Unfortunately, they don’t hand you a Client Services Manual your first day as a freelance copywriter. If they did, it would help you avoid basic freelance writer mistakes, and build lasting client relationships that will sustain and grow your writing business.
The truth is, most clients won’t give you feedback on your communication strategy: they will just gradually become more annoyed until they decide to work with someone else.
So consider this the client services manual you never had, and avoid making these common freelance writer mistakes when working with clients.
Dos and Don’ts for Client Communication
Every client has their own style and preference. Some are chatty and personal, while others are all business. While it’s always important to adjust your communication based on their preferences, here are some basic rules to always follow:
- Overstate your qualifications. Don’t claim experience or qualifications you can’t back up with proven work. And don’t claim expertise in the client’s business: they work with their products and services every day, and naturally have more expertise than you do. Remember that they are the experts at their business, and you are the expert at writing.
- Oversell the work. When sending work to a client, don’t claim that it’s “the best thing I’ve ever written and I guarantee you’ll love it!” If the client doesn’t love it, they will question not only your skills as a writer, but also your judgement as a professional.
- Engage in too much chit-chat. While some clients appreciate friendly rapport, be mindful of their time and don’t waste it in digressions. It should go without saying that you should avoid over-sharing, particularly about subjects like religion and politics. Stay on topic and focused on work.
- Miss deadlines. Establish deadlines and time frames from the very beginning, and then stick to them always. If you realize that you will miss a deadline, communicate that information as early as possible.
For example, if your internet goes down or you have to take a sick day, tell the client immediately, and offer an alternative time frame. Giving them more time to adjust their own schedule and expectations is the least you can do.
- Criticize other clients. It’s a new freelance writer mistake to think that you are praising one client by criticizing another. It’s likely to make your client wonder what you say about them behind their back.
- Over-praise other clients. Likewise, if you over-praise other clients, the current client may think that they aren’t as good or don’t measure up. In other words, just avoid comparing your clients to each other.
- Deliver the bare minimum. A client can tell when you are delivering the bare minimum, and working without real effort or commitment. Focus on quality, not just scraping by.
- Play the blame game. If you’ve made a mistake, missed a deadline, or had a miscommunication, be accountable and take responsibility. Don’t make excuses, and especially don’t blame the client. Stay calm, find solutions, and make improvements to avoid these issues in the future.
- Send the invoice with your work. Sending your invoice at the same time as your work is a bad practice. It creates the impression that you are over-eager to get paid, or concerned that the client won’t pay you on time.
It can also complicate communication if the client has notes or questions about the work and comments or questions about the invoice. Be patient, deliver the work, and make sure the client is satisfied with it before sending an invoice.
- Be clear upfront. Make sure you understand the brief and that you and the client agree about time and costs upfront. Make sure your invoices are accurate and in line with the client’s expectations. Nobody wants to be surprised by a big bill, so even if you have reasons for overages and additions, make sure they are explained and clarified before invoicing.
- Double-check the specs. Before delivering any work, double-check it against the brief. Make sure that it meets all the guidelines and specs, and includes everything the client specified.
- Use quality sources. Get to know Google Scholar. Almost every kind of writing is improved with the addition of accurate, reliable facts and statistics, and facts are particularly important in persuasive writing.
When making a specific, verifiable claim (“most Americans hate licorice”, “10% of babies are double-jointed,” or “dentists prefer saccharine”) always back it up with high-quality, reliable sources. Include the links, even if the client won’t use them, to show that you’ve done the research.
- Polish it up. Take the time to edit your work, performing spell and grammar checks, and proofread it thoroughly. Finish by formatting it to spec. Always allow time in your schedule for these final checks and polishes.
- Over-deliver. Over delivering doesn’t mean dramatically exceeding the word count, or doing more work than you need to. Put simply, over-delivering means that you create writing that doesn’t just meet the client’s specs: it furthers their goals.
Understand what the client wants to accomplish with this copy, and then use your experience and intelligence to make that happen.
- Communicate clearly and effectively. If you are in doubt about something, ask for clarification. If you have a lot of questions, compile them into a single email or document, to avoid pestering the client with too many messages. When the client reaches out to you, respond within 24 hours, if not sooner.
- Review the published work. Follow up with your work after it is delivered. The client who may not give you feedback outright will often speak volumes with the version they publish. Did they heavily edit and revise your work after you delivered it? Did they not use your work at all? The difference between what you wrote and what they published is often the feedback that they won’t give you directly.
While this may seem like a lot of rules, it all boils down to professionalism. Don’t make the mistake of treating clients like friends. Clients want to work with great writers, but they also want to work with professionals who are efficient with their time and money.
Practicing professionalism is also good for your own efficiency and financial well-being as a freelance writer, because it avoids confusion and mistakes on your invoices, wasting time in unnecessary chatter and back-and-forth messages, and losing clients to avoidable errors.
Client service makes the difference for a long-term, successful freelance writing career.