How to Tell a Client They’re Wrong
Being a freelance writer means getting paid to write about your areas of expertise and learning about topics of interest. It also means having the lower hand in virtually any interaction with a client. Since the clients control who gets their freelance jobs, it’s in your best interest to cater to their needs.
Except when it isn’t.
Writers are all too eager to play a subservient role to clients. We often assume that they know exactly what they want, and we jump through hoops to deliver it to them. But the reality is that clients don’t know everything. And as writers, it’s sometimes our duty to tell our clients that they’re wrong.
Developing a Radar
When you first became a freelance writer, you always went with the client’s direction because you didn’t know any better. Even if you received a complicated set of instructions, you gladly went along and did every single little thing the client asked for. Over time, you took on more work and were able to deduce the pluses and minuses of each article presented to you.
For instance, you can usually tell when you’re dealing with a client that’s new to the wonderful world of ordering content. They have a set of directions that was copied and pasted from someone else, and they’re pretty by the book in terms of what they want. Of course, this doesn’t make them a bad client. But it’s an indicator that you might have to do some educating.
Most writers are pretty intimidated by clients. Again, they control the means of production. It’s our job to do what they ask. But that doesn’t mean they’re unapproachable.
When you don’t agree with an aspect of a given order, it’s your duty to contact the client and clarify the instructions. If they want a bulleted list but the subject matter doesn’t lend itself to one, it’s best to speak up about it early. Or, if you’re uncomfortable with an article’s slant, it’s a good idea to reach out to the client and get on the same page. You won’t win every battle, but at least you’ll get a better handle on what the client wants. And the client will get a better understanding of what you’ll give them.
Sometimes it’s hard for a client to visualize what you have in mind for an article, especially if it conflicts with their vision for the piece. And sometimes the client just doesn’t understand that you’ve been around the block, and that you might have a better idea of what sells. In those situations – as long as you have a strong feeling about it – you might consider taking matters into your own hands.
Now, this isn’t to say it’s okay for you to go into business for yourself. But if you think going a certain route will result in a better article, then you absolutely should go that route and explain why you did. In some cases, the client will see that your idea was far better than theirs, and they’ll thank you for taking things in a different direction. Sometimes you’ll persuade the client, but you might have to tweak things to make the client happy. And sometimes they just won’t like your take, and they’ll ask you to do it their way.
No matter the result, it’s good to take a chance if you feel it’ll result in the best possible piece. Both you and the client will learn from the experience of viewing the instructions from a different angle. In the end, you’ll create a piece that makes both writer and client happy, which will help you as you build long-term relationships with your clients.
Bryan B is a freelance writer living in Long Island, NY. He has an odd fascination with bad local TV commercials.