Hiring a freelance copywriter, graphic designer or web developer can be a trying task for a small- to medium-sized business. Sadly, the trouble goes both ways, as the creative person may find it difficult to communicate effectively with the client.
Regardless, communicating with the client is the one and only path to success in this business. So how do creative people get this right?
I’ve seen it done wrong many times in my career, and it is painful to watch. Creative people do it wrong, because of an intrinsic need to convey expertise at all costs, and offer the client what they’re paying for–good advise, followed by flawless execution.
Many times it’s a problem of tone. As the expert in their chosen craft, a creative practitioner can come off as condescending or needlessly didactic.
Web designer Paul Jarvis suggests that “we have a great opportunity to teach our clients what we’ve learned.” Naturally, I agree. It’s the basis of a consulting business, and marketing communications is a consulting business. Yet, I find this comment from “MissMoonPilot” on Jarvis’ article telling, as well:
Trying to educate your clients is not a good idea. Most of them are ego driven business types who would rather have hot pins stuck under their nails than have a freelancer suggest any changes for them. Just do what they ask. Take the money and run! Find other creative stimulations outside of your freelance work.
I’ve certainly encountered the above “just give me the copy” clients. I have a nose for them and do my best to keep my distance, for they don’t want me and I don’t want them.
Part of the problem is freelancers are detached by definition. Yet, detached is such an awkward position for the copywriter, in particular. The writer (me) wants to be deeply attached. It’s the writer’s job (my job) to be full of curiosity about the business in question and its customers’ wants and needs. That’s where the copy comes from. It doesn’t come from a set of talking or bullet points.
Clients who just want the copy may perceive my approach as meddlesome. Fair enough. But I don’t work with people at an arm’s distance. I partner and invest in our mutual success. That’s the path to great work and it’s a long uphill grind with no shortcuts.
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