Freelance writers usually spend a lot of time negotiating with clients and subject matter experts. From contract and payment agreements to progress meetings to conference calls to final product reviews, at almost every step of the process the freelancer is called on to answer questions, address concerns, or placate anxieties.
Instead of thinking of these as interruptions, think of them as opportunities. Each interaction with a client is another chance to sell them on you, not just your work.
If you’re used to working alone and yelling at the computer about how boneheaded your client is (hypothetically, of course; none of my clients ever cause me to do that), then you will probably find this short list of handy, bacon-saving diplomacy tips helpful:
- Prepare in advance. Especially if you’re meeting a prospect or a new client, take time beforehand to learn about their organization and their industry. Look for bios of the people you’re meeting on their website or on LinkedIn, and read them for what they say and don’t say.
- Dress for success. For the first meeting, formal dress. No exceptions. You can always loosen the tie/scarf and roll up the sleeves as the meeting progresses as a sign of comfort and confidence. Shake everybody’s hand and bring lots of business cards.
- Avoid office politics. You’re not there to take sides or to get recruited as either a proxy or a patsy in someone’s turf war. You have to play nice with everyone. On the other hand, don’t assume the job of peacemaker, either; as an outsider, you’re simply not privy to all the goings-on and are thus more likely to tap-dance right onto a land mine.
- Hold your ground politely. You’re being brought into a project for your writing and editing expertise. Don’t compromise your professionalism by acceding to unreasonable demands under pressure. But don’t retaliate, either. Be the one who isn’t quivering with anger or fear — or at least the one who doesn’t look like it.
- Don’t be a martinet. The flip-side of the previous point. Don’t be unnecessarily pedantic or stodgy in your insistence on adherence to the rules. Few things will wear out your welcome as fast. In all things, including grammar and style, there is room for flexibility. Plus, I love that word: martinet (I also like the word fremitus, but unlike martinet I’ve not yet had occasion to use it).
Always remember, the quality of your work isn’t the only thing that distinguishes you; so do your professionalism, courtesy, personality, demeanor . . . even your manners. Handle those interactions well, and not only will the project go more smoothly but it could land you more work or referrals down the road. And these days, what freelancer can’t use more of those?