Your Secret Power Over Your Client

There’s a client I’ve worked with for a while who uses my copywriting services 2 or 3 times a year. He’s not my top client, but does use me regularly and likes my work.

Well, recently something happened with this client that I wanted to share with my friends at Inside Freelance Design.

I did a job for him, and nearly 8 weeks went by with no check in the mail. I was also having trouble getting him to respond to my e-mails.

I thought, “My gosh, he’s trying to cheat me!”

I was tempted to start sending him emails threatening a lawsuit. But I held off. I’ve been doing this freelance gig long enough to know that harsh words written or said to a client can never be taken back.

So I waited. I kept in contact … but did not nag. Instead, I sent links to articles related to his business. I would end these positive, helpful (I hoped) emails with a gentle reminder about the money he owed me. I grit my teeth when I sent those messages, but I knew I was doing the right thing.

Patience Pays Off

Last week, I received his check. And that same day, I got an email describing his next project, a contract for a good fee … along with an explanation for the delayed payment.

His start fee sits in my PayPal account as I write this. Do I believe the reason he gave me for the delay? Why not? I’m still working with him, and he’s eager to continue working with me on more projects.

This experience brings up an important point: No matter how skilled you are, there are always going to be other DM-trained designers eager to take your jobs. And, all other factors being equal, clients choose designers who are easy to work with.

They’re not looking for pushovers, but they want to work with people who understand the stresses of doing business and will not add to those stresses with aggressive, in-your-face behavior.

Your Mother Was Right!

Being polite and courteous makes clients love to work with you. So does offering to do a little extra work -- without asking for extra money. Mom’s admonition when you were a kid to “play nice” translates to “work nice” in the professional world. And when she told you to “watch what you say,” … well, that’s good counsel whether you’re 5 or 75. A gruff remark tossed out in anger or frustration echoes in your client’s ears forever.

A Few Pointers for “Working Nice”

  1. Never send off an angry email until someone else reads it. This buys you time to cool down – and, if you’re lucky, the other person will convince you not to send it.

  2. Do not call a client if you are really upset with them.

  3. Smile when you’re talking on the phone, even if you’re upset. (See #2.) Smiling softens your voice and makes you sound more agreeable.

  4. Before insisting that something is exactly as you said it was, check it out. Taking time to research a contentious issue is another way to buy yourself time to cool off. (And it keeps you from looking foolish in the event that you were wrong.)

  5. “Please” can sound forced or sarcastic in a business setting. It’s sometimes better to say something like “I’d really appreciate if you could …”

  6. “I’m hoping you can help me” can turn a potential adversary into an ally.

  7. “Thank you.” And “I’ve really enjoyed working with you.” And “I hope to work with you again.” You love hearing things like that, don’t you? So do your clients.

Ours is a small industry compared to most. Word gets around if you’re a positive, client-friendly designer. Or if you’re not.

But let’s be frank. If you’re a designer who consistently produces winners in the mail, maybe you can afford not to care about how you treat your clients. Just keep in mind, though, that most of the really top designers – people like Lori Haller and Roger Parker- – are also some of the kindest, most considerate professionals you could hope to meet.

Maybe it’s a coincidence that they naturally happen to be endowed with great graphic skills. Or maybe it’s because people who are courteous and easy to work with get the most work and the most practice. And the most word-of-mouth referrals.

And that’s what success in this business is all about.

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »

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Published: May 3, 2007

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