I'm all for promoting one's business - this blog has worked well for me on that score over the years - but if you're not careful it can all get a little ...corporate. Again, if that is your brand, all well and good, but I suspect a lot of niche businesses lose their way and end up trying to be something they're not. I should know - I write for some of them.
It matters because any customer engagement, be it on social media or outside of it, tells people more than what your business does. It also gives them cues about the way you do business, how you communicate, and a flavour of your business's personality.
You might think that could potentially drive away business rather than find / secure it, and in both cases you'd be right. The alternative is to try to be all things to all people, and risk setting yourself and your customer up for disappointment.
True story time.
Recently, a client approached me, based upon geography, around teatime, with an urgent online job that involved proofreading, editing and rewriting. The document arrived around 21.30 that night with an agreed turnaround over the weekend. The only issuette being that the client wouldn't not be available until after the weekend. No biggie, these things happen and I was willing to work for the rate offered.
Those of you with better spider senses than I employed might have already spotted a few pitfalls. For example...
1. I wasn't selected on the basis of my portfolio or experience with that particular business.
2. A tight deadline and no client availability does not allow for expectations to be managed on either side of the arrangement.
3. Anyone with a thinking head on might have surmised that a rush job for an important document with financial implications might have required closer collaboration not less.
Anyhow, I took the job and I worked on the document over the weekend, marking up only the key changes and adding comments and queries for feedback for subsequent changes (based upon client feedback).
Readers, it did not go well. And let me state for the record that the client was - and is - a good client. Just, perhaps, not the best client for me and vice versa. He felt I hadn't delivered to his requirements or met his needs, and after some soul-searching I felt that too to some extent. We were like a blind date that hadn't quite worked out. The upshot is that I've invited him to review and consider my weekend work and come up with a partial payment. It's not ideal and no one goes away entirely happy, but I think it represents our best chance of an equitable resolution.
My key learning points from this?
1. Know your business's strengths (both skills and subjects), and where you add value.
2. It's great to work with great clients - and I maintain, for someone who already understood this client's business, he could have been one.
3. Respect your own time and expertise, and price accordingly. And know when to say so.
4. Be the writer you are and manage your business in line with your vision. Or, as a friend of mine put it: A giraffe does not apologise to a jellyfish for having a long neck. Each is perfectly adapted to its own environment and thrives there.
5. Always get a detailed brief and plan for contingencies. Our old friends Time Cost, Quality and Scope are the cornerstones of any project. Squeeze one or more and you affect the others too.
Interestingly, not that long afterwards I was approached by a previous client to do some branding work. It called for a mix of creativity, humour, quirkiness and non-directed research. It won't surprise you to learn that the work was completed over fewer hours, to a delighted client (her words, honest), and for a higher rate.
Here endeth my lesson.
But before I go, have you had any freelance lessons recently? I'd love to hear about them below.