Happy Writer’s Day! In conjunction with the day we celebrate the wordsmiths for giving us a reason to debate on whether the tablet will actually phase out paper, we’re publishing this brief checklist of the things you do that are making you lose your clients.
Clients are a feared group of people who freelancers depend greatly upon to ensure that they still have a career in freelancing. Some clients are incredibly easy to work with; they say what they mean and mean what they say, and they never pay late. Others make you wonder what it was that convinced you to give up your day job to go freelancing in the first place. But if you think that only clients are hard to work with, then you probably have not been in the business long enough.
Freelancers have their share of idiosyncracies that drive clients up the wall. If you are serious about making a career in freelancing, it’s important to know if what you are doing is actually helping you in your career, or helping you lose clients.
For clarity purposes, this is written with freelance writers in mind but the points given can be adapted to fit the context of any other freelance specializations, even technical writers (designers and developers who write about their trade). Let’s take a look at the ways clients lose faith in your services.
Recommended Reading: Freelancers: How To Deal With Insecurities
1. Going Against The Readers
What makes a great piece of writing? Hmm… now, that’s a tough one, and an extremely subjective way to view writing. How can you tell what is good and what is not? The short answer to that is, if the client likes it, then it’s good.
But what happens when you have more than one client to appease? What happens when you write for a blog like hongkiat.com who has readers from all walks of life, designers, developers, writers and readers, young talents, seasoned experts? It will probably help to get some context into the purpose of your writing, particularly the difference between a blogger and a writer.
A blogger usually maintains a blog with ramblings, thoughts, opinions and their interests, and if the readers are lucky, what is written is what they want to read.
Now, when you look at this from the other side of the mirror, you’ll see that a much visited blog or website publishes with the readers’ best interest in mind. There is no clear, single answer on what readers like to read because every blog has its own cluster of readers who by themselves are already fickle-minded enough to love and hate what you write at the same time.
Despite that, don’t make the assumption that what you are interested in is automatically what the readers want as well. Observe your readers and write to excite them. Give them a reason for wanting to read what you write. With luck, you may one day uncover the secret formula that makes your writing appealing.
2. Submitting Substandard Work
My two cents worth about writing is that it’s an art form, mostly because it’s definitely not science. The only way two students can submit the exact same essay, bearing the same points or choices of words during a test would be because one of them had no imagination and had to resort to copying to pass. More on plagiarism later.
As it is with any art form, like sculpting, painting, sketching or even doodling, it takes a drop of talent and a lot of practice to become good at writing. Come to think of it, there is one other small detail that can help a writer deliver a good article.
Pure hard work.
In-depth research, cross-referenced materials, multiple rewrites are just some of the characteristics of a piece that once is published, will leave readers in no doubt that the writer has really done his fair share of homework. Let’s face it: if your readers can uncover more than you can, then it’s not really fair to expect them to think highly of your work now, is it?
I bet that puts a lot of pressure for writers to push your writing to the extreme. In fact, some of you may resort to…
3. Submitting Plagiarized Work
First of all, if you are going to make writing a source of income, you should have pride in what you write. Secondly, if you cannot be bothered to paraphrase or cite your sources (or write something original) I think that it’s better for everyone else in the industry that you ‘retire’ gracefully.
You can tell that I don’t think highly of writers who plagiarize their work, but I’m definitely not alone in this sense. A thin line separates flattery and forgery, here’s what Reuben Katz has to say about it but if you can’t prevent it, at least be the person whose work was plagiarized, don’t be the one accused of this heinous act.
But ideas get stolen all the time – I hear you say – what’s the big deal?
All right, the Internet is a huge place, coincidences happen, or sometimes deliberate idea theft may happen, protected thinly by a different language (translate one English article to Mandarin and no one can be the wiser) but all it takes is for one plagiarized article to smear a client’s respect or opinion of your work.
Sometimes the damage goes further than one realizes and it could get your client in trouble as well. When that happens, everyone’s going to look over your future articles with a magnifying glass from then on, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Don’t write if you think the only way you can go far is on borrowed talent.
4. Giving Away Secrets Of The Trade
Never tell how much work you’ve put in before your clients have looked at the end result. When it comes to writing, the piece itself will reveal the amount of effort (or experience) the writer has put in. So when what ‘the piece’ is telling your client and what you told your client don’t add up, something has got to give.
Given the fact that what constitutes as ‘hard work’ to you does not necessarily mean the client views it the same way, suggests that sometimes it’s better to just not share your trade secrets so willingly.
An example is at hand:
Freelancer: "I’ve worked 5 long hours on this project."
Possible (but silent) rebuttals:
The perfectionist client: Seriously? This is the best you can come up with?
The calculative client: What? I’m only paying for 5 hours of work? / This took 5 hours?
The pedantic client: An hour is an hour, there’s no long hours or short hours.
The non-existent client: Good job!
Too much information may be detrimental to your client’s impression of your work, which in turn may compromise their view of your performance and your final results. It’s better to just focus on perfecting your craft and letting your craft do the talking.
5. Shortchanging Your Client (and yourself)
Of course many freelancers know that Content is King, but you shouldn’t in any case hold it for a king’s ransom.
Many writers are confused into thinking that they should write an article based on how much they are paid for it. If they are paid less, they write below their standards, and if they are paid more – well that never happens. Fact is, however, that you are not going to get rich with that one article, and if you apply this "write as you are paid" rule in your writing, you are never going to break out of that vicious cycle of submitting only substandard work.
What you should be doing with your materials is to build your client’s confidence in your work. This doubles as an investment in your portfolio for future work. Put in 100% (there is no such thing as 110%) into every aspect of your writing and make the readers crave for more. Clients love formulas that work and they always want to keep the people who can make things happen continue working for them. Nothing beats the feeling of having several clients fighting over whose project gets your attention first.
There are no shortcuts to good-quality work. That’s why good-quality work is a rarity – otherwise there’d be no editor roles in publishing. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that crxeative people who produce top-quality work need not work hard to deliver great results.
Fact is creative people are the most hardworking people, because they are always pushing their boundaries even when no one is watching.
Lastly, if you really want to impress your clients, never settle for good enough (this has always been one of my golden rules, and it has yet to fail me). True, there will always be room for improvement, and when you are working within a timeframe, sometimes there isn’t enough time to make your writing perfect.
But there are two ways to overcome this: one, make time, and two, just keep practicing and be open to honest feedback (the honest kind is pretty rare these days). The world can never be too crowded for writers. Happy Writer’s Day.