Client management tips from Captain Hindsight

As my faithful readers know, I love South Park (if you don’t believe me, check out this post…and this one, too!)

Recently, South Park introduced a new superhero character – Captain Hindsight. The Captain’s special superpower was to be able to fly into any situation, tell everyone exactly how the situation could have been prevented (like the BP oil spill crisis) and fly away.

Now, if you’ll indulge me a moment while I slip into my special cape and transform myself into Captain Hindsight. ‘Cause I have a situation to save…

The situation first surfaced on the Facebook SEO Copywriting page. Derek Cromwell said:

“One of the worst was a very large project I had that was over 40 pages of site content for a non-profit organization. When the draft round of the content was completed the client flipped out over the “quality” despite the fact that I explained the nature of the draft. I wanted them to review the tone, to make sure I was representing them properly while also hitting their audience, market, etc based on the research I had done.

I was basically told, in summary: “This is all bad, it’s not right, everything has to be redone.

After chewing it over I explained that starting over from scratch wasn’t acceptable unless they wanted to pay for a new round of content, I explained the revision process again and the purpose of doing revisions. They went from “This is all bad” to “ok we can give you some notes”. The notes I got back were minimal – turns out they just had a corporate panic attack and we’re quite happy with the content once I beat it into them that minor edits happen, and that’s why we do revisions.”

Ouch. If you’re a business owner (or even if you work in-house), chances are you’ve “been there.” You bust your butt for a client trying to impress them. You provide them your product (or service) and expect that they’ll be thrilled. When they aren’t, it’s like having ice water dumped down your back. It’s shocking and unpleasant and makes you want to scream.

Here’s what Captain Hindsight says about this situation:

  • Proceed slowly with new clients. Working with a new client is like just starting to date someone. You know that you have shared commonalities – otherwise, you wouldn’t be working together (or dating.) But it’s not the commonalities that make or break a new relationship. It’s the differences.  Rather than providing them with all 40 pages, instead, I would have started with one. Tell the client that the first page is to set the tone and feel, agree on the content structure and for specific feedback. That eliminates any “expectation shock” where the client wanted X – and you thought they wanted Y.
  • Get highly specific notes prior to starting work. I’ve learned that interviewing new clients on the phone is the best way to tease out what they really want, versus what they say they want the writing to look like. A short 30 to 60-minute phone chat allows me to nail down the benefits, the tone and feel, and what pain points are crucial to include. Once I have my notes, I email my notes to the client and say, “Are we in agreement? Is this what you want?”  Once I have their email signoff, I’m ready to rock. But I won’t start without that signoff. Otherwise, if something changes – the client changes her mind about the benefit statements, or if they want a tone and feel revision – you have written proof that they had already agreed on a certain course of action. Otherwise, you have to defend why writing a new page would be considered “out of scope and will cost more money” – which is something a client never wants to hear.

For more tips about working with clients, check out this post about working with big brands.

8 replies
  1. Kate F. Eaton
    Kate F. Eaton says:

    I’m loving this Captain Hindsight character! And haven’t we all felt the pain of “but I thought you said…” with a client!

    Very good to remind each other to slow down, give them a small taste before you turn yourself inside out creating content they hate. Thanks for keeping this painful topic fresh.

    Reply
    • Heather
      Heather says:

      @Kate – thank YOU!

      You’re right – we’ve all had those “I thought you said” moments with clients. Even if they don’t hate the work, it makes the interactions weird when they don’t like what you’ve written and you’re faced with a massive rewrite. No fun!

      I’m loving Captain Hindsight, too. :) We need more superheros!

      Reply
  2. Heather Georgoudiou
    Heather Georgoudiou says:

    This is great advice that I’m going to put into action today, as an in-house copywriter I often write web pages for clients who have no idea about optimization.

    One of the biggest hurdles I encounter is educating the client about key phrases and implementing them into the copy.

    Thanks Captain Hindsight!

    Reply
  3. Copywriting Dean
    Copywriting Dean says:

    Gotta agree with showing them one or two pages… I never show a client a letter that’s 90% done, only 100%, because otherwise they’re going to waste time going through making notes on what to change… when I’ve already made the changes.

    Reply
  4. Shelby Blanchard Stogner
    Shelby Blanchard Stogner says:

    I’ve found it can be helpful to explain to new clients what kind of notes you’re looking for on a large project. For example, if I want to run a couple pages past the client to get a sense of how they like the tone, I’ll ask them to pick out sentences they particularly like or dislike, and try to tell me why. I also analyze some of the client’s existing writing & marketing materials (assuming they’re happy with them) to get a sense of what kind of pacing, word choice, etc., they respond well to.

    Reply
    • Heather
      Heather says:

      Great tips. It’s always wonderful when a client can offer specifics about what they liked and didn’t like. Feedback like “This doesn’t work for me” is really hard to decipher (and work with…) :)

      Thanks, Shelby!

      Reply

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