Several years ago a social worker told me there are three categories of people whom she sees in counselling sessions. They are, she noted, people who:
- Refuse to admit they have a problem
- Acknowledge they have a problem but refuse to do anything about it
- Recognize they have a problem and proactively, earnestly and enthusiastically seek out help
I was reading a post in one of my LinkedIn groups recently by a freelance copywriter who encountered an individual at a networking group, who didn’t believe in the value of hiring professional writers. He told her he was the one with the product and industry knowledge. And he felt he was a pretty good writer, so he could do everything himself.
And that got me to thinking about those three categories of people the social worker had told me about. More specifically, how, with a slight variation, they apply to the world of marketing communications and content marketing. Here they are:
- People who think they have both the subject matter and communication expertise — the old, “everybody thinks they’re a writer.”
- People who recognize they need communication help, but don’t budget properly for it, or don’t have a budget for outsourcing; or who want things done for pennies on the dollar
- People who know they need help and understand the value of working with a professional communicator
You’ll never be an ideal client if you see yourself being in that first category. As a professional independent communicator, I know it’s pointless trying to win the business of someone who falls into that group. Even if you did hire my services, you’d probably always have the urge to rewrite what I’m writing for you. That would make me feel like I’m wasting my time on you. End of relationship.
Nor are you an ideal client if you’re in that second group. I know I’ll never win the business of someone who thinks experience and expertise should come ridiculously cheap. Because I charge what I know I’m worth. If you want two videos, four press releases and six blog posts all written for a total of $1,500, then you’re hardly an ideal client for any true professional providing their experience and expertise.
Agencies, consultancies with creative capabilities (which is what I am) and freelancers love and are always looking for “ideal” clients. Here’s my take on how you can be an ideal client for anyone. Whatever expertise you’re outsourcing for. Make sure you’re in that third category I mentioned a few paragraphs back.
There are three ways to do that:
- Be focused on value, not price. In the end, you’ll get what you pay for, either way. But the content that’s produced for you when you’re focused on value will be grades above content produced on the cheap. Make sure you have a budget — a reasonable one. We’ll make every effort to work within it. Professional independent communicators who know their value and worth, charge accordingly. Instead of being price sensitive, focus on finding the right person with the right experience and expertise to help you. If you contract with someone who has handled projects in your industry sector before; or has career communications experience or other clients in it, that’s a big advantage for both of you. They understand your business. And you don’t have to spend a lot of your valuable time bringing them up to speed. The content they produce for you will reflect their expertise, flair and understanding of your business and industry.
- Be relationship focused. When I land a new client, I’m not just thinking about that first project. I’m thinking about how I can help them and add value in the long term. Think of that first project as the start of a great relationship. Think about how you can both work together over the long-term to help you achieve your business and communication goals.
When I worked for a major financial services company in communications, I supported the vice-president of a business unit who considered marketing communications as a necessary evil when it came to budget dollars. He was an old-school marketing and sales guy. But he understood the value of the communications support. He knew he could rely on me for anything he needed. He respected me. He knew that I knew how to write for him, in his voice. He’d joke about me taking his notes away and writing the first draft of a speech so he could rip it apart. We had a great working relationship for five years.
- Be respectful. Don’t, for example, make a regular habit of “the five o’clock surprise.” You know, that call or email at 5 p.m. on Friday afternoon demanding that the material I’ve been waiting for from you for two weeks, be turned into a sponsored content feature for you to review Sunday evening. I’m always willing to go the extra mile for you when you occasionally run into a tight spot or there’s an event deadline to be met. When I was in charge of producing financial adviser conference communications, and I and the rest of the project team I led had to work until midnight to finish an important video, we did. Because when necessary, you just do what you have to do. But this an exception. It shouldn’t be a rule. If you make it so, you’re not only being disrespectful, you’re also not being relationship focused.
Also, don’t think of your communication services provider as an order taker. We’re there to provide our expertise, insight, advice and suggestions to help you. When we suggest a better way to express or say something, there’s a reason for it and we know what we’re talking about. When we question why you want to say something, there’s a reason for it. If you continually say “just write it this way, it’s what I want,” then we’re going to feel as though you don’t really value or want our expertise. If neither of us feels respected, then the relationship’s going to suffer. Difficult clients usually end up getting fired. Bridges get burned. And that’s not a good thing for either of us.
Being an ideal client is really no different from being, or hiring, the right employee. It’s about fit. We’re both investing in each other for the long term. Or we should be. That’s what great working relationships are all about. Ideally.
Dean Askin is the principal and creative director of Oomph! Allied Communications. Oomph! is a consultancy with creative capabilities offering content creation, communication consulting, editorial, design & production, media relations and photography services and expertise. Dean is an award-winning communicator with 30 years of experience in journalism and communications. If you’re swamped, or just know you need communications help, well, that’s what we’re here for. Contact Dean at 416-757-6333, or by email, firstname.lastname@example.org