9 tips for how to be a great client

I’ve written for 120+ different companies now.

That gives me enough experience to separate the sheep from the goats, the good from the bad.

I’m always delighted to work with a good client again. And I’m happy to be done with the few I consider not-so-good.

Photo of a goat among the sheep

Here’s my list of 9 tips on how to be a great client for a white paper writer or any other creative contractor.

If you’re a marketing manager, these tips will help you rise to the top of your writer’s favorites.

And if you’re a white paper writer, here’s what to look for in a great client.

Tip #1: Plan ahead

I remember getting a call from a desperate prospect one afternoon on Christmas Eve.

“Can you do a white paper by the end of the year?” she begged.

“Between now and New Year’s?” I asked in disbelief.

“Yes, before we shut down December 30,” she replied.

“Sorry, I’m shutting down myself right after this call,” I said. She hung up, disappointed.

I seriously doubt she found any writer with so little notice.

The fact is, any established white paper writer has several projects on their desk at any point.

So it’s not realistic to expect they can drop everything else, and do your white paper in a couple of weeks. 

It’s best to start talking to a white paper writer a month or two before you need them to start. The more advance notice, the better.

Tip #2: Don’t be a bottleneck

Your role is to help your team create the best white paper they possibly can. So give them what they need.

Clear glass bottleneck - That White Paper GuyIf your writer needs to sign an NDA, get that form over to them.

If they need a PO for their invoices, get one for them.

Gather the background they likely need at the start of the project, even if that takes you an hour or two.

If your company has an editorial style guide or some branding guidelines, send them over.

Don’t be a bottleneck who slows things down.

Tip #3: Introduce your team

Not every SME or executive will block out time in their busy schedules for a stranger who e-mails them about a project they’ve never heard about.

So tell your team members about the project.

Introduce them to your writer in a conference call or at least in an email.

Help set up interview appointments.

Tell your writer who reports to whom.

A few minutes spent this way can pay off by avoiding days or weeks of delay.

Tip #4: Review drafts quickly

When I tell prospects that a white paper takes at least 4 to 6 weeks to complete, some are astounded.

That’s not usually 4 to 6 weeks of solid effort from me. Half that time gets eaten up by reviewers.

Sure, everyone is busy.

But if you’re on the list to review a white paper, you should really get to it within a week. If you can’t, why not take yourself off the list of reviewers?

Or at least, don’t push to finish the paper in record time. If you take 2 weeks to review a draft, the timeline just grew to 6 to 8 weeks.

Serious executive in suit reviewing a white paper - That White Paper Guy

Tip #5: Review drafts intelligently

Don’t let reviewers—or yourself—take a worm’s eye view of a draft.

In other words, focus on the higher-level questions:

  • Is this document engaging?
  • Does it capture the company story effectively?
  • Is it persuasive?
  • Will it likely achieve the business goal?

Don’t worry about niggling details of punctuation or spelling.

Tip #6: Don’t call meetings at silly times

Let’s talk right after lunch Friday afternoon,” suggests a client in San Diego, CA. But I’m on New York time. For me, that’s 4:30 on Friday afternoon… not the best time to get my sharpest thinking.

How about 8 AM Monday morning?” another client suggests. “The rest of my week is already packed.”

I don’t know about you, but that’s another time when I’m not exactly at my best.

I’m probably still at my kitchen table having a coffee, and the kids aren’t off to school yet.

How about something more reasonable, like 10 am?

What about talking on statutory holidays like Labor Day or the 4th of July?

Some entrepreneurs work right through the holidays. But I’ll probably be out playing with my kids, not sitting in my office taking your call.

Sure, it’s challenging to schedule calls with people in Australia or India. But I’ve done it for many projects.

I don’t mind getting up extra early or taking a call later at night, if that’s the only time we can connect. And neither do my clients.

But if we’re all on the same continent and there’s an easier time to choose, please do it.

Tip #7: Don’t treat a contractor like a junior employee

I could have written this myself, but I have more important things to do,” said a doctor running a tech startup. “I’m just looking for another pair of hands.”

Oh-oh. Red flag time.

Sounds like this esteemed person had more important things to do than generate leads and explain the benefits of his offering.

Despite his many years of experience as a doctor, he had next to none as a copywriter or an entrepreneur.

And even though I was almost as old as him, he related to me as a junior employee.

You know how doctors make patients wait? He made me wait for an hour before he even got around to starting that conference call he himself had scheduled.

I told him we weren’t a good fit.

When I checked back a couple months later, his white paper was still not done.

Perhaps the good doctor treated everyone he dealt with the same way… investors, prospects, employees, and contractors. Maybe he let them all know he was smarter and more important than they were.

And maybe that’s why the company was out of business the next year.

A contract writer is not a temporary employee or an extra pair of hands.

A good contractor brings a wealth of experience and vision to solving your business and marketing problems… if you listen to them.

Tip #8: Listen to suggestions

Every company has a certain way of doing things and most creative suppliers respect that.

But what if you’re doing something that undermines the effectiveness of your white paper?

For example, what if your corporate template will make your white paper look like a brochure? What if it makes the white paper difficult to read?

What if one reviewer wants to insert a ton of jargon and marketing-speak? What if someone suggests going off on a tangent no one else ever mentioned?

You want your writer to alert you to these risks and suggest ways around them.

No good writer picks a fight over nothing. It’s far easier and more profitable to “go along to get along.”

So when a writer makes a suggestion or raises a red flag you owe it to yourself to listen.

Tip #9: Don’t make useless promises

There’s a lot more work after this project.” I hear that all the time. But let’s stick to the project at hand, shall we? If this project isn’t a win-win for both client and writer, who needs more work?

How about I pay you in stock options?” is another offer I’ve heard a few dozen times from startups.

The problem is, stock options for a startup are not liquid. You can’t sell them. You can’t cash them in. And you can’t use them as collateral.

That’s why we have a universal medium of exchange called money.

So please, negotiate in the real world not in your fantasy world.

When we get bigger, maybe we could hire you full-time.” Well, thanks, but that’s not my goal.

According to a recent poll by Contently, 3 out of 4 freelancers are happy to be freelancers. Our goal is to remain freelancers, not find some “real job” and go back to working on-site.

After close to 30 years in my own writing business, I know I’m happier and more productive this way.

Client evaluation form with awesome box checked off - That White Paper Guy

So there you have it: 9 tips on how to be a great client.

Like everything else, this pretty much comes down to the Golden Rule: Treat your white paper writer the way you would like to be treated.

Be honest, respectful, and prompt. And get ready for a long and profitable partnership.

 

What do you do to promote a good relationship with your contractors? Or if you are a writer, what do you think makes for a great client? Please leave your comments below. 

About Gordon Graham

Author of 275 white papers on everything from choosing enterprise software to designing virtual worlds for kids, for clients everywhere from Silicon Valley to Switzerland, for everyone from tiny startups to 3M, Google and Verizon. Also wrote White Papers for Dummies which earned 50 5-star ratings on Amazon. Reviewers call it "a must-read... fantastic... outstanding... terrific... phenomenal... the best book of its kind."

3 Comments

  1. Bob Bly on October 20, 2016 at 1:19 pm

    What do you do if you unexpectedly encounter these difficulties — such as a client treating you in an ill-mannered way or making edit requests that are detrimental — AFTER you have been hired? Do you walk away?

    • Gordon Graham on October 25, 2016 at 10:13 pm

      Good question, Bob. I’ve just been reading your e-book “Coping with Difficult Clients” which goes into great depth on many situations. I like your suggestion that anyone can have a bad day and that it’s the writer’s responsibility to try to defuse or work through these situations before resigning the account. I highly recommend that book to anyone keen to learn more about working with tough-to-please clients. More details at http://www.copingwithdifficultclients.com/

  2. Terry Simpson Jr on October 20, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    You made a great point about working holidays. Being new to this business, I don’t plan to work holidays ever again. I see it as part of living the dream. Thanks for the article Gordon.

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