah, I know. “The Client Is Always Right.” Cliché city.

But I’m here to tell you that one of the key customer relationship strategies to successful freelancing is knowing when and how to disagree with a client…and when to simply give in.

Last week, I received an assignment from one of my longtime graphic design partners for a company that needed some help with a brochure. First, they asked for some thoughts on a new tagline, and I supplied about a dozen ideas. They ended up sticking with their original, which I won’t reveal specifically here, but let’s just say it used the words “dedication” and “value” without giving any indication as to what the company actually does.

So I had an inkling of what I was dealing with. The second task was to edit the brochure text the company supplied. It wasn’t the worst thing I’d ever seen; I cleaned it up as well as I could, fixing the various typos, awkward constructions, and Randomly Capitalized Words.

You might guess what happened next: The final proof came back from my designer with a note: “I’m sure all the edits were all grammatically correct, but sometimes the client wants what they want.”

I proofread it one more time, chuckled at the places where they’d retained the original language, alerted them to a misspelled word that they’d apparently wanted to keep, and moved on. I could have fought the noble fight for grammatical perfection and consistency, but why bother? If they’re happy with it, so am I.

Call me a mercenary. The piece won’t going into my portfolio, but the check will be going into my bank account.

Jake Poinier has been freelancing since 1999. He blogs as Dr. Freelance and runs Phoenix-based Boomvang Creative Group.

Why Every Freelance Writer Needs a Graphic Design Partner

I’ve always believed that every freelance writer needs a graphic design partner — or better yet, a few of them that specialize in print, digital, and different industries. Today was Exhibit A: I was enjoying lunch on a restaurant patio with a former co-worker from my in-house custom publishing days when my phone buzzed in my pocket. I ignored it. It buzzed again a few minutes later, and I pulled it out and took a surreptitious glance at who was calling.

It was one of my top-tier clients. As soon as my friend and I shook hands and parted ways, I dialed up voicemail, and the panic in my client’s voice was clear: Her graphic designer bailed on her at the last minute, leaving her with an unfinished newsletter that absolutely, positively needed to get printed before she hopped on a plane for a trip. Eight pages, 12-hour turnaround.

Did I know any Adobe InDesign freelance whizzes who could help her out in an emergency?

Luckily, there were a few specific candidates that came to mind, and I called her and said I’d do what I could. My first local possibility was already swamped, but I pitched her on the basis that: 1) The client is super easy to work with, 2) it’s a fast-growing company and would likely lead to additional, high-paying jobs, and 3) if she heard the detailed specs and didn’t think she could do it, no harm done.

Honestly, though, I knew she was going to pull it off…because she always does. In short, my tight relationship with an exceptional graphic designer accomplished two key things:

  • Instant hot referral to a lucrative freelance contact going forward.
  • Made me look like a hero to an important client.

It only took one quick phone call, but the reality is that the relationship has been more than a decade in the making—reliability, trust, and responsiveness don’t get built overnight. If you don’t already have go-to people in complimentary freelance disciplines…what are you waiting for?

In the comments: Writers, has a graphic designer ever bailed you out? Graphic designers, has a freelance writer ever improved an important client relationship?

Jake Poinier blogs regularly as Dr. Freelance and runs a Phoenix-based editorial services firm, Boomvang Creative Group.

Freelance Mission Creep

When it comes to defining a project—and avoiding mission creep—the freelancer’s best defense is a good offense. Get the specs in writing, agree to the payment terms and outline the ramifications if the original assignment begins to sprawl beyond the bounds. Set the rules early, and stick to them.

Sometimes, however, it’s not so easy. One of my newer clients, a custom publisher, happens to produce a magazine for one of my very oldest clients. The publisher is on the lower end of my acceptable pay scale, but it’s OK because most of the articles are pretty easy to write.

That is, until last week. They gave me an assignment that would require several hours of driving and interviewing before I even started writing. I accepted it, knowing that the subject of the story is an important and high-visibility entity for my longterm client, whom I need to keep happy.

I long ago learned that you can’t negotiate after the fact. But in the background, I was kind of stewing over the fact that it wasn’t really worth my time. So I called my longterm client and asked him for advice, because he knows the editor a lot better than I do: Should I call and ask for a higher per-word rate?

He agreed that my plight was unfortunate, but his opinion was that I should address it after the story was turned in. In the meantime, he’s going to put in a good word that I went above and beyond the call of duty on the assignment, and lobby for a higher pay rate.

That’s where we left it…I’m still not sure how the “soft sell” is going to turn out. But I’ll let you know!

In the comments, please share any tips you have about avoiding freelance mission creep.

Jake Poinier blogs as Dr. Freelance and runs a freelance writing and editing business called Boomvang Creative Group.

Networking Mistakes

I’m a fan of CNNMoney’s “Ask Annie” column, which generally contains solid advice for job seekers or people trying to survive corporate life, but often has insights applicable to freelancers. Annie’s most recent article, “6 networking mistakes job hunters make,” offers some great tips for when you’re looking for freelance jobs through networking channels. It’s worth reading the whole thing, but here’s a quick look at the highlights.

  • First, she takes to task the idea of asking “do you know of anything?” It’s non-specific and just comes across as lazy and, even worse, desperate. Make sure you’re putting targeted ideas into peoples’ heads in order that they can help you more easily and accurately, and that they can see you’ve done your homework.
  • Neglecting to reconnect with people you haven’t seen or spoken to in a while. This is a tried-and-true strategy for referral-focused freelancers. Last week I met with an old contact to meet for lunch and we had a great time swapping travel tales and childrearing travails, and it turns out he’s got a contact at a national magazine that might be a good fit for me. The point is, don’t feel like you’re “imposing” if it’s someone you have/had a good relationship with. In fact, he felt guilty about not having contacted me first–and he picked up the tab!
  • Relying too much on social networking—again, this comes across as lazy and probably fruitless. If you want the best freelance gigs, you need to reach out with your stellar personality (it is stellar, right?) in a more personal way.

Just like sales and marketing, networking doesn’t have to be cheesy, sleazy, or artificial. But you do have to make a concerted, strategic effort…or you’re likely wasting what little time and energy you put into it.

Contributing writer Jake Poinier blogs regularly as Dr. Freelance and runs an Phoenix-based editorial services firm, Boomvang Creative Group.

February Resolutions

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions, having seen far too many pieces of wishful thinking come and go–10 pounds not lost, bad habits not kicked. For freelancers it’s particularly tough, as hectic January sees clients simultaneously whip out their to-do lists that have languished over the holidays.

But just because I don’t believe in making a resolution in the first month of the year doesn’t mean I embrace a life unexamined. With the post-holiday mayhem tucked away till November, and most of the emergencies taken care of, I turn to February resolutions to set my course for the year.

Someday, I’d love to do this as a luxury corporate retreat, but for the past few years I’ve just headed to a local coffee shop sans laptop or cell phone. Two hours of brainstorming, no distractions allowed, just a blank legal pad and a pen and a couple of cups of black java. There are a million theories on how to set big goals, but I keep it simple:

  • What do I want to achieve? These are the specifics: Income target, completion of an ebook, breaking into a new field that’s appealing to me. I also incorporate regular-life things in here, like breaking a personal record in a half-marathon or completing a home project.
  • What will it look like and feel like when I have achieved that? For each of those goals, you need to close your eyes and dig down a layer to make it more emotional. (I am not a touchy-feely kind of guy, but this is really important!) Pro athletes, in particular, rely on visualization to improve performance—it has ways of energizing your brain that are pretty astonishing.

Once those thoughts are down on paper, it’s time to type them up neatly and tack them to a bulletin board adjacent to my desk. I can’t walk in and out of my office without seeing them—much harder to ignore than an idle thought that occasionally pops into one’s head.

Jake Poinier blogs regularly as Dr. Freelance and runs an Phoenix-based editorial services firm, Boomvang Creative Group.

Used-car Salesmen Anonymous

freelance salesWanted to follow up on Diane’s post from yesterday, “8 secret reasons you hate marketing your writing.” More important, I wanted to echo her sentiments: It’s incredibly important for writers to break down the self-imposed barriers that can hold us back.

Sales gets a bad rap. Back in my editorial staff days, there was an extra measure of envy for the BMW-driving, expense-account abusing, exotic-traveling schmoozers.

But here’s the fact: They were the ones who paid the bills. Nowadays, that’s me.

So, to amplify Diane’s thoughts from yesterday, I came across an interesting post, “Reps Drop the Hard Sell and Discover How to be More Effective.” Dr. Robert Cialdini, whose site it appears on, is the author of several books about the power of influence and persuasion, all of which are worth reading. And the link to the Wall Street Journal article is a must as well. (It’s about pharmaceutical sales, but the same lessons apply.)

Bottom line, you don’t have to be a used-car salesman or a hard-charging drug rep. In fact, as the WSJ piece notes, it’s all about building relationships; and as the mp3 interview with Cialdini makes clear, that is a matter of establishing trust and authority. And, while we’re at it, a recent study in Nature concluded that overconfidence—not just confidence—has some counterintuitive benefits.

Indeed, we’ve got it much better than a used-car salesman. They’re selling lemons…We’re selling ourselves.

Contributing blogger Jake Poinier offers answers to your freelancing questions at His most recent post was “Write like you’re rich.”

Photo courtesy of Hans Thoursie.