Freelancers: it’s not about you

by Tom Albrighton 4 June 2010 Freelancing

‘Pride only hurts. It never helps.’
Marsellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction

A while ago, a long-standing and highly valued client asked me to write a web page for her. As usual, we spoke at some length about the audience, the messages and the tone. I went away, produced a draft and submitted it.

In response, my client produced an entirely new draft and sent it over. ‘What do you think?’ she asked.

Marsellus (Ving Rhames) invites Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) to take a dive

The instant I read her version, I knew it was better. She’d got the right tone, the right choice of words, the right structure. Apart from a couple of minor grammar tweaks, it was good to go. And that left me with two options:

  • Option 1 was to climb back on top of the situation by combing through her text, finding everything that could possibly be changed and mounting a persuasive case for a new version with my fingerprints on it.
  • Option 2 was to step back, accept that I’d missed the target and simply endorse my client’s version.

I went for option 2.

It was less work. It didn’t put me at odds with the client. And, most importantly, it was the right course of action.

Was it humiliating? Maybe a little. But I reminded myself that…

  • I’d done the spadework. On the face of it, it might seem that my client could have just written her version alone, without any input from me. But her version, though very different from mine, still came after it. I’d conducted the initial discussion and drawn out a brief from it. I’d conquered the blank page, allowing her to learn from my mistakes. And, before I even sent my draft, I’d already rejected a number of non-starter approaches.
  • I was still involved. Again, on the face of it, my client could have proceeded to publish the content without me. But she didn’t. She still wanted me to be involved in the process, however tangentially.
  • Approval adds value. A lawyer might read through a contract, confirm that it’s OK as it stands and charge you £1000. They might not have ‘done’ anything tangible, but they’ve still helped you. Without their input, you’d feel much less confident about going ahead. By confirming that my client’s version was OK, I was still adding value to the project.
  • Only results matter. Often, the path to the goal is more circuitous and time-consuming than we would have hoped. Or perhaps it doesn’t allow us to shine as we might like. But the point is that we get there. Better to get something that works for the client – by whatever method – than something that just makes you look good.

It all comes down to a focus on adding value, rather than feeling valued. Ultimately, clients remember outcomes rather than processes. (They’ll only remember processes if you make them more complicated than they need to be.) It’s not all about you.

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