Making sure you have good processes in place for when you work with clients is an important step in placing value on what you do. Haphazard work processes do not make for a great time for either you or the client. By making sure you have a step-by-step process for planning a work project you make the whole process more enjoyable for you both. You also make sure there are no nasty surprises for either of you, so everyone walks away happy. You'll also get paid on time and feel a sense of work satisfaction, while hopefully your client will walk away happy with what you've given him/her.
Unfortunately, I still make mistakes, not as often, but I still do. It's a learning curve that can even trip me up at times. I'm going to discuss a couple of scenarios and see if you recognize any of them, hopefully this will be of most use to those just starting out.
1/ A New Project awaits
The client gets in touch, he likes your proposal, he wants some web copy. You need information. It's never a case of simply writing it down in an hour and handing it over, this is not how you get to know the client's brand or tone of voice. If you search for jobs on bidding sites, then sadly this is still the case, where jobs are done quickly, and you never hear from the client again, so there's no feedback on how well you did in terms of whether the copy converted well, it's also poorly paid and doesn't allow for some of the work processes you should have in place, such as discovery calls and any potential face-to-face meets, as a lot of bidding sites forbid it. However that's a story for another blog, another day.
There'll be questions to ask, so it helps if you have a questionnaire. You'll need to know the brand voice, the target audience, hopefully perhaps even some customer feedback you can also work on from your clients previous customers. All this helps to provide a picture. It might also be helpful to organize some discovery calls, either Skype, Zoom or any other webinar facility, and hopefully be able to record it, so you can refer back to it later in case there's anything you missed. You really need to get to know the brand/voice/POV/TOV so you can provide the best copy you can create.
Thing is, does your client know this? Hopefully, you will have kept him/her informed and before giving them a quote, a breakdown of what you're going to charge for doing the work. This should include any face-to-face meetings, Skype chats, the time taken to write the copy itself, prep + research. When you break it down in your quote, your client will know what he/she getting for their bucks and you'll know you've informed them of what to expect. You should also have referred them to your terms of service on your website and made sure they confirms they've seen it by return of email. This should inform them of how you like to be paid, when you expect to be paid, and a brief list of the services you've provided.
If you don't do this, if you do what I've done in the past when I first started, "Oh yes, well I'll go off and do this then" and spent hours on talking, researching and editing, only to find that the original quote amounts to 50p an hour, by the time you're finished, you're going to be sorry. And that's the bare bones of it. You need to be clear about the services you're going to provide and be clear about any milestones you've both agreed and when and how these are going to be delivered.
If you decide that you should charge for all of this at the end when you invoice, your client is going to be a little miffed when he sees a breakdown of charges for services you didn't tell him about at the beginning, and you can't really blame him. It's those nasty surprises that are going to potentially upset your client and leave them feeling a little narked, which is understandable. If you make it clear at the beginning, and then they agree to let you start work on the project, then there shouldn't be anything for him/her to complain about. Of course, your work will be first class and the final draft handed in at the deadline agreed because you're a professional - right?
2/ You invoice, but you don't make it clear how long they have to pay either on the invoice or in the email.
Yup, I've done that. I've taken on a new client, I've invoiced, I've said 'here we are' and then I've left them to it. They haven't been told when they're expected to pay and I've not made it clear, leaving the client with the impression they can pay any old time they feel like it. The reality is the invoice is due within a certain time period, but they may only pay invoices after it's gone through their accounts department and that may be 30 days. So if you have an invoice due in 7 days, you'll now be waiting a month. Of course they should inform you of this if that's the case, but not everyone will. Normally, as a rule any work I've done for less than £500 is due for payment within 7 days, anything over is 14, but that will vary, and some copywriters will work differently and charge differently. But my client isn't going to know any of this unless he/she has psychic powers, and if I haven't referred them to my terms and conditions page they're not going to know about that either.
I've now got to email at the due date and then inform them that this when they were meant to pay me - when I should have done this at the beginning.
For you, this can be avoided by always making sure at the beginning and when you invoice that it's due to be settled whenever it is you usually like to be paid. Naturally, you'll set your own payment dates, but this should be a reasonable time for the client to pay it and a reasonable time for you to receive payment. If you're clear at the start, there shouldn't be any problems when you're expecting the invoice to be settled, and if there are, you'll discuss it with the client at the beginning before you start work, so you can iron out any problems and agree a reasonable date for the invoice to be settled.
And of course you have a set of terms & conditions on your website right? Because that really is an important step when starting out. How you expect to be paid, when, what is expected of you and how you're going to fulfill the job to the best of your ability, and what you expect of the client. Again, so you both know where you stand.
Templates - Ideally you should have email templates for when you finally invoice, for when you need to remind a client to pay, and even a welcome email when someone touches base with you for the first time. For me personally, I like to welcome a new client with a personal touch and write it spontaneously, but a lot of hassle and administrative processes can be tightened by having ready made emails available.
Once you start getting busy, the last thing you're going to have time for are those little administrative tasks that hold you back, when you could be finishing up work for a client. Tightening things up and making sure you've got all your bases covered should be rewarded with good working relationships with clients, work satisfaction and freeing up valuable time to spend on other things. You'll also be placing more value on the services you provide and feel more appreciated and less stressed.
Although I haven't made some of these mistakes for some time, I do trip myself up occasionally. You get tired, perhaps you've taken your eye off the ball, you've been busy, and it can result in messy situations. But you can avoid being stung by a potential situations like this by making sure you have good administrative working processes in place.
And remember, if you don't place value on what you do, no one else will. It's hard enough where copywriting is concerned anyway, because a lot of people think it's easy. They think they could just as easily do it themselves, and only hand it over to a copywriter because they don't have the time to do it because of their busy schedule. If I had a pound for how many times a client has said that to me in the past, I'd be a millionaire. They may place more value on the actual web design - but the words are just as important. No, it's not a profession as such, it's a skill and a wonderful way to make a living. It's not brain surgery and you're not writing a PhD in psychology, but it's a skill nonetheless, a skill that requires time, dedication and hard work.