In the freelancing world, ongoing retainer clients can be an amazing source of income stability. However, getting to the point where a client is happy to commit to a long-term working relationship hinges on the know, like, trust factor that you offer. These days, clients aren't just looking for the freelancer with the best work samples or the lowest prices. In fact, clients have been known to pass on someone with these credentials on the basis of a lack of rapport and professionalism alone. This week goes into the issue in some depth and offers tips for how you might handle different situations depending, of course, on the long-term value of this potential client from an opportunity, exposure, and income perspective.
In this video, I want to talk about some things that you might be doing in the early stage of your relationships with your clients that are honestly cutting you out of the running before the relationship really begins.
One of the most powerful ways to build a six-figure freelance career is by working with retainer clients; this means you're responsible for doing a set number of hours of work every single month or producing a set number of topics. Having retainer clients is amazing for your freelance writing business as it helps you plan your income and know what to expect down the road.
I see a lot of people who start out as writers on these retainer projects where they have the potential to build a long-term relationship with the client and make a lot of money, but they do some unprofessional things at the beginning of that relationship and the client ends up cutting things off entirely. A great example is a project I'm currently managing for one of my clients where the writers have the potential to make a lot of money doing recurring work. The client has hundreds of articles that need to be completed, but they have really specific guidelines, and we provide great instructions and samples of completed projects so that everyone knows what the expectations are. As the project manager, it's my job to communicate those guidelines and requirements for the writers early on in the process so that the writer can determine whether or not they even want to proceed with a paid test job.
Quality of work isn't everything
However, we’ve have had people who have the work that is somewhat up to par, yet they're unprofessional and end up getting cut from the team as a result. When you're difficult to work with, people don't want to work with you. I don't care if your writing is amazing, if you're offering a great price, or if you're offering to turn things around relatively quickly and exceed delivery times. The problem with people who are difficult is that there are too many other options. As a project manager, I have had conversations with several of the editors on this team, and we had two people who were just difficult to work with. Their writing wasn't terrible - they'd been screened and they had done a test job that was 60%-80% of the way they were before the edits, but the way they handled things was so unprofessional that we cut them from the team immediately. As a result, they lost an ongoing retainer client that could have been really lucrative for them, and honestly, in a situation like this where the client has a lot of work to offer, it's to your benefit to learn their guidelines.
Yes, there's going to be a learning curve, there may be a period of time where you're not totally comfortable with what's required, and you're going to have your work kicked back a little bit because the client and you were trying to get on the same page about what's required. But if you can go beyond that time period, you stand to make a lot of potential money and a really great relationship with this client – you'll get faster at doing it, you'll understand their guidelines, and you'll become more of an expert in the type of content that they need.
Cooperate with your team
Let me explain what I mean by somebody simply being unprofessional. I'm not sure if people realize how they come across sometimes, but the tone of your emails or messages on a project management board can read as really unprofessional and even rude. When you do this and there are multiple people involved in the project, like editors, a project manager, and the person who is in charge of final approval, you're going to telegraph that message to each one of those people at the stage of the process. And if all of those people are really turned off by the way that you handle things, they are all going to meet, just as I did, and have a conversation about whether or not you're even a fit for this project at all. And you might not even realize that that's the way you've come across.
For example, one person in this scenario knew there were going to be edits requested to their article, and they basically rewrote an existing article almost identically. The words were changed to synonyms, there was not much improvement at all – and that wasn't the assignment. When the editor and the person above me who's managing final approval came back and said these changes needed to be made, the writer balked and then waited three days to respond again and say that they were not going to finish this article because they didn't want to rewrite it. Regardless of whether or not that person was a decent writer and could've fixed these small things and redone the article to make it look right and in line with what I was looking for, they chose to cut themselves out of the project - and we would have done that anyway. I'd rather know at the beginning that you're not going to be professional, that you're not going to meet deadlines, that you're going to take days to answer us, that you're going to turn in duplicate work. All of those things telegraph simply that you're not ready to be a professional writer or work on a retainer project.
The value of retainer clients
Now, if you find yourself in this situation where you've been given a project like this and all of a sudden you were cut, or you were frustrated very early on because maybe you didn't think the instructions were clear or somebody asked for revisions to your work, I encourage you to think about the long-term value of this potential client. If this is a one-off blog and the client is requesting way too many edits, it’s definitely time for you to consider whether this is an ideal client or not. But if this person and their project have the potential to bring you a lot of great opportunities, exposure, or income – rethink your approach. You may need to make some changes and revisions at the beginning of the project so that you can produce articles or other content pieces that are in line with what the client is looking for. Once you strike the right tone and voice, you're going to have a great working relationship.
Having a client who pays you every single month on time and is easy to work with because you've developed that foundation of what’s expected is an amazing thing. Be aware of how you come across when you write emails. If you open an email that's asking your revisions or seems unclear, respond professionally. Don't let your emotions get the better of you, because you could accidentally be telegraphing that you're difficult to work with. There are a lot of freelance writers out there. If you pigeonhole yourself as one who is difficult to work with, clients are going to refuse the opportunity to work with you or cut you out of a project early.
Let me know what questions you have about the freelance writing process, and take a look at some of my materials about how to define an ideal client so you don't end up in these situations in the first place.