How marketers and freelancers can nurture a successful working relationship
- 31 March 2023
Building and maintaining a successful relationship with your clients and freelancers can present some challenges.
In this article, experienced marketer and freelance copywriter Laura Bracher, shares her top tips to help you nurture and cultivate a strong and successful working relationship, whether you’re the client or the freelancer.
Every seasoned copywriter will have their fair share of client horror stories. From having multiple drafts ripped to shreds and battling unpaid invoices to unclear briefs and price haggling, some clients might make you want to bang your head against the keyboard.
Although freelancing has many benefits, like flexibility, variety, and multiple sources of income, challenging client relationships are unfortunately part of the package. So, it's essential to know how to deal with them and, better still, avoid them altogether. Let's look at some client behaviours to be wary of and tips for dealing with them.
Want to get straight to working with a freelancer? Here are our top three tips for working with a freelancer.
What makes a challenging client relationship?
I've had clients repeatedly ask for extras outside of the agreed brief and expect them without additional payment.
Then there are the clients that pay invoices late or, worse still, not at all. When I began freelancing, it shocked me how many big companies with full finance departments needed constant chasing.
Some clients aren't great at communicating, which makes projects awkward and time-consuming. Others disappear off the face of the planet only to reappear nine months later with edit requests (yes, that really has happened to me).
You could say freelancing is a bit like dating: while you may want things to work out with that person, sometimes they're just not good for you. And in that situation, you need to cut your losses and move on.
How challenging client relationships can impact freelancers
In my experience, and I’m sure many other freelance copywriters would agree, unpaid and late invoices are the biggest issue with freelancing.
As a freelancer, you're responsible for every aspect of your business: finances, advertising, admin, and providing the services themselves. When you add cash flow issues into the mix, it can leave you feeling overwhelmed.
Income stability is one of the biggest problems for freelancers and a significant reason why many resort back to seeking full-time roles. One in five (18%) are waiting over three months beyond the payment deadline. Given how challenging the current climate is, this leads to serious problems. Money issues make it tempting to accept whatever work you can get your hands on, and before you know it, things are quickly spiralling out of control, and you're trapped in a never-ending cycle of challenging client relationships.
Difficult situations and how to handle them
While it would be nice to pull out a crystal ball and see whether a freelance assignment is worthwhile, it's not always possible to avoid the bad eggs. So, what can you do when you find yourself in a sticky situation?
Take a breather
If the problem's a rude client, while you might be tempted to tell them to stick it, but it's important to step back and not react immediately. This is somewhat easier if you're working remotely as you can give yourself time to craft a professional response, but face-to-face takes much more willpower.
Last year, I received a scathing email from a client telling me that she hated the first draft of her homepage copy and that I hadn't listened to anything she had said in our briefing call (even though I explained at the time why what she wanted wouldn't work as well). I reviewed the pages of uniform text she had provided and came up with something snappy and that ticked all the SEO boxes.
I was hurt by how she shared her feedback, as her reasons for disliking the work were inappropriate. Still, I bit my lip and said I was sorry that she was disappointed and that I would like to try and make it right. I tidied up and edited her original copy, kept the lengthy paragraphs, and sent it back. She was delighted with the second version and, since then, has approached me on multiple occasions to help with additional projects (which I've conveniently been unavailable for). Sometimes you can't save the client from themselves.
Business owners, marketing managers, and sales directors will all have their own views on copy, which will usually differ greatly from the creative's. They aren't copywriters and may struggle to convey what they mean. As a result, you'll probably find yourself dealing with feedback like "Something's missing" or "Can you jazz this paragraph up a little?" (two actual responses I've encountered). Ask them to be more specific, and don't make any adaptations until you know precisely what needs to change. Remember: don't take it personally; know that editing is simply part of the process.
Cut your losses and let it go
If it looks like the project is turning sour, along with the client relationship, many reputable copywriters will do their best to achieve a satisfactory outcome. However, there comes a point when the sanest decision is to call it quits.
Take legal action
If your problem is a client that won't pay up, there are a few different ways to proceed. Firstly, persistence is key. Make sure to keep ringing or emailing weekly. If that doesn't work, you can ask them to take down your work if they've used it. They might not, but you can rework it and use it elsewhere if they do. Finally, if it's too big a sum to let go, you can seek legal advice to determine whether going down this route is worth the hassle. A simple lawyer's letter may be all it takes to prompt action.
What can you do to avoid challenging client relationships in future?
While these points aren't guaranteed to work every time, they've helped me immensely in my freelance journey (even though I've had to learn some the hard way).
- Save up before you go freelance - Ignore this if you're already freelancing, but if you haven't, save as much as possible. That way, you can be more selective about who you work with.
- Know your worth - Don't be tempted by content mills. I know how daunting finding clients can be when starting out, but sites like Upwork, Fiverr and People Per Hour are not worth your time. Sure, some freelancers do well out of them, but most of the time, you're putting a lot of work into crafting proposals for clients that don't even respond. Instead, channel your efforts towards your website and social media. A majority of my leads are generated that way.
- Always have a contract - My contract has changed many times due to learning from my mistakes. Things to consider including: a clear outline of the services you're providing, payment terms, number of revisions, rates/pricing, delivery date, cancellation terms, and copyright/ownership.
- Collect a deposit - Always collect a 50% deposit with new clients. Doing so lets you know they're serious and will likely pay you. I don't always request deposits from clients I've already built a relationship with, but I will with new ones.
- Go with your gut - Always trust your instincts. If a client gives off the wrong vibes and your gut screams no, you should politely turn away the work.
- Don't be afraid to let clients go - If you dislike working with somebody, whether it's the projects or their personality, don't try to convince yourself things will change or that the project's worth it: break up with them. From my experience, saying goodbye to difficult clients is one of the best feelings, and there's always someone better just around the corner.
When hiring a freelance copywriter, there are some practical tips that can help you start off on the right foot and maintain a prosperous working relationship.
1. Communication is key
Keep track - You don’t need to be in touch every day, but communication can make or break any relationship. Maintaining a clear route of communication is key and email is perfect for keeping a record of dates and requests and removing any needless back and forth.
Talk - At any time in the process, before the pitch or when briefing, for instance, ask questions if you’re not sure about something. If you’ve got an idea but not sure if it would work or how to go about it, an expert copywriter will be able to help you formulate an idea or help you realise it’s not worth the resources.
Inform - Let them know about anything they need to know in advance. Do you have turnaround times they need to consider before discussing a timeframe or deadline? Is there a stage or process within your business that needs to be considered? For example, briefing your Creative department.
2. Go with the brief
Be clear - If you have keyword research you need to be included, or someone from a particular sector you’d like to be interviewed, make sure you ask for those up front. Be as clear as possible so they know what you’re looking for. It’ll help them develop the best work for you from the get-go.
Be upfront - Include and discuss how many amendment requests you’ll be able to make. This will also help streamline the process further down the line. Timewise, it’s better to ask for one big and specific amendment, than twenty smaller vague ones.
Be detailed - Share the approximate word count you’d like, any links you want to be included, and who’s point-of-view it needs to be from. Provide as much detail as necessary and welcome questions from your copywriter about the brief. At the end of the day, you’re a team working towards the same goal. CIM members can access a template via our Marketing Expert platform to help you get started.
3. Set realistic deadlines
Leave yourself wiggle room. Mistakes happen. Life happens. Leaving room for this will reduce stressful situations and give you time to deal with unexpected events and benefiting both parties.
Remember to leave yourself enough time for the piece to be delivered or for you to start working a day or so later than planned.
Discuss the deadline with your freelancer early on, so they can be honest about if they think it’s feasible. Sometimes, you may be able to get the final draft earlier than expected.
You don't have to settle for second best. There are plenty of brilliant clients out there that are indeed a joy to work with (and even pay invoices on time!).
Knowing who to take on and who to avoid only comes with experience, but these tips should point you in the right direction. Don't let a negative experience knock your confidence. Freelancing has its ups and downs, and even the best copywriters can't please everyone.
Learn how to decipher good copy on our B2B Copy and Content Writing training course.
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