I’m out of the office this week — at least I hope I am. As I write this post Thursday afternoon, I’m certain I didn’t go anywhere on Friday. My car decided it wasn’t done bleeding money out of me. A day after I paid $850 for new struts and an alignment, the brake hydraulics (an additional $550) decided to break. Luckily, it was a noise I had checked out immediately. Imagine driving 500 miles one way with brakes that may go from automatic to manual without warning.
I’m about to start working with three new clients in the next two weeks. I’m usually fine with the meet-and-greet call and the marching orders for the initial draft.
But then the client has to look that over. That’s when the sweaty palms, heart palpitations, and the agita begin for me.
Over time, I’ve become accustomed to the first draft being the one they rip to shreds. Still, some clients (as in all new clients) have to be reminded that a first draft is just that — a draft.
So how to navigate that first draft with your new client?
Explain the process. Not every client has worked with a contractor before, so I make sure I tell them what to expect. I say something like “What I’ll do from here is write the first draft. I’ll send it over to you, probably by XXX. From there, you can review it and make changes either in the document or jot down notes in email. We continue this a few rounds just so I can make sure I’m representing your thoughts and ideas in the best way, especially since it’s our first time working together.”
And explain again. I like to remind people both over the phone and in email that the document they’re about to get is a first draft. It isn’t supposed to be perfect. It’s supposed to be a way for me to find out what works/doesn’t work for the client.
Expect shock and horror. Some clients just react badly. Don’t back away apologizing, and don’t offer refunds when your client hasn’t given you a chance to get it right. The best way I’ve found to handle a client who isn’t happy is by asking questions. “What specifically did you not like?” “Where is the main disconnect you’re seeing?” I’ll also ask clients to walk through it with me and point out, line by line if necessary, what works, what doesn’t, what they’d rather see instead. Sometimes, the reaction is strong, but the edits are minor.
Stand your ground where it matters. Let’s talk about those major reactions for a minute. I’ve had clients come back with “There are numerous errors” types of statements, but when I walked them through it or reread it myself, there was maybe one typo. A lot of times, the client is wrong about what he/she thinks is a grammatical error. Here’s what you do — copy-and-paste the Chicago/AP guide section covering that particular area, and say something like “You had me wondering too, so I looked it up. Here’s what Chicago Manual says about that…” In the end, if the client wants it his/her way and it’s not totally incorrect, that’s what you go with.
Issue no refunds. Unless you really, truly screwed up, don’t you dare cave in and give that fussy client a refund. You still did the work, and if the client isn’t willing to let you fix what they think is wrong, that’s not fair to you. Even when I had a client last year who said I just didn’t get his business (not a surprise — in an hour of trying, he couldn’t explain what he did), I still got paid for the work I’d done. It wasn’t the full fee as we hadn’t gotten beyond that first draft, but it was what I’d put into it.
Writers, how do you prepare your new client for that first draft?
What’s the worst reaction you’ve ever had to an initial draft?