Reputation Counts – Part 4

Last week, I went for drinks with an old friend. He’s been a life coach and business consultant for about twenty years. So when he sees trends and connections, I tend to listen. And he was noticing something interesting – that his clients were having a hard time identifying with their customers. They were treating customers as objects.

That’s a common thing in business. And a terrible mistake for a freelancer because it can destroy your reputation.

Traditional marketing is notorious for this – making assumptions based on stereotypes. Just yesterday, I was reading an online article about IT problems in local governments, and an ad popped up. It said, “Discover new IT methods for your agency, Brian.”

I scowled. I hate falsely personalized advertising. Just because I’ve logged into a site doesn’t give you the right to use my name. But the agency mention was odd, so I clicked on the ad. Immediately, I’m taken to a product purchasing page for state and local governments.

The marketer assumed that they knew me. They assumed that I was an IT buyer who worked for a government agency because I was reading an article on government.

This company has a bad reputation in the market already. But this ploy confirmed that for me. I left the page with a bad taste in my mouth about the brand.

And that’s precisely what you CAN’T do as a freelancer. You can’t afford to treat clients as objects.

As a freelancer, you want to acquire new customers, develop an ongoing relationship, and then retain that relationship over time. And to do that, you must deeply identify with your client – by asking questions, listening to the answers, and then remembering what you’ve learned.

Realistically, you’ll have a small number of clients at a time. So this isn’t a difficult task. Just capture important details about your client on a piece of paper, or in a spreadsheet, or in customer relationship management software. Add to it as your relationship deepens.

I just delivered a project for a new client and here’s what I’ve written about her.

Avid runner. Birthday in August. Likes quick project turnaround. Likes it when I remind her of things she’s forgotten. Likes to be contacted through Instant Messaging or texts. Dislikes feature-based marketing. Values white space, first person copy, likes to do more with less. Finds her internal marketing support team to be a waste of time. Happy to facilitate payment with her Finance team.

There’s no particular rhyme or reason to this list. But, before each call or email exchange, I read this. It’s helping me align myself to her preferences and requirements.

It’s already paying off. Unprompted, here’s what she wrote about me on LinkedIn yesterday.

Brian excelled consulting on our recent product launch. He internalized our strategy and tactics, executed essential launch deliverables with minimal input, managed additional contractors, provided unexpected improvements, and achieved everything before the deadline. I basically gave him this project, gave him guidance on what we needed, provided the information and access to SMEs and he returned deliverables that needed minimal editing.

She’s driving my reputation in the marketplace for me! By treating her as a person, aligning my work to her needs, and staying attuned to her preferences, she’s helping me build my reputation in the market. And I hope this approach helps you grow your reputation as well.

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Published: August 10, 2012

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