Category Archives: client relationships

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 you still need a good website

We blog, tweet and keep in touch with friends on Facebook, but is it enough? Not if you want to appear professional and gain more freelance work.

Before you can snag a great assignment, you need a clean, organized way to impress an editor, who most likely is in a big hurry.

webscreensEditors work with dozens of people on a daily basis. When they are ready to hand out an assignment, they often view writers websites to see work samples.  They do not want to view your Facebook page, check your status, look at baby pictures, or read a stream of tweets about what your friends are doing.

A good portfolio means business

Editors look for a freelancer with a professional portfolio, giving them the confidence to hire you to write for them. They want to know you’re serious about work, not about spending time the beach. They want to see samples of recent work, so they know they can count on you.

At a minimum a writer’s or artist’s portfolio should include:

  1. Credentials
  2. Expertise
  3. Recent work
  4. References
  5. How to get in touch

What about a blog?

A blog is a great tool for a free website equivalent. Most people blog at or, both of which are free. You can choose a style that replicates a website with pages and tabs. However most blogs intentionally list new content in chronological order with the newest posts at the top. That can be disorienting to a visitor expecting to easily find your credentials, work samples, etc. A blog, separate from the one you use socially, can be styled to remain static, rather that showing posts and updates. Search a few templates at blogger or wordpress and you’ll find some are suitable to replace a website.

Here is a brief masthead sample, using the ‘mimbo pro’ design at Looks just like a website, doesn’t it?

If a blog template won’t do, then expect to pay $200-300 if you can’t do a site on your own. Most web designers will take on a small client for a five-page site in that price range.

Some freelance organizations offer free or low-cost member sites as part of their benefits. If you belong to a national author/writer group, such as, check their member benefit list.

Free web  templates from sites like 1&,, and

Social media is fine for keeping in touch with colleagues and friends, but your website is the best chance you have to make a good impression.

Give yourself a cohesive predictable place to display your credentials, show clips of recent work, state your preference for types of media you work in, and make it easy for an editor to hire you for your next assignment.

I maintain one site for my tech business, one for assistance with self-publishing, and one specifically for my freelance work. It shows editors exactly why they might want to hire me for a specific assignment, and includes a brief tagline that assures them I’m reliable. Curious, visit and then comment here to share your own writer’s website.

A clean, informative website makes it easy for editors to turn to you again and again. It showcases your work to get your more business, and invites referrals when an editor wants to pass your information on to a colleague.

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.

What Freelancers Can Learn From ING Direct and Capitol One

Capitol One ING DIRECTAs some who writes about the banking industry, consumer issues, branding, and PR, I found many of my writing pursuits converging this morning with a thoughtful article by Brad Tuttle at Time MoneyLand about the merger of the much-beloved online bank ING Direct with Capitol One.

For many of those familiar with both companies, and for those with ING Direct accounts, this created a wave of panic.

The Capitol One takeover of ING Direct, according to Capitol One sources named in Brad Tuttle’s article, is not supposed to affect ING operations. Tuttle writes,”…Capital One says it has ‘no plans’ to make changes, which is not the same as a guarantee.”

He also adds something quite important about branding. Capitol One apparently plans to re-brand ING Direct as Capitol One, which in the eyes of many is a gigantic mistake–the ING Direct brand is well-loved, trusted and respected.

Capitol One does not necessarily share that love or command that respect with its own products, practices, or services. Worse yet, ING Direct has made a point of branding itself as a customer-focused alternative to the practices of companies like Capitol One.

Tuttle writes, “The ING Direct ‘Savers’ blog is known for posts that mock banks that hammer customers with fees. Recent example: A call-out to readers asking them to end the sentence, ‘You need checking fees like you need …’ But the blog is mum on the Capital One merger, offering no insight as to what customers can expect down the line in terms of fees.”

Capitol One officials give non-answer corporate doublespeak when asked directly about the addition of the new fees ING Direct so staunchly opposes.

Branding is very important, and as Capitol One execs are about to learn, the pro-customer/anti-fee stance of ING Direct is a critical part of its brand. Will ING Direct customers depart once the Capitol One brand takeover is complete? Will they wait and see whether “the fee monster” comes to get them once ING orange is replaced by Capitol One blue?

Time will tell.

Capitol One’s business practices may or may not at all mirror what ING Direct has established as its customer-friendly bottom line–altering ING Direct’s much valued customer service policies could be a fatal blow to the trust levels associated with the ING brand.

But of course, Capitol One has eliminated that “problem” because it’s eliminating the brand altogether.  The trusted ING brand will be gone. What does Capitol One plan on replacing it with?

And what can freelancers learn from any of this?

It’s critical to insure the changes you make to your brand as a freelancer don’t damage the reputation you’ve tried so hard to build. Even if you need to change gears in your freelance work–slowing down or changing the type of freelancing clients you’re after–it is very important to keep your current customers in mind when making the switch.

Newcomers to your freelance work might not even know the difference, but the effect your branding changes have on your current clientele should not be underestimated. Announcing and implementing your changes should be done with great care.

Any changes in branding, approach, or operations should communicate you as a solid, reliable, dependable resource. Capitol One’s shortcomings in the takeover of ING Direct have as much to do with their lack of reassurances for the current customers as it does the elimination of a very successful brand in its entirety.

Capitol One’s behavior implies–right or wrong–that it does not care what ING customers think. That’s the wrong approach, whether by accident, omission, bad timing, whatever. Don’t make the same mistake by forgetting your past and current client base. Let them know they can still rely on you for services rendered, future work, or at the very least, that you stand by your previous work even though you may not be available for new projects.

You might be changing your mission statement, your focus, your deliverables, or your industry…at the very least you owe it to your clients to let them know what they can expect from you in the future.

Saying No to Freelance Work

Freelance clients and salary negotiationIt seems counter-intuitive to turn down any kind of freelance money, especially in this economy, but there are definitely times when freelancers need to use the n-word.  As in, “NO”.

Or perhaps, “Not only no, but HELL NO”.

Freelance Folder has a very good post about this idea called 21 Times for a Freelancer to Say No. I won’t reinvent the wheel–their post is excellent and covers 99% of the bases. But there’s one thing that should be added to your mental checklist when sizing up a potential client.

Are they showing early warning signs that the relationship is something less than professional?

By this I don’t mean people who flirt with you, or act overly familiar, or display some of the warning signs listed in the “21 Times” piece. Instead, I’m talking about something I personally call “clingy client syndrome”, where you suddenly find yourself dealing with someone calling and messaging you excessively about the project, asking for things outside normal business hours when it’s not appropriate, or simply demanding too much of your time when it isn’t warranted.

I once found myself in negotiations with a potential client who seemed, based on a combination of behaviors I observed in the short time I spent at the company’s offices, more interested in creating an entourage than getting any real work done.

The symptoms included a large up-front payment, combined with randomly shifting priorities and goals. The work letter I drafted was ignored in favor of “idea of the moment” planning, actual deliverables seemed unimportant to the client, and there were lots of detailed emails at very odd hours.

In the end, I had to walk away. I’m a professional writer and editor, not an on-call monkey boy.

If you work in the freelance business long enough, regardless of your specialty, you’ll encounter the same type of person–a socially awkward, semi-isolated person who decides that what they really need is some kind of paid companionship in the guise of a legit business agreement. It’s sad, it’s strange, but it’s common enough. There are plenty of famous people who have done just that–I won’t mention any names, but I will say this–freelancers should pay attention to the sorts of warning signs they think they’re seeing in these cases.

When should you say no to freelance work? Sometimes those alarm bells going off in your head for no specific reason are enough. You can definitely read and heed the 21 scenarios listed in the Freelance Folder blog post, but don’t forget to trust your instincts about the intangible things making you uncomfortable. They might not solidify into solid hunches until later, but they’re worth your attention.

Joe Wallace Vinyl Collector and authorJoe Wallace is a writer, editor, social media manager and collector of bizarre record albums. He loves weird vinyl records so much he wrote a book called WTF Records: The Guide To Weird and Wonderful Vinyl. Now he’s shopping for an agent. Contact him at jwallace(at)

Wallace is available for freelance work and consulting on a selective basis. His social media clients include, Bank Administration Institute, and He writes web content for, and more; previous clients for his web content and editing work include, Artisan Talent, Verizon Wireless, and the official site for Jason Donnelly, AKA DJ Puzzle.

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.