Freelance Fridays: Do You Coach Your Clients?

A former boss of mine had a litany of favorite sayings that reverberated around the office and never seemed to die, including this one: “If you’re not training somebody to do your job, you’re not doing your job.”

Fair enough, but what about those of us who work from home offices, who have few to no employees, and who make a living by advising, and creating for, others?

I think it’s still true. Part of your job is teaching your clients. And contrary to what you may have been told, coaching your clients doesn’t make them run away because they “know it all” and can now “do everything themselves.” Successful coaching demonstrates your skill and professionalism, teaches them just how much work you do for them, and shows them how valuable your services really are.

Now I’m not suggesting you give away state secrets or anything. But offering free advice is a nice add-on service that helps your clients grow into more sophisticated consumers who can distinguish between the quality service you pr

ovide and the work performed by competitors.

What you can give, of course, depends on your business, but consider these examples:
       A photographer could offer little tips on lighting, framing and other technical points on how the client can improve his own personal shots.
       An editor could discuss common writing problems and grammatical issues.
       A graphic designer could talk about the design principles in a proposed layout.
Do you coach your clients? What sort of advice do you provide?


Writers Wednesday: Are You Celebrating International Book Week?

Stock image by Whiter78, 2010.

It’s been trending all over the Web this week, a social media game announcing “International Book Week” that goes something like this: Find the book closest to you, turn to page 52 and post the fifth sentence as your status on Twitter, Facebook or your soapbox du jour. The title remains a mystery for your friends to solve.

Sounds fun enough; when you have little-to-no real social life and too much time on your hands, it’s cool to have something literary to do like guess what your pals might be reading. But run a few searches for International Book Week and not much comes up except more links to and versions of this little game. In fact, I have yet to see any real evidence that this “book week” exists.

That’s kind of a shame. There should be one. Books are awesome. We should organize that.

In the rather conspicuous absence of International Book Week, however, we can still look forward to other celebrations of the written word, notably Banned Books Week, which runs from Sept. 30-Oct. 6. This is a special time for discussing press freedom, author expression and censorship. I can think of no better way to honor the efforts of all who have worked to preserve your rights to information than by taking your family to the library and spending time together learning about something other people don’t want you to know.

So it’s not really International Book Week, yet. But if you’re still in a celebratory mood, why not grab your pencil and get in some practice writing dialogue, pirate-style? It’s Talk Like a Pirate Day, proudly brought to you by the Pastafarians at the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.


Freelance Fridays: When Your Client Wants to Cancel, Part 3

Welcome back to our client cancellations series!

In Parts 1 and 2, we discussed scenarios in which outsiders are fully or partially responsible for the client’s desire to discontinue services.

Today’s a little tougher. Today, it’s about you.

What do you do if the problem seems to be all you? The five-step plan for reaching a resolution that I outlined in Part 2 for subcontractors still applies when there’s nobody else in the picture but you and your client. But while following the steps, you need to self-evaluate and determine what went wrong and what, if anything, you must change.

It’s time for some tough questions. Go through each of these. Answer each one honestly.

Does your client like you? 

Did you lie to get this person’s business? 

Did you exaggerate your own abilities?

Does the work you submitted match up to what you said you’d deliver?

Did you overpromise?

Did you complete the job?

Did you both agree to anything that’s written down or recorded somewhere?

Did you meet deadline?

Did you go over budget?

Did you communicate your role poorly?

Did you agree to provide discounted, free or “extra” services to this client as a condition of doing this job?

Did you ever submit an estimate or quote that the client accepted?

If the client requested changes that required budget or time adjustments, did you notify the client of this  in advance?

Now that you’ve spent some time examining your own role in the conflict, ask yourself just one more question: Based on this, did I do anything wrong?

If that answer is “No,” your client’s position may not be a reasonable one. Follow the five-step plan, but  especially note the client evaluation section. Depending on your individual situation, this may be a “problem client” that you don’t wish to work with again.

But if your answer is “Yes,” then you need to make things right.

Good luck!


Freelance Fridays: What to Do When Your Client Wants to Cancel, Part 2

Happy Friday and welcome back for Part 2 of this series on handling unhappy customers!
In Part 1, we discussed what to do about a prospective client who is torn between two vendors. Today, I want you to visualize a situation in which you subcontracted part of the job and the client is not happy.

Perhaps you thought you had approval to hire an artist or designer or marketing expert, but the client balks at the expense. Or possibly you were upfront from the beginning that some projects would be handled by your assistant, yet the client feels he got subpar service.

“But I don’t subcontract,” you might say. “I handle everything myself.”

Do you? If you’re using web host templates to design the client’s new business site, or you’ve sent a T-shirt design out for screen printing, or that new brochure just came back from the printers, or your artist partner did the e-book cover, or your intern did the article research, you have in fact handed over control of part of the task to someone else.

So you have an angry client, but it’s not really your fault, right? I mean, yeah the print job looks a bit sloppy and there are a bunch of typos and the color’s all funny-looking, but come on, this guy’s too picky. It’s not like you did anything wrong; he should smile, sign you a check and then he can go yell at those other incompetents.

Wrong. It’s your job, your client and you let him down. Here is my five-step plan for helping you both come out of this with your dignity intact:

Shut up and listen. Just stop talking. Do you really even understand why the client is upset? Give that person the time they need to get it out of their system. I’m a compulsive note-taker so I’ll often whip out a pad and jot down the details. When your client is done, respond by saying, “Let me make sure I understand you correctly. The issue is….” Be prepared for the client to start all over again and continue talking at some length if necessary.

Accept full responsibility. Once you have a full grasp of the situation, own it. You do not get to blame the printer or your assistant or your partner or anybody else. You chose those people and those service providers for the job. Yes you might be very mad at those individuals right now, but they are your professional associates. Don’t you dare throw them under the bus.

Offer a sincere apology. Emphasis on sincere.

Suggest an appropriate resolution. Should you make adjustments to the client’s bill? Hire a new artist? Find another printer or negotiate with the one you have? Figure out what the client wants, and then do your best to work it out.

In my newsroom days, it wasn’t at all unusual for a client to come in with complaints about advertising, from embarrassing typos to poor color to off-register printing. Since we didn’t have our own press, many of these complaints had to do with the printer, over which we had little control. Our usual policy was to credit the client’s account for the bad ad and run a billable new one in the next edition, although this approach occasionally required adjustments for mistakes in brochures, tour guides and other seasonal promotions.

Evaluate the client. Now that you’ve listened, taken responsibility, apologized and worked out how you’re going to handle this together, think about this: Do you want to deal with this client again? Part of the answer will depend on whether you find the client’s position to be truly reasonable. Was the client actually overcharged? Did he actually receive poor results? Should you move your assistant to other projects, find a different artist or stop using that print service? Do you need a better training and management system? Take some private time to think about the entire situation and determine how you will respond to future interactions with this client. If you have staff, hold a meeting and discuss what went well and what didn’t.

Have you ever had a bad situation with a subcontractor? What did you do?


Bug a Blogger: How Do You Price Freelance Work?

How do you determine what to charge for a freelance assignment?

Well it depends. There are several formulas out there for creating your pricing structure, but they all boil down to a combination of several things: the going industry rates, the local market, your own education and experience, and your company’s need to make a profit.

What doesn’t really change is the concept of billable hours. There’s only so much work time that you can actually charge to the client. The hours you spend marketing your business and going over the books don’t count in terms of direct income generation. This means that for your business to be profitable, your rate has to account for that lost time.

In addition, your compensation needs to cover your other business expenses, such as advertising, employees, taxes, software, printer ink, telephone and Internet access. You need personal wages to cover your living expenses and build your savings, and over and above your personal pay you should allow some flexibility for profit. This is where you can decide whether you can afford to run specials or offer discounts to select clients, such as students or charities. Clients who come in expecting to pay rates closer to common salaries in your area need to be reeducated. You’re not just working for salary; your personal wage is the tip of the iceberg.

I have sometimes chosen to offer discounts and specials specifically to help students with their academic work, but the lower pay means I have to be cautious about how many of those types of assignments I accept. It’s all about finding a balance, and it’s up to you to do the research to learn what your own household must budget for expenses and what the market will bear.

Want to know more? Send me your questions or post a comment below!