I’ve already touched on the vagaries of the micro-client and today I’m devoting some time to the vague one. You know, the client who doesn’t know what he wants but hopes you do, the client who is vague about how much she thinks she should pay, and does everything to bring the price down and your mood along with it.
It’s difficult to know what to do when you’re faced with The Vague One, sometimes it takes years of experience to know what you’re dealing with. However, it helps if you have a few tips and guidelines with you, so the next time you’re dealing with the Knight of Ambiguity you’ll have alarm bells ringing in your head.
The I-don’t-know-what-I-want-but-I-hope-you-do client
I’ve sometimes had a client come to me with an idea, a new business they’re putting together and they need someone to write up the web copy. It seems alright at first, until you start asking questions. His/Her answers are usually as vague as the project, “oh you know, it’s like this business or this company, something along those lines.”
WHO exactly are you?
They’ll give you examples of other similar companies, links even, and then that’s it. It sounds great, but there’s relatively little else to go on, what’s the company ethos, who is the team behind it, who runs the business, where are they based, who is their target audience? It’s not like you need to know the intimate details of their personal life, but it’s like they don’t exist. There’s no personality behind the brand, there’s no hint as to why they’re doing this, no clues as to their ideal client.
Do they know what they’re doing?
You start to wonder if they have any idea of what they’re actually doing themselves, and if they don’t know why they’re doing it, then how does that come across to any potential clients. “It’s just like this, and you can write it like that” it’s almost as if it’s a carbon copy of another business, with nothing to distinguish it, no real benefits and no features. You ask more questions, they’re vague and unresponsive, because as you soon discover, they don’t know any more than you do. What do you do?
Ask lots of questions
The key is perhaps to ask as many questions as you can, and if you feel capable, continue to write to something and hope for the best. It’s possible they’ll come back and quibble about the content, and your argument at this point is that you’re only basing your content on what they’ve given you.
Sometimes you have to bail ship
If you really feel you simply don’t have enough to go on, it may be that you simply have to walk away from this one. Admit defeat and move on. You can’t create nowt from nowt as they say. Be polite about it and tell them that perhaps they need to sit down and think about what they want, where they’re going, and come back to you at a later time when they’ve had time to think about it. It’s not that you want them to do all the work for you, but sometimes, you do need a little bit more to go on than vague instructions for an identikit business, spinning copy from another identical website.
The I-don’t-really-want-to-pay-you-what-you’re-asking client
Someone comes to you and asks you to write up some web copy, or a series of blogs. They ask you for a quote, and you email back with it, then they disappear. Then they come back after a fortnight and ask the same thing again, you tell them again and what you’re charging. Then they disappear, then they come back and ask you to remind them what the cost was again, and this time they’re vague about the exact amount of content they want, they misquote you on what you asked for originally, and then attempt to barter with you in an attempt to bring the price down.
Yes, that’s the vague one who wants something for nothing, or something a lot cheaper than what you’re willing to do it for. What can you do? Hopefully, common sense dictates that at some point this backwards and forwards volley of frustrating emails will result in a large klaxon going off in your head.
A fair job at a fair price
There has to be a point at when you stop. And rather than waste valuable time continuing to exchange emails with them, and trust me some potential clients will go at this like a dog with a bone, you should say enough is enough. There may be some clients who are used to haggling and bartering in this way, and that’s okay, perhaps in their experience or in their line of business that’s perfectly natural. But, it’s isn’t natural to you, what is natural to you is offering a good job at a fair price, so you can support yourself and your family. You can’t continue with it indefinitely, it’s going nowhere, you have to put a stop to it. In the past, I used to continue for far longer than I should have done which left me feeling exasperated and extremely frustrated, but now I know better.
Give them a final quote on a separate document, break it down, show them exactly what they’re getting and why you’re charging this much, and then in the body of your email tell them politely that this is what you charge and that it’s all there in the attachment. If you charge more than the average client, explain why, perhaps you have experience in a specialist area or you’re simply more experienced generally. I don’t charge as much as more seasoned copywriters, but that’s different to just giving the work away for practically nothing. Tell them that if they change their mind and want to do business with you, to get back in touch and then leave it. Don’t answer any more emails, don’t be tempted, let it go. If they sense you’re being firm and you’re not going to budge, they will eventually give up.
Negotiating vs haggling
This is entirely different from a client who genuinely wants to work with you but asks if there might be a discount or a special offer package for a large amount of work, they may mention this at the get-go and you can certainly consider it. I often give discounts on large orders myself, or offer to do a long-term package at a lower price. It’s good to negotiate with clients for a great deal and if they’re happy with your work and the services you provide, they’ll come back. At the end of the day, you develop a sixth sense for it, and there’s a world of difference between negotiating with a client and someone haggling with you and wearing you down till you give in to their way of thinking.
If you’re unsure, walk away, your time is precious and you can’t afford to give work away. There’ll come a point when you recognise The Vague One as soon he/she makes an appearance, leaving you with more time to find the clients who’ll value your work.