Join me as we browse some the multiplicity of metaphorical millinery and indulge in a little hatter chatter.
Clients (I prefer the term to customers - your choice may vary) can come to you with a variety of needs and words may be the least of them.
They may have a clear brief with a word count and a deadline, with your job to fill in the blanks with groovy content.* On the face of it this is a dream job, but there may be little scope for creative interpretation or adding value in other ways. Let's call this one being a straightforward content provider.
Other clients have a general idea of what they think they want, sort of, and an approximate sense of what the content is for. At first glance, your role seems to be that of a 'writing psychic', but put your crystal ball away and try asking specific questions to clarify what the objectives are and why. There is a reason why the client wants to spend good money on content and part of your role is to establish how they plan to get value from it.
Next we have those clients whose project has developed from a personal experience or need. In many ways these are some my favourite clients because they are already emotionally invested in the project, so there's a commitment to seeing it thrive. However, the flip side of that close connection is that any changes or creative input need to be handled sensitively. It's more than just a job for them - it's the fulfilment of a vision. Your role is part writer and part birthing partner. Remember to breathe!
Some clients do not enjoy working collaboratively, and some writers do not enjoy working any other way. The client rightly makes the final decisions because they pay the bill, but some have already decided that there will only be two hats - master and servant. The pay may be better or decidedly worse, but either way the working conditions will leave much to be desired. Micromanaging, frequent last minute changes, expecting you to put their project above everything else are all signs that your client sees you as an employee at best.
On the face of it, choosing clients who don't know what they want, or who want the world, or who want you to be their bestest friend, might seem like a nightmare scenario. However, from a business perspective, all of the above give you the opportunity to add value, whether by providing additional paid services, or by offering some services free - for a limited time - in order to build a establish a long-term working relationship.
These additional services can include: concept development, rewriting and copy editing existing material, proofreading, project management, and proposing new projects.
And some of those hats we spoke of earlier?
Strategist, counsellor, ideas generator and sounding board, oracle, bullshit detector, inquiry agent, researcher, negotiator, reality check and marketeer.
If all of that is within your repertoire, hats off to you!
* I have set myself the goal of championing groovy in common parlance in 2016.