First, let me go on record: I actually like most of my clients.
It is always more profitable to treat your clients with utmost respect, to be on their side, to sweat out the best way to deliver what they want (even when it’s not what they say they want.)
But if you have been freelancing for more than six days, you already know that we are out-gunned by clients most of the time. So it never hurts to find an edge, however slight, wherever we can.
The first of The Freelancery’s field-tested tactics:
(Please use sparingly. And don’t let these get around. We’ll post more in the days ahead.)
We eat, sleep, and breathe your stuff
You are working with a new client. Or you’re in the running for a new assignment, perhaps against some irritating competitor whom you know you can out-do, even with your right hand in a cast. You need to endear yourself to the client.
So you create an email, saying (I’m making this up) “I keep thinking about the layout for the internal pages. It might make sense to. . .” and so on.
Then you send the email at nine minutes after midnight. Or have it auto-sent at 5:13 am.
On Sunday afternoon, when you’re at the zoo or at a cafe, you call the client’s number from your cell phone and leave a voice mail (allowing background sounds to come through, for added effect.) “Hi, it’s Sunday, around 2:30 or so. Sorry to bother you, but I’ve been going over and over what you said about the right tone and feel, and something occurred to me . . . “
Are you hurting?
Client is late with a payment. (Who isn’t?) So you send an email. Or get him on the phone.
There is no anger in your voice, only heartfelt care and concern: “You had agreed that the final $x000 would be sent when the content was completed, and knowing you, I didn’t doubt it for a second. But I haven’t seen the payment yet. Gee, I’m hoping you’re not in any financial trouble or anything.”
Unless they’re pure crooks, the ego of the average entrepreneur will force them to send the damn check, rather than admit they’re in a pinch.
If they do admit to troubles, there was a slim chance of seeing a check anyway. “How about we set up a payment plan to help you out then?”
Something goes wrong on a project. Maybe you’re late. The client says the color is wrong. Or the CMS breaks, or the boss was repulsed by the copy. Or maybe the client utterly screwed up and is covering her ass. You are catching a face full of rage.
The normal, instinctive responses: push the blame on someone else, deny everything, point out the client’s error, or just quit answering the phone.
All worthy tactics, usually, but there’s a better way.
Beat yourself up without mercy. And make it personal.
“You are so right. I’m deeply embarrassed by this. I don’t blame you one bit for being upset. If I were you, I’d be enraged, too. I feel awful that I let you down and put you in such a bad spot here. All through no fault of your own. That is wrong.
“I would understand if you need to put someone else on the project — but I would like a chance to put it right as quickly as possible. Here’s what I suggest . . . .”
This dissipates all that bile very quickly. There is no fun in screaming at someone who is lying there paws-up agreeing with you.
Yes, you will need the right touch. Go for professional embarrassment, but avoid any wuss-like whimpering about your utter worthlessness. (I’ve found my own middle ground, only since I’ve had to invoke this some 34 times. You’ll need to feel your own way here.)
Oh, and you get bonus points, redeemable later, if you get a winking acknowledgement for taking one in the nuts to cover a client’s goof.