Managing client relationships is a vital and often overlooked aspect of running a freelance writing business. Many people don’t realise that successful freelance writing is not just about finding work, getting paid, marketing your skills and business planning.
You may already know that the fundamentals of effective freelance client relationships include:
- Being polite and respectful – communicate with professionalism
- Taking a detailed brief – gather all critical requirements before you start working to ensure smooth project management
- Setting clear and realistic deadlines – ensure both parties can achieve the project goals without stress
- Defining rates and terms – agree to fees and conditions before any work commences.
Beyond those basic principles, though, there are other, less-known ways to ensure your new client relationships are happy and prosperous.
These tips also apply to writers working with other writers in a subcontracting arrangement.
Managing client relationships requires a positive mindset
A new client relationship is exciting – but, for many of us, it can also feel everything from incredibly daunting to downright awkward.
Managing client relationships test your communication skills and confidence – and, they often place you outside of your comfort zone.
That said, you can make long-lasting friendships with your clients. And, if you’re lucky, your clients can become your ‘real-life’ friends, too.
Great clients can be a source of inspiration – they can teach you about health topics, new industries and the inner workings of institutions.
There’s no doubt that, from every client relationship, you’ll learn something that will help you develop your skills and grow your freelance business.
Do your background research on potential clients
When you receive a new client enquiry, research the business in detail before you agree to work together.
Consider these questions:
- Do the client’s values align with yours?
- Are you confident that you have the skills needed to complete the job?
- Are you the best person to help this client achieve their goals?
- Does the job ‘feel’ right?
Remember: Working with a client who doesn’t align with your core values or skillset won’t bring out the best in you. And, that’s no good for you or your client.
Be honest and upfront with yourself. It may be tempting to say yes to every new job that comes your way, but doing so often means you’re taking on work that’s not suitable.
Some writers even suggest you should refuse up to 50% of new client enquiries! (And, there’s nothing wrong with politely refusing to work with a new customer.)
In short, you need to work out if you’re the right person for the job BEFORE you accept the work.
Find out how and why the client chose you
Learning how and why your client chose you is useful for market research – and, it helps you learn what they value in a freelance client relationship.
If possible, find out if the client is speaking to other writers and getting different quotes.
Understanding the process from their viewpoint helps you give them what they want.
Have an open discussion with your client about their expectations
Of course, your client expects you to complete the briefed job to a high standard. Beyond that, though, clients may have other expectations. The project may have several goals – and, ‘getting it done’ is not necessarily one of them.
Find out how your client will measure the project’s success. For example, they may determine your project was a success by considering:
- Internal/external stakeholders’ viewpoints – find out who the key stakeholders are and what they want out of the project
- Metrics – if views, clicks, shares and comments are more important than other factors, you may need to adjust your writing processes accordingly
- User feedback – you’ll need to find out who the users are and what they are looking for
- Sales – if no. of sales determines your success, you’ll need to consider how much influence you can really have in this process.
Knowing your client’s goals helps you stay focused and ensures you’re both on the same page at all times.
Find out what your client values in a freelance client relationship
When it comes to managing client relationships, find out what’s most important to your client. For example, your client may have a particular preference about your:
- Skills and abilities – to produce high-quality work
- Efficiency – to meet strict deadlines
- Flexibility – to attend in-person meetings
- Availability – to be available via phone, at any time, to have a quick chat
- Autonomy – to work independently with minimal input from them.
Focus on the key challenges your client needs to address
Ask your client what they are struggling with right now. Ask questions such as:
- Why do you need to hire an external writer?
- What is it about the writing process that challenges you and your team?
- Why can’t you do the job in-house?
- What is the specific skill gap you’re looking to fill?
Maybe the client has talented writers in-house, but they don’t have experience in a particular therapeutic area or writing style, for example.
Provide guidance, and speak up if you’re not happy
For health and medical writers, clients come to you because of your niche skills and industry expertise. Clients want you to know about industry best-practices and help them do better.
Don’t be afraid to make recommendations or have an opinion, either. Speak up if something doesn’t feel right or if you’re not happy about how the project is progressing.
Questioning and making suggestions also demonstrates you are confident in your abilities – and that gives your clients trust in your services, too.
Learn about the internal approval process
In many cases, your job begins after you complete the first draft! Revisions and approvals can be a source of tension when managing client relationships.
You can avoid frustration by being prepared and having upfront discussions about expectations and processes. Good communication is key.
Find out who needs to approve your work and what they want out of the project. Consider:
- How many people will need to review your copy?
- Do you need to add more rounds of corrections than usual?
- How long will it take to get feedback?
- What format will the revisions be returned in? (Word, Google Doc)
Read your clients and determine their preferred mode of communication
Working effectively with clients requires both you and your client to be flexible, but you may need to make more of an effort. For example, some clients prefer to communicate via SMS and What’s App or even Facebook Messenger as opposed to email.
Read your clients to learn how they like to communicate. You’ll soon work out if you can relax a little and be casual or if you need to maintain a more corporate approach.
Regardless, it’s always a good idea to be professional and respectful in your direct and indirect communication. You don’t know what a ‘freelancer red flag’ is for your client – and, there will always be clients who aren’t well suited to you for whatever reason.
Above all else, conduct your business with honesty and authenticity. Meaningful client relationships can give you a sense of purpose, enhance your freelance business and bring out the best in you.
What’s your number one tip for managing client relationships? Let me know in the comments.
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