For almost four years, ever since I stepped away from full-time PR work, I’ve been telling others (and myself) that I no longer have to deal with clients or account management because I concentrate solely on writing work.
Recently I’ve realised that’s not true. Every person who assigns me a project or assignment is, in fact, my client. Duh.
I’m sure I would have read many articles and blog posts on this matter when I was just starting out, when I was reading just about everything about how to be a successful freelancer. Somewhere along the way, I forgot all about the advice that counselled freelancers to cultivate strong relationships and brand values, because that’s what it takes for people to continue working with you.
I thought I understood that, at the time, but after a year of challenging work situations – a few of which ended on a less-than-positive note – I’m reminded that I need to remember what I learned as a PR consultant, and to put those philosophies to work once more, namely:
Get to know the client
As a freelancer, this can be tough as many jobs come on an ad-hchoc basis, with tight timelines and sometimes no face-to-face interaction at all. As a consultant, I took the time to look up the company website at least, and I still do, but today I rarely go the extra mile to establish what my client wants and what my client needs. The first – what the client wants – is the brief, but what’s more important is to know what they need, which may remain unspoken but is essential nonetheless, so that I can deliver work that goes beyond fulfilling merely the letter of the brief.
Invest in the professional relationship
One of the things I was most glad to leave behind years ago was the dreaded WIP document. For some, this is a lifeline but for me it was a pointless effort as it often changed little from one meeting to the next. Today, I’ve replaced it with recap emails after phone calls and the occasional meeting, but I’ve been remiss in providing regular updates on large projects which span weeks or months. As a result, each email from a client asking for updates creates a momentary flash of panic (thinking I’ve missed a deadline or made some kind of mistake). When this happens, it feels like a rude surprise, a slap on the wrist that causes the professional in me to cringe.
Offer something more
The phrase that comes to mind is ‘value add’ – the kind of thing that doesn’t require significant investment of resources, yet make a difference. For example, some of the people I have worked with have little or no experience in how to prepare or deliver a communications brief, or how to create a tracking document. So sometimes I write my own brief and – while I abhor WIP documents – a schedule is extremely valuable. More importantly, this benefits me too, in addition to making it easier for both parties to keep track of things and avoid (or at least reduce) miscommunication or misunderstandings.