Most self-employed people have been there–you finish a project and send it off to a client, so proud of your work. But the client doesn’t feel the same, and now you’ve got to play catch-up to get it to that client’s liking so you can get paid, and still possibly get referrals from him or her. Here are some tips on how to cope with a client who isn’t so crazed about your work.
- Don’t rub in that it’s their fault–at first. While it’s OK sometimes to point out that they gave you little information to go on, and previously said it was OK to start and you’d go from there–it’s important not to lash back. If and when you do, it’s best to do so politely. But not in the beginning of the conversation–the beginning is for listening, understanding the client’s perspective and then using your skills to get the client back on track.
- Explain the process–and that this is a process. When the client says something like: “I just don’t like it,” you have to tell them that a normal part of the editing process is to get their input and go back to edit the work.
I think grilling them is essential, especially since you’ve explained that you’re going to need their input and how vital it is.
- Get down to details. To be honest, sometimes you’ve got to speak to people like they’re 5 years old, minus the coddling tone. Upfront, I tell my clients that it’s perfectly normal not to always be pleased with the first draft. I actually tell them that during the consultation when I explain the entire process. I tell them that I need specific information to get things as they want them to be. I let them know that I will work to get it just right, but I need them to sit down and think about what they specifically like and don’t like, and give me examples (if need be) of similar projects they do like. (In my case, I have them tell me in layman’s terms what tone they want or I advise them to show me a marketing piece with a writing style they like.)
I always try to get as specific as possible and have learned to prod even if they continue to give me simple: “I just don’t like it” answers. I toss the ball in their court: “OK, I understand. So help me make it better and let me know what specifically you don’t like about it. Why don’t we start at the intro paragraph?”
- Toss in the past. If that client is still moaning and wailing over spilled milk, you can consider putting up more of a boundary–but do tread with caution. While I don’t believe the customer is always right, I do believe you should never burn bridges or be rude about things. This is where you can mention that you didn’t have a lot of information going in (not so much as a defense, but as an excuse), and how they said it was alright to go ahead anyway.
You could say something like: “I know we didn’t have a lot of background going into this, but now that we have a first draft, can you offer anymore information to help me get a better feel for what you’re looking for?” Again, explain things in baby tone without the baby talk (e.g. “This may not be what you really wanted, but it’s a strong start despite not having much to go on. Let’s figure out where you’d like to go from here to get this juuuuust right for you.”) I really only remind a client of that after I’ve explained the editing process and offered to “fix” things and they don’t sound happy. I try not to start getting tit-for-tat over things or bringing in the dreaded, “Well you never gave me much to start with.”