client confusionIf you’re new at the freelance writing game it may surprise you when you find the first client who doesn’t seem to quite know what they want.

Their confusion can show up in a variety of ways, including:

Vague  instructions – this one you can often help with, and that’s by asking just exactly as many questions as you need to. If you find that their answers are confusing you’ve probably run into a client who really doesn’t know what they want. You can try asking some clarifying questions like:

What result do you want from this writing?

How will you measure the result?

Who do you think this piece should be aimed at?

If you could choose only one reader for this who would it be?

You can’t get clear instructions no matter how hard you try – this is a big red flag. If the client doesn’t know what they want, you’ll probably never figure it out. Don’t waste too much time with these folks – you’ll probably never satisfy them anyway. If, after a couple of conversations and emails, you still don’t know what they want it may be time to tell them something like, “I’m sorry. I’m just not getting it. Perhaps you should try another writer or, if you’re not quite clear, get in touch with me when you are.”

The only other option is to bill them by the hour and include the time you spend talking with them and emailing them.

Umteen change requests – This one can sneak up on you. You’re sure you understand what the client wants, yet you get request for change after change after change – the chances are it’s the client who is confused, not you.

free content for writersYou can avoid this trap by specifying you’ll do two or three revisions only for the quoted price – any changes made beyond to be billed at your hourly rate.

Missing appointments – if a client starts missing appointments with you often, or fails to respond to your emails, it may be because they’ve changed their mind about what they really want your to write, or they didn’t know in the first place. Give them a call and if you reach them you may be able to figure out what to do. Don’t be afraid to bill them for the time you’ve spent if the communications don’t clear up.

Most people who hire writers really don’t understand how a writer works. They may think they’re being clear when they’re not. They may have worked with someone in the past who was able to guess what they wanted so they unknowingly expect the same to you. A client may think a change request “will only take you a minute,” not recognizing the time and energy spent in stopping what you’re doing and re-entering their project once again.

It’s up to you to protect yourself, to set the boundaries and to be willing to do some educating. Sometimes a simple explanation is enough to help the client see the error of their perception.

Just because they are offering to pay you doesn’t mean you should allow yourself to be walked on – there is always another client if this confused soul can’t get it together. Be brave and move on. You’ll both be glad you did.

Have you run into clients who didn’t know what they wanted? How did you handle it? Tell us about it in comments.

Image: AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by mikecogh

it's okay to say noI’ve been working on a fundraising letter for my favorite non-profit. I’m part of the committee that helps raise money and usually the problem is just that – trying to get something written when I have to include or at least acknowledge the contributions of six or seven other people. It can be maddening at times, but it’s also a labor of love and I get plenty of praise and no real pressure.

It turns out that this particular letter will be sent via email and not printed.

Using an graphic from a previous letter, I picked a background color in Outlook 2007 and made sure the graphic matched the background color – it looks good. Except, the leader of this organization is on a Mac and I’m on a PC. She can’t see the background color on the letter, just on the graphic, which is a bit odd.

She suggested that a way around the problem of Mac/PC issues might be to put the letter in html.

That’s when I ran into into time eating trouble. I cannot find instructions I understand about how to use my own html in Outlook 2007. After posting on a couple of forums and doing umpteen Google searches, I created a copy in Word, adding the background color and saved it as a .pdf. I thought about using gmail, but they’ve changed their interface and I had already spent more than enough time on the deal. So I sent an email saying I didn’t now how to do it and that if someone else couldn’t handle that part, the the letter would have to go as a .pdf or in an email knowing those on Macs wouldn’t see the colors.

free content for writersAnd that’s the point, really. [click to continue…]

You’ve found a client prospect and you want to convince that client to hire you. So you turn on the charm, practice your elevator speech, dust off your credentials, and wait for the phone call.

That’s the hard way.

While there’s nothing wrong with talking with a client in that manner, it sets up an uneven relationship from the start. Essentially, you’re approaching the client as a job candidate would approach an employer – you’re applying for the job.

But isn’t that how we should be doing it, you ask? Yes and no. Mostly no. In fact, probably entirely no. Here’s why.

Your potential client may be like most clients – they understand that this is an alliance, a bit of a partnership. You’re a vendor providing a service and they’re contracting with you to get the job done. Sure, they have control over what it is they want. However, they don’t have control over you, nor are they looking for it.

Yet there are clients out there who cannot removed themselves from the employer/employee mindset. So when you approach the initial conversation as you would a job interview, that sends a message – you’re at their beck and call, and they’re going to manage you directly.

Do you really want that? No. Hell no.

There’s a better way.
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