Whether you’re new to freelancing or have been in the game for a while, chances are good you’ve been in some of these sticky situations…
Hey guys, it’s Alex. I am happy you stopped by. In this post I’ll share 5 tips for managing your clients like a boss.
Because I am here to tell you that one of the most important skills you need to master as a freelance copywriter or, really, a freelancer of any kind, is how to build and manage a thriving clientele that pays you on time, every time and is actually enjoyable to work with.
And that works both ways!! If you’re a total diva, nickel and dime, miss deadlines or treat your clients like nothing more than an ATM machine, you should not be in this business.
Let’s face it. You could be great at finding potential clients, but if those clients aren’t properly handled, things can go south very fast. Which means needing to go back to square 1 and find clients all over again… And that is no fun at all. Your goal as a freelancer should be to find great clients that you can work with ongoing and long term, as a committed and reliable extension of their in-house team. That way you only need to learn the brand voice once, and you can spend more time honing your craft, and less time on the hunt for your next paycheck.
So, looking at all you copywriters out there, on top of being a great writer, on top of having a mind for marketing, on top of managing timelines and deadlines, you also need to learn the art of relationship building in a professional environment, which, like romantic relationships, require a healthy set of expectations and boundaries.
And just like the dating world, as you navigate the sea of prospects, looking for your perfect match, you’re likely going to experience some trials and errors.
It took me years before I finally found my groove and truly understood what I needed to work effectively with my clients and serve them great results time after time. Today, my longest standing client relationship is 7 years and counting… We went from freelance to family and have a lot of fun working together. And I’ve worked with dozens of other clients since starting my business in 2011.
It wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows, but boy did I learn a lot along the way. So, the five tips that I’m about to share with you are the biggest lessons I’ve learned to have productive and high-integrity client relationships that benefit both parties. And, whether you’re a writer, a designer, a marketer or a developer, these tips are helpful for anyone who is freelancing or running their own agency.
1. Set Clear Expectations
Before you begin any project or task, make sure that you and your client are on the same page and that you share a mutual understanding of the work needed to successfully complete the job.
That includes everything from the scope of work, the timeline, the processes, the costs, the communication channels — all of it.
Never make assumptions about your job scope based on your previous experience with someone else. Every project is different, and so is every client.
If the specifics of a project are not discussed, agreed upon, and properly understood before work starts, you’ll tread into the dangerous waters of Scope Creep!
Scope Creep refers to undefined changes and uncontrolled growth in a project’s deliverables at any point after the project begins. It usually goes like this…
“Hey Alex! Oops, totally forgot. We need 3 more emails written in that buyer sequence.” Or, “Can you re-write this landing page? It should be just a quick revision that’s needed.” Or, “We already wrote this webinar script, but do you mind just giving it a once-over and recommending changes?” A project can very easily double in size if clear expectations are not set. Then you end up putting in WAY more hours into the project than what you had planned…
And once a project starts to creep, it can be very uncomfortable reeling it back in.
2. Get It In Writing
Always, always make it official! Whether you’re onboarding a new retainer client, or doing a small, one-time job for your friend’s new business — having a good, fool-proof contract and invoicing schedule in place with every client is a key part of the freelancing life.
It outlines the specifics of your agreement to prevent and protect both you and your client from any miscommunications or unclear expectations. I know it’s uncomfy to think about worst-case scenarios, especially when you’re dealing with friends. But TRUST ME on this one. It’s way easier to plan ahead and agree upon how you’d deal with worst-case situations when they are hypothetical, rather than wait come until they become a reality.
I’ve heard of some frustrating cases where copywriters get burned when a client changes their mind about payment terms or misunderstands the original scope of work. I’ve also worked with some clients who have copywriters completely ghost them or miss critical deadlines that left them scrambling right before an important launch. Both of these situations SUCK and gives the freelance industry a bad rap. So let’s change that, shall we? And all agree to show up in integrity, deliver value FIRST and get it in writing! Never rely on handshake agreements or verbal promises!
So put on your big kid pants and act like the budding entrepreneur you are, OK? Leave me a comment below if you’re committed to this!
Also, there are fantastic resources online that will help you generate and manage your contracts and invoices. Check out And.Co and Hello Bonsai.
3. Give Yourself Leeway
Help your clients understand that copywriting is a creative process that requires time and space for research, ideation, and creation in order for you to produce quality work that will yield positive results.
When you first start freelancing, it’s easy to say yes and take on every job that comes your way… To the point of making all sorts of promises that you believe you can fulfill. That is, until you’re completely burnt out and your creativity is running on empty.
While it’s great to offer your clients a quick turnaround… Be careful that you’re not overpromising and undelivering. Copywriting is hard to do under pressure caused by unrealistic deadlines. So make sure that you build some leeway into your writing schedule so that you can get into your flow and deliver work that will wow your clients and future prospects.
I cover this and share six additional tips in my post on How To Get Into Flow State, which you can find right here.
4. Listen To The Red Flags
Dating experts will tell you to look out for red flags on a first date. Well, the same thing goes the first time you meet clients.
Believe it or not, within just a couple of short interactions, you can gauge the kind of potential working relationship you’re likely going to have with a client. Everything from the way they communicate, negotiate, or coordinate are telltale signs of a good or a not-so-good experience ahead!
I’m lucky to be working with awesome and supportive clients today… But it took me years of experience and practice to figure out what types of clients I will never work with… Want to know what they are?
First: Nickel & Dimers: Listen, I’m all for fair negotiation when it comes to discussing a quote for a new project. But if someone kicks a fuss over a small fee and continues to haggle and question the value of your work — dealbreaker! This works both ways too. As a copywriter, think long term. If a client that you love working with asking for a little extra, one month, over-deliver!
Second: Dis-Organized Hot Messes: When a client shows a serious lack of organization, I’m gone. For example, if there’s no rhyme or reason to how they communicate, if deadlines are consistently wobbly, or if invoices are left unpaid or unseen for too long, it’s time to lay out some ground rules. Freelancers, this goes for you too. No one wants to work with a writer who’s unreliable.
Lastly: Ghosts: Those clients who go M.I.A. If your client is hard to reach or takes ages to get back to you even before the project commences — byeee. What should be a week-long gig could drag on for months. And you need to be able to manage and plan your schedule! Needless to say, a freelancer who ghosts is just as annoying. So err on the side of OVER-communication and follow up. Got it?
So, what’s your #1 deal-breaker when it comes to working with clients? Do you have a client or copywriter horror story? Share yours below!
5. Honor Your Own Boundaries
If you’re going to ask for some respect, make sure you’re in on it too. What you allow is what will continue, so you need to teach people how to treat you. Identity what is absolutely necessary to protect your productivity and workflow, then honor those boundaries.
For example — if you tell a client that you won’t respond to messages after a certain hour or during weekends, be sure to walk that talk. Sure, sometimes things can get pretty hectic close to a launch and there can and will be exceptions to this rule, but don’t make a habit out of Saturday night replies if you’ve told your client you’re not available on the weekends.
I had to learn this the hard way. I’d constantly tell clients I’m unavailable for calls before 11am so that I could spend the first few, and more creative, hours of my day writing. Then what would I do? I’d wake up and check my phone first thing in the morning and get caught sending emails and messages during my no-meeting time. Then I’d wonder why I’d still get invites for calls at 9am. They weren’t honoring my boundaries because I wasn’t honoring them.
So be consistent and respect your own boundaries. That’s self-love, guys. And it makes it WAY easier for your clients to know what’s cool and what’s a no-no.
Ok and there you have it — my 5 tips on how to manage your freelance clients better. When your entire business relies on relationships with others, these lessons become invaluable and critical to your long term happiness and growth.
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So until my next post — have a great week guys. I’m Alex, ciao for now!