First Draft Success: A Method for Meeting Client Expectations
It’s hard to get on the same ball with some clients. You have a consultation, perhaps exchange detailed material and you think the project will work out great. You and your client are on the same path and they will love that first draft, right? Then why, after you submit that first draft, do some clients say the material was not exactly what they wanted?
Well, it can be them. Or it can be you. Sometimes, it can be both. Somewhere along the way, the right look, feel or tone of the work can get lost in translation. Even a seasoned freelancer can become confused or frustrated when the client says that the project wasn’t what they expected and the deliverable “needs work.” (Or worse, “is no good.”)
I’ve been in this situation a few times as a copywriter. Sometimes a client will say that the copy needs work, which is understandable. Rarely do you get things “just perfect” the first time around. Some clients are cool even though they don’t like the first draft and will work with me to polish it up. Others want to write you off and start searching for a new freelancer, even if you offer to work with them on it. Regardless of what the client’s attitude is, here are a few ways to help prevent that first draft from being in left field.
When I’m selling my services, I always tell my clients that they may not find the first draft to be perfect, but it’s a jumping off point. Many clients cannot articulate what they want to say on a website, for example, so I tell them that they are hiring me to help them get it in writing–and work with them to fine-tune it. This helps to “pad” things a bit in the event they receive my copy and don’t like the way it reads. This way, they are more open to the fact that most projects take a few rounds of edits to get it right. I always tell them that I am there to work with them, so they don’t just receive the first draft and are stuck with it. Instead, I include a couple of rounds of revisions in my price–and I use that as a selling point so they feel confident that, even if the copy wasn’t exactly what they wanted, it will be because I am there to help them get it right.
One of my biggest pet peeves is the client who doesn’t like the copy and refuses to work with me. I haven’t had that happen as much since I started using all of these steps in my sales pitch. I don’t tell the client “you may hate the copy” because that could scare them off. I simply let him or her know that editing is a natural process and I will need their help to get things exactly the way they want them.
Get a clear idea of what your client wants.
And that’s the problem–most clients think you are the professional, so whatever you produce will be spot-on; but that’s not always the case. Before starting a project, it’s good to have a few questions in mind for your clients. What do they want out of the product, design or content? Who is the audience? Ask them about style, look, feel, or tone–these are huge in helping to make sure your work matches closely to their expectations. Don’t be afraid to grill, otherwise, they’ll call you requesting the deliverable, you’ll sign a contract–and then you won’t have any idea what exactly to do. You never want to go blindly or just do what you think looks good, no matter how artistically gifted you are. If you’re in business, you have to communicate and take into account providing customer service, which includes listening to your client–and if they have nothing to share, pulling the information out of them.
In my example of creating website content, I always ask clients to show me samples of wording they like–and ask them why they like it. I have them show me competitors websites to help me learn about the industry. Some clients like how a competitor does something, so this is a great way for me to see what they like and mimic it without copying it.
On some instances, I’ve shown clients clips of my work to show them the different options in tone they can use; otherwise, they may think all copy is the same. For example, do they want short, punchy headlines? Do they want the content with bullets? Do they want things written in first- or third-person tone? I go right to the nitty gritty, because the more information you have, the better you can produce what the client has hired you to do. Just because they cannot articulate themselves doesn’t mean it’s a free for all–you have to know how to get your clients to express what they want. (And most of you know, that’s more than asking, “What do you want?”)
If I am writing a the company “About Us” page for a website, I don’t just assume they want four or five paragraphs about the company’s history, its mission, and its philosophy. Some clients want to include an introductory statement with a biography of the company president. Some want a paragraph on their services. Others want corporate history broken into a separate page. See? These are all different ways to go…so it’s best to ask the client what the objective of the page is. Sometimes I’ll ask for a page-by-page or paragraph-by-paragraph break-down of what they want to say. The more information the better. I let them know that I’ll need their help, and that by giving me details the result will likely be more in tune with what they like.
And then comes the client who says, “I don’t know what I want to say, that’s why I’m calling you.” This select breed is typically the same kind that, after you work your tail off on the project, claims they “just don’t like” the content (or design) you create. It’s important to counter this response by digging for more details because the client doesn’t just pay you for your creative talent! In my case, even if that client doesn’t know what they want to say on each page, for example, they can certainly take the time to dig up a competitor’s website or show me some examples of what they do and do not like. I often ask this client to go back to the drawing board and come up with some more specific examples of the tone they like. I explain that if I go blindly, they run the risk of not liking the content, which can waste time and money. (You may formulate a questionnaire for this type of client, so they have time to think about what they want to say. I often encourage my clients to give me some bullets on the message they want to convey to help me focus my writing–I tell them they are paying me to do the writing, but I need that concept to build my words around it.)
Remember that even if your client says he or she wants one thing, he or she may change his or her mind. In that case, it’s not your fault when the deliverable does not match up to what you discussed originally. But you do want to make sure that you give it your best shot to get all the information needed, even if you have to ask to speak to someone else in the organization. (For example, maybe I would want to speak to the company president to derive content for the About Us page.)
Go easy on yourself.
You’re not a mind reader. In most cases, you will have to edit your work so it more closely meets the client’s needs and expectations. There is nothing wrong with that, especially if they give you little to go on. But definitely make an effort to gauge what your client wants, likes and desires so you’re not going blindly.