Freelance writers pursue business clients for all of the right reasons. Businesses can offer writers lucrative assignments that are mutually beneficial. They make the business look good and they help the writer’s bottom line. Most businesses have lots of work and pay generously. So why do so many writers flub it when it comes to dealing with business clients? As tough as they are to land, they’re even harder to keep happy long term. That’s because writers and business people think very differently.
Business people think differently. How well you can keep your business client satisfied with your services depends on both the quality of your services and your ability to understand what your business clients need.
First of all, business clients think differently. They think everybody is in business. As a writer, you may roll out of bed at the crack of nine and stagger to your computer with a cup of coffee and work in your underwear. Writers know this. Business people do not.
Therefore, do not tell your business client about your various unsavory and unprofessional habits like letting your toddler answer your business line, cooking dinner while you proofread their articles, or drinking beer while writing taglines.
If you can afford it (and even if you can’t) get a dedicated phone line for business and answer it like it was a business line during business hours, which by the way, start somewhat before noon. If you can’t manage to talk on the phone with the sound of cartoons in the background, let it go to an answering machine and call back from a quiet place.
Business people get nervous trusting their multimillion dollar babies to people who watch cartoons in the middle of the day. Yes, I know it’s your kids who are watching the cartoons. Business people get nervous trusting their multimillion dollar babies to people who work sitting next to their kids all day.
Second, realize that business people remember what they say to you. If they say Thursday is your deadline, don’t let Thursday roll by without turning in your project or even calling them. Meet your deadlines. Stay within the scope of the assignment. Incorporate their suggestions. You can forget everything your spouse or kids or Oprah Winfrey says to you over the course of the day, but don’t practice selective deafness when your clients speak.
Third, you need to see things through your clients’ eyes. Your client is concerned with two things: his or her career and his or her company. You would think that would be in reverse order, but it’s not. You always want to make your client look good, first and foremost, and if you can do that in such a way that the company benefits, bonus! But serve your client.
Do you know why? Because companies don’t hire writers, people hire writers. Your client is a person. Make sure his or her needs are met in terms of writing (make him look good by delivering a top-notch product on time and on budget) and let him worry about saving Wall Street.
Fourth, it is okay to suggest new ideas to your client if you do it subtly and then pull back. Think of it like throwing pebbles at a window at night and then running away. Rarely have I seen a client jump at an upsell (that’s what they call it when you get one sale and you turn around and right away talk the client into buying something bigger or better), but I have had a lot of good results with the pitch-and-run approach. A few months later the client comes to me with a brilliant idea. They tell me what I told them! And then I can agree to the new job and applaud their incredible brilliance.
Finally, remember that people who work in the corporate mainstream are often overworked but not in the way that writers are overworked. Most of them spend long hours in uncomfortable clothing. They often have to travel or sit in endless meetings. This translates into something few writers appreciate: most corporate denizens feel completely powerless when it comes to control of their own time. It’s a weird sensation and one that does not sit well with most people.
For that reason, always respect the time of your business client. Keep phone calls and emails short and on-point. Don’t bother them with idle requests or superfluous questions. Keep chit-chat out of the conversation unless you get “led” by the business person that some personal banter is permissible.