Tag Archives: client relationships

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.

A Client’s-Eye View of Freelancers

Bfreelance clientsy Jake Poinier

If you haven’t already seen it, the results of the 2011 Freelance Forecast survey (pdf download at the link) have been published. I’ve done this research for three years now, and while I find the freelancer responses interesting, what’s most useful for my business is what clients have to say about what they like…or hate.

The adjacent word cloud above gives a visual perspective on “the ONE most important quality in a freelancer.” If you’ve been at this game for any length of time, the answers shouldn’t come as a surprise: reliability/dependability, talent/quality of work, and hitting deadlines.

But this year, I also asked for some follow-up data: “Name ONE thing you wish every freelancer would do when working with you.” You’ll find all of the responses on pages 16 and 17 of the survey; many of the respondents simply said “communicate” or “ask good questions,” but the devil—as usual—is in the details. Here are three of the client comments, and my thoughts reading between the lines:

  • “As minor as it sounds, [a freelancer should] acknowledge receipt of the assignment. I don’t like guessing whether they’ve received it and understand it. What I dislike even more is reaching out to them to make sure they got it.” Takeaway: This isn’t minor! Always take a moment to write an email to the client and, most important, say “thank you for the assignment.”
  • Some responses were in conflict with each other. For example, “Keep me posted that progress is being made through the course of a project and that the deadline will be hit without any problems” versus “Contact me only when there’s a problem with an assignment.” Takeaway: Again, this comes down to knowing the client. The best way to know their communication style is to simply ask their preference.
  • “I want freelancers to tell me when there is a better way to do something than what I have told them to do. Sometimes I do it, sometimes I don’t, but I always want to hear the reasoning behind their choices. I want their expertise.” Takeaway: Tread carefully here. Some clients are ready for the unadulterated truth, others may say they are…but will react poorly to someone calling their baby ugly. Make certain of which type of client you’re dealing with before being too abrupt.

Resourceful clients have a lot of options when it comes to choosing a freelancer. Many of their common complaints—or things they love—are completely under your control. So, do what you can to “wow” them, and you’re well on your way to Referral Street.

Jake Poinier runs Boomvang Creative Group and blogs as Dr. Freelance.

The 7 Scariest Words in the Freelance World

By Jake Poinier

“We have just a few more changes.”

OK, if I haven’t scared you off with that skin-crawling, please-shoot-me-now, 7 Scariest Words in the Freelance World phrase, stick with me. It’s a horror story with a happy ending. (For the background on the client relationship, please see “Your Digital Triage Kit.”)

My design partner and I had delivered everything in the contract for a Fortune 500 company. The incremental changes during the editing/approval process had been tedious, but the files had been appended with “_FINAL.docx”, and we were ready to invoice.

Only FINAL didn’t mean final-final. We started receiving a steady stream of “we have just a few more changes” emails—with the requests now coming from a third-party PR firm that I’d love to name, but I’m too much of a gentleman. (Barely.)

I was floored. I disagreed with most of the comments, which were a combination of silly and this-would-take-another-100-words-to-explain. My partner took the position that we needed to stick to our guns, and I agreed: Either we were done, or additional changes would come at our hourly rate.

She wrote a pleasant, logical, and firm email that explained our position. And guess what? The über-boss of the project gave her a call…and ended up seeing it our way. Which, again, left me floored. This time in a good way!

For me, there were three takeaways:

  1. We were right to stand our ground, knowing that it could have backfired—they could have said we were breaching the contract unless we made the changes. Clearly, that could have been a never-ending process.
  2. We were remiss in not defining the word “approved” in the contract, which was provided from the client end. I’ll confess, specifying the number of rounds of changes has always bothered me, and in my almost 12 years of doing this, I’ve rarely had someone abuse the privilege. I may need to rethink my position.
  3. Third parties, trying to prove their value by criticizing your work, are toxic.

Please share in the comments: Do you specify rounds of changes in your agreements? Does it work? Has it ever backfired?

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

Losing a loyal client

losing a clientBy Jake Poinier

One of the inevitable pass-the-Tums moments as a freelancer is losing a loyal client or editor to a new job. It’s one thing to fire a client, to do a one-off freelance assignment, or even just not being a good match. But clients and editors resign and get fired, too. What you do when that happens can make the difference between a short-term setback and a long-term drag on your income.

I received an email yesterday from a woman, let’s call her Jen, who’s been my primary contact for about 18 months at a large company that I’ve done work for since I got started in the business in ’99. She’s leaving the company at the end of the month. My heart sank.

As I reflect on the past 11 years, I’ve probably done work for a dozen different people within the company. And, over the course of the same time period, all but a few of those people have moved on to different positions or left the organization altogether. Some hired full-time writing staff, while others simply had their freelance budgets cut. I still have a few occasional users of my services, but Jen was my main source—a healthy, five-figure annual client who gave me a steady stream of assignments.

After the initial shock of losing my primary contact at the company, my optimistic side took hold. This isn’t about me, it’s about her. And I did what I always do:

  • I enthusiastically congratulated Jen on her new position, and asked what it is and what she’s going to be doing.
  • I (humorously but sincerely) expressed my personal sadness that she’s leaving her job, because I’ve enjoyed working with her.
  • I offered to write her a letter of recommendation, anytime, anywhere, for anything.
  • I asked her if she’d please facilitate a contact, at her earliest convenience, with the new person in her job.

Not surprisingly, she wrote right back, and her response made me feel considerably better. As it turns out, she’s taking a corporate communications position with another large company in town. Not only do they use freelancers, they happen to be a former client of mine from my old custom magazine editing days. And within 10 minutes after that, she’d already cc’d me on a glowing email to the new person in her department who’ll be handling her duties, so I have a warm if not hot contact. We’ll see if we click.

My next step is to contact Jen once she’s settled in at her new job and schedule to take her to lunch. But that’s another story for another day.

Jake offers blogs regularly about freelancing at DoctorFreelance.com.