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Of all the obstacles faced by a freelance writer, one of the biggest is the endless worry a client has going into a new project. Deadlines. Communication. Attention to detail. Whether they had a bad experience before or just read too many horror stories from their colleagues, these clients expect the worst.
How then do you alleviate these fears before a project begins and ensure each of your clients sees your work with fresh eyes? Here are a few strategies I use for just such situations.
Fear of Misunderstanding
It might feel like a project starts and ends with your involvement, but often a client has been contemplating, brainstorming, and molding the details they send to you for weeks or even months. They are terrified that if they hire someone, that someone will get it wrong.
The wrong angle. The wrong voice. The wrong outline.
And it’s a fair thing to be concerned about. Every writer is likely to have a unique take on any given topic. So to alleviate fears (and the risk of endless edits), make it unmistakably clear exactly what your take on their topic is.
From a 500 word article to a 50,000 word eBook I start every project with an outline. It’s a clear breakdown of the headlines, subheadlines, and resources I will use. I also write a short snippet in whatever style I feel will work best and hand them to the client for approval.
It’s better to iron out these details on day one, not after spending three weeks on a draft.
Fear of Availability
Imagine you spend two months outlining the perfect paper to promote your business. It addresses the concerns of your customer, expertly pinpoints the benefits of your products, and contains some clever factoids to back it all up.
You hand it all off to a freelance writer, who promptly misses deadline after deadline. Whether it’s happened before or your client has an active imagination, this is a very real fear.
To ensure my clients know I’ll keep to their deadlines, I set very clear milestones from the outset, often attached to payment terms, and cemented with a contract. Most clients don’t ask for this. At the outset, they’re happy to hear “I can get it done in 3 weeks”, but the only way to ensure I don’t get urgent, worried emails in a week is to have very clear milestones in place.
Combined with at least two communications per week - even if it’s just a quick hello on Skype - and my clients are rarely worried about me hitting deadlines.
Fear of Miscommunication (or Lack Thereof)
It’s a busy world. You have a full schedule. Your client has a full schedule. Finding time to touch base and ensure everything gets communicated clearly is not easy.
But when it doesn’t happen, the risk of miscommunication rises exponentially. It sure sounded like he said “write in the third person” but what happens if you get it wrong? It’s a lot of extra work for you and a missed deadline for your client.
So I take notes...copiously. Email makes it easy to verify details - it’s written down and if I miss something, it’s my fault. But phone calls or more difficult, so I always take notes during a call and then email them to my client as verification. I want to be 100% sure that I heard exactly what I thought I heard. If I have questions I ask them that day.
More importantly, I maintain these communications on a weekly basis. It’s easy to ignore a client when the work flows smoothly and you’re on deadline - but do they know that? Sending a quick “all clear” to your client every 3-5 days is a great way to keep them in the loop.
Fear of Crappy Work
That brings us to the biggest (and often most irrational) fear of all - the fear that what you send back will be awful. Unless you’re dealing with an editorial staff that sees hundreds of freelance submissions per month, your client probably has limited trust in the ability of a freelancer to perfectly illustrate the points that have been bouncing around in his or her head for the past few weeks.
That’s okay as long as you do it in a way they like. The problem, of course, is that they still don’t trust you and likely won’t for a couple of projects.
Milestones help. As does an early outline and sample of your work. Providing samples in the hiring phase is important too - even if the client doesn’t ask for them. Go even further, though, and actively solicit feedback. Don’t trust the “it looks good” feedback you’re likely to get with each milestone. Ask them to really read it and let you know what they think.
I can’t count how often I’ve sent two or three milestones for approval only to get a manic email filled with expletives two days after finishing a draft because I “completely missed the point”. An avoidable situation had I received early feedback.
It’s easy to get frustrated or even defensive when a client doesn’t trust your work, pesters you for updates, or practically holds your hand through a project. Don’t be. These people are spending big bucks and have every right to be nervous as hell that you’ll mess it up.
What you can do, however, is alleviate those fears with some of the actions above and hopefully keep them happy until they can see just how awesome of a writer you really are.