What's on the iPod: Drive by Dispatch
I had some time to wind down, so I cruised a few forums. On one, I saw someone describing an exchange between himself and his client in which the client responded to a query with a request: Educate yourself on the topic first. The writer wrote back that it was merely a difference in approach and no one needs to be educated here.
I see a couple of things wrong with this exchange. The writer assumed the client didn't know what he wanted. He may not have stated it clearly, at which time it's up to the writer to ask for more direction. Moreover, instead of thanking the client and moving on, he chose to defend himself and in essence "one up" the client by pointing out that he didn't need educating.
Would you hire this writer?
We make mistakes. Often, clients won't give us the feedback we need ("This is why I didn't hire you..."), and in a few cases, like this one, clients will come back with harder criticism. What got me about this exchange was that the writer automatically assumed the client was wrong -- and he got his back up. I could almost hear a "How dare he!" comment.
Sure, the client could have been more professional, if the writer's assessment of the conversation is true. But there are times when it's just better to walk away.
Whatever was in that query was clearly inadequate for the client, and he told his writer as much. So how do you look like a smart writer even when you're showing a lack of knowledge?
Say "thank you." When someone points out a shortcoming (even if they're being a pain in the ass about it), it doesn't hurt to say "Thank you for your suggestions." You look ten times more professional doing that than saying something like "If you knew me at all you'd know how ridiculous your suggestion is..."
Be honest. I built a career niche on this phrase: "I'm new to this area; can you help me?" If you connect with the right people, you can decrease your learning curve considerably and make some valuable connections. Starting a conversation with the "help me" request sure beats pretending to know something only to be found out later. That's foolish.
Ask for more specifics. The writer mentioned probably didn't realize just how far off the mark he was. But he didn't ask, either. Instead, he assumed he was wronged and insulted by the client. He could have said "Thank you for that. Could you tell me where it is I'm not quite connecting with the project? I'd like to get this right for you."
Make an offer. This writer could have said, "Look, I know that you're looking for X and Y and how it relates to Z, and I'm letting you know that I have extensive experience in Z. I'm wondering -- would you be willing to let me try the project at half the rate this time?" Not that I advocate your cutting your rates in half just to get work, but I'd say find a negotiation point you're comfortable with and offer a compromise on your side in exchange for a little blind faith from the client.
Don't argue. I remember an exchange on a blog post once where the writers were livid and piling on the tarring and feathering of a client. Why? Because the blog post was his telling writers what he wanted exactly and what he didn't want exactly. They objected to his telling it to them straight, I guess. "How dare you not hire me because you don't like people who use milk in their tea!" (I'm not kidding -- it was about tea..) Instead of thanking him for being so honest, they chastised him for, well, being so honest. Don't argue with clients -- you'll never convince them through argument that you're worth hiring. Rather the opposite, don't you think?
Walk away. Sometimes it's just smarter to avoid the conflict altogether. If it's not a fit, it's not a fit. It doesn't matter what a potential client says about your abilities (he who doesn't know you) -- it matters that they're not hiring you. End of story. Move on.
Have you ever had a client give you criticism, helpful or harsh? How did you react?
In retrospect, were the observations accurate?