Personality Pays Off (and How Clients can Land even a Fully-Booked Freelancer)

on February 19, 2010 in Freelance Writing Business, Freelance Writing Jobs
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I've mentioned before that I don't often take on new clients because my schedule is consistently full and I'm swamped with my own projects on top of that. A potential client (Robert Schierenberg of Superior Appeals -- a company dealing with property tax appeals) changed my mind about that the other day. It was the first time I stopped, thought it over, and said I'd consider the gig. What magic words stopped me in my tracks?

"I did see your fees and am interested in knowing if you'd be available for work.... My site won't actually be up and running until July 1 2010...."

What exactly took my breath away? Robert looked at my site. He actually reviewed the rate info there. He already knew that I'd need a good lead time to even consider the project. In other words, he did his homework! I'm sure you know how rare that can be.

Landing the Freelance Writer You Want, Even if They're Booked

One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone can manage to find my website and dig up my email address to contact me, but they don't take the time to click on a link or two to learn anything else. Instead they expect me to type out what services I offer and what my rates are in an email for them personally -- taking time out of my very busy schedule to give them information I already put at their fingertips. In the time it takes them to email me their questions, they could have already had the answers!

When these types of clients contact me, I just refer them to someone else. I'm sure many of them are fine folks, and if I weren't booked I would probably humor them. But I'm busy. I took the time to setup a professional site for their benefit, and if they show me they don't care enough about their own project to research the writer they want to hire, then why should I care about their project?

It doesn't matter if a writer is booked fully. There are often exceptions -- clients they'd happily stop and consider. Showing a freelancer that you can communicate with them effectively might cement your status as an exception to the rule. Researching that writer before contacting them is a great place to start. It shows them that you care enough about your project to want the "right" writer for the job -- the right tone, the right style, the right specialty. If you know nothing about the writer, you might just be wasting their time (contact me about writing for your content mill if you want to see the kind of reaction you get when you piss off a busy writer with lazy, irrelevant requests).

Writers: Being a "Peach" isn't the Only Profitable Personality Trait

There's another side to this story, and it's one we've talked about here before. Why did Robert even bother contacting me? Why not just immediately contact another writer? It comes down to personality. Here's what he said specifically:

"I do like your style, your [sic] honest and to the point with a hint of brashness and I like that!"

Statements like that have been more the norm than the exception. Some writers believe the only way to succeed is to put on a false air of perpetual positivity, grinning and bearing it no matter what a client throws their way. This is the "yes man" type; the "the client is always right" type. Client says "jump." Yes man says "how high?" I say "I work better parked on my ass, thank you, and since my job is to give you my best work possible, why don't we give that a try first?"

Unless you're the type of freelance writer who's content settling for mediocrity in your career -- such as churning out constant generic quick pieces of content that no one in their right mind gives a damn about just so you can earn a few bucks -- being a yes man is not your job. When it comes to more professional environments, writers are often consultants as much as actual writers. You're hired for a reason. You have a specialized skill set or specific topic area knowledge that a client wants to use to benefit their business or publication. Does that mean you make all the rules? No. Does it mean you spend your career making kissy faces at your clients so they think you're just the sweetest thing? No. Friggin. Way. It's about balance.

I believe wholeheartedly in being yourself, even if your self isn't perfect 100% of time (you're not, I'm not, that writer currently working your dream career is not). I believe in blunt honesty, and I'm quite fine with being the bad guy in a situation if something needs to be said and no one else wants to grow a set and say it. I'm actually probably most reserved here on All Freelance Writing, where if I said what I really thought about some issues in the freelance writing world, I'd ignite a sh*t storm of stupidity that I frankly just don't have the patience for. One place where I was never censored, however, was my now-retired PR blog -- NakedPR. That's where Robert first found me.

My entire purpose of blogging at NakedPR was to counteract the BS hype so prevalent in the PR industry, and to open my mouth when others wouldn't because they were too worried about their own image to care about telling the truth. That's not acceptable to me. You might think speaking my mind so bluntly and abrasively would cost me gigs. Instead it's helped me land some amazing clients over the years, and they keep coming back for more.

At first I didn't get it either. For someone to refer to my blog as "refreshing" left me scratching my head. Eventually one webmaster cleared it up. He was tired of those yes men writers. He didn't want someone to say "tell me what to do and I'll do it" like some homogenized half-wit who couldn't think for themselves. He wanted someone to hear him out, tell him when his ideas were genuinely good, and tell him when his ideas really sucked. That doesn't mean I ridiculed his ideas. It means I threw my professional experience and knowledge about appealing to his particular type of audience into his project.

I didn't just say "I think that's an awful approach." I told him why I had reason to believe it wouldn't work, and most importantly I gave him suggestions that would work much better. That's the line between being a bluntly honest and confident professional and just being a bitch -- the latter is what you get when you criticize without good cause or without constructive suggestions for improvements. That's what many clients want -- they want their writers to be truly invested in the results of the project rather than just invested in spewing a few words on a page and going on their merry little way.

Am I telling you that you need to adopt my personality style in order to land better paying freelance writing jobs? Absolutely not. What I'm saying is that you need to be you -- the real you (people do notice when you're being fake or putting up a front to mask your insecurities, so don't try too hard to be what you think others want). Actually, do more than just be your good old self. Be a confident you, even if it's a struggle at first. Just don't fall into the trap of being another voice lost in the mix of same old, same old generic writers. The moment you do that, you're not just replaceable; you're forgettable.

Thanks for sharing!
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3 Comments

  1. Anne Wayman February 19, 2010 Reply

    lol, we may be more alike than we knew… I love clients like the first you described. My fee structure is pretty clear and posted in part as a screening device –

    But your question: Am I telling you that you need to adopt my personality style in order to land better paying freelance writing jobs?

    Well of course not… couldn’t even if you told me too and you’re not. Somehow left me giggling a bit.

    • Jennifer Mattern February 19, 2010 Reply

      Oh, deep down I think you know you could. There’s a hard-ass in there somewhere Anne. ;)

  2. Jessie Haynes February 19, 2010 Reply

    Jenn,
    I started my niche blog, Which Planner, in hopes that I would build my visibility as an honest writer–sure, I want to write for time management supply Web stores but I don’t want to pander to them. If Franklin Covey or David & Co. knocked into my inbox now and asked me to write reviews of their planners and methodologies, I would be ready to be honest. I can relate to the wishy-washy versus honest and firm PR writer situation because I feel like there isn’t a professional Web writer actively soliciting this client base and giving their own opinions about what works and what doesn’t. I feel like some of the opinions I give on Which Planner could keep me from some gigs – like if, when I get my new Mac, and I try out Midnight Inbox, for example, and I give it a review with several negative points, they may not be receptive when I pitch them a rewrite of their Web copy (which is humorous but not engaging enough to optimally convert). I am constantly reading the copy–sales letters, product descriptions, etc.–of companies whom I would like to hire me I’d also like to bring a more honest voice about the pro’s and con’s of certain products / services for different people. So sure, being honest may cut out potential clients, but I hope it also gives me an advantage in their eyes: I’m not going to glaze over everything and write some cookie-cutter fluffy-as-cotton-candy BS for them. I’m going to write on real benefits and truly reach their readers.

    As usual, Jenn, I look up to you. I’ll be following your advice to really establish myself and to really get some visibility.

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