Creating Client Relationships that Rock

by Luigi Benetton

Getting along with clients involves everything from contracts and meetings to going out for coffee and making small talk.

On March 27, three seasoned freelancers shared their insights on these and a number of other client relationship facts.     Here are just few of the terrific tips they shared with us.

Tip #1: Create a master contract:

Sharon Aschaiek, @sharonaschaiek, http://twitter.com/sharonaschaiek, is a writer, editor and communication consultant who focuses on the higher education sector.

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She offers clients her own contract for three main reasons:

  1. set expectations about the project
  2. provide a professional impression to the client
  3. create a marketing opportunity with the client

“Clients are busy. They don’t have time for misunderstandings.”

Over the years, Aschaiek has developed a “master contract” template that she uses to get a quick start on creating new contracts. She also gave the audience the following list of resources that they can use to build their own contracts.

  • ca has two contract templates for freelancers on its website – one for working with periodicals, and one for dealing with corporate clients.
  • The Editors Association of Canada (editors.ca) has a standard freelance editorial agreement available on its website.
  • Professional Independent Communicators (pictoronto.com) has a downloadable PDF guidebook called The Independent Life that has useful information on contracts, plus other aspects of running a freelance communications business.
  • If you belong to the Canadian Media Guild, you can get help with negotiating contracts.
  • The Balance is a website run by About.com that has a great page on five types of contracts for freelance writers at https://www.thebalance.com/five- contract-templates-for-freelancers-1360292

Tip #2: Get copy back to editors quickly:

David Silverberg (@silverbergdave), a freelance writer for more than 15 years, has written for The Washington Post, BBC News, The Globe & Mail, Toronto Star, Vice, Buzzfeed, NOW Magazine, Broken Pencil, Quill & Quire, High Times and many more.

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When editors give detailed notes on his first draft, he’s grateful. “When I get a submission published wholly unedited, my spider sense asks whether anybody actually read this,” he says. He uses an editor’s comments, inserted using Track Changes in a Word document, to improve his writing.

Silverberg turns around requested improvements quickly, mindful of the time pressures his editors face.

Tip #3: Set your rate, then let the client reply:

Marjo Johne (@marjojohne), a freelance writer for close to 23 years, has had bylines in a number of periodicals and magazines, including The Globe and Mail, National Post and Medical Post.

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She has learned it isn’t enough to be polished and to dress for success. She asks for what she wants and doesn’t worry about the reaction from a prospective client. “I just say my rate and stop talking,” she says.

Johne handles hagglers politely, noting the value she offers and never getting insulted.

Tip #4: When a pitch is rejected, ask why:

“It’s easy to get your ego bruised,” says Silverberg. Instead, he recommends asking this: “I see that didn’t work for you now. May I ask why?” Any knowledge an editor shares may help the writer shape the pitch for another media outlet.

Tip #5: Talk about one another’s interests, not just business.

Silverberg’s editor at the BBC News website likes baseball, something he mentioned when he learned Silverberg is from Toronto. “He’s a big fan of the New York Mets, for some reason,” he says. “He loves talking about trades, the playoffs.”

After their business talk, they’ll sometimes go into baseball. “I tell him about my passion for Monty Python movies, which he appreciates.”

Tip #6: Don’t step on toes:

Johne recommends freelancers stay out of politics and never make anybody look bad. “Have everybody on your side,” she advises.

“Over the years, my roster of clients has grown because people who move to other companies remembered me.”

Tip #7: Don’t get your toes stepped on:

Silverberg mentioned kill fees, which ought to be at least 50% of the original fee. “Ask if you can pitch the idea elsewhere,” he adds, noting “Most editors don’t have an issue with that.”

Aschaiek once wrote for a magazine that publishes about high-end luxury travel and jewelry, that caters to the Bay Street crowd. “They were late paying me. The irony is so rich,” she laughed.

Almost three months after sending her invoice and enduing radio silence, Aschaiek visited them in person. “They were embarrassed. I got my cheque. And I never wrote for them again.”

She has cut slack for a client when she knows that client wants to pay but may be facing issues. “I worked with them. We set up a payment schedule.”

Tip #8: Consider branded materials beyond a business card:

Aschaiek sent custom-designed holiday cards to clients last year, a gesture she says was well-received.

Tip #9: Go out for casual networking:

“Like many freelance writers, I don’t meet the people I write for,” Johne says. “Luigi here, master networker (blush), told me he has lunch or coffee with one person every week. I’m starting to do this.”

Tip #10: Go above and beyond:

“As freelancers, we not only need to get along with clients, we need to stay top-of-mind so they remember us when new projects arrive,” Aschaiek says. While doing the job well gets you 80% of the way there, value-adds can paint you in an even more favourable light. “That’s the key to referral work,” she says, noting they appreciate things like notices of events they might want to attend and links to insightful articles.

Silverberg says editors look for more than just prose. He suggests writers find graphic material like photos, videos and embedded tweets. They can also promote published pieces on social media.

Do you have anything else to add? Please share your insights or questions in the comments below.

by Luigi Benetton