Do what’s right for the customer.

There is this widely believed notion that clients know what they need. A company with a grand idea and (allegedly) stellar product should naturally know what they need when they seek a content writer, right? Wrong.

Most people think they know what they need but haven’t the darnedest clue. And that’s fine, because if you’re a freelancer, you’d go a long way if you can figure it out for them.

A highly experienced freelance technologist reached out to me a few days ago. He asked if I could help him re-write content for his personal brand and how much it would cost.

I promised that I’ll tell him what it’ll cost later in the call, but before that I want to understand what he wants to achieve. As we got talking, I realised that his money is best spent on other things. Because he’s a ‘good enough’ writer himself and the ROI he’d get on paying me to spruce up his content will be abysmal. I offered to help him if he ever needs me and to nudge him if he’s procrastinating on the writing. We stayed in touch.

In my experience, giving the customer what they need offers much better results than doing what they want you to. But figuring this out isn’t easy. Here’s what I ask while exploring business relationships:

  • What do you want to achieve?” What is your goal? What problem are you solving with this? What do you hope will happen at the end of this? What would you like your customer to do on seeing this? — Ask in all sorts of ways to get to the bottom of it.

  • “What do we need to achieve this goal?” This is something you have to brainstorm with the client. Let’s say the goal is to appear on page 1 of Google search, but they don’t even know what keywords they want to rank for. They need an SEO researcher before you can start writing.

  • Who else is on it?” Let’s say it’s a website project. Asking who is designer / developer etc. helps understand where you are. If they already have a design, you can work with it. If you’re doing content first, you must consider hand-offs.

  • “How much money can you spare?” This is where pride causes trouble for most client. Let’s say they have Rs. 10,000 and ask for 5 blog posts. This might not be worth your time. Instead, you can offer to do an e-book within their budget, which they can have their internal team or junior writers re-purpose into multiple blog posts.

  • “How soon do you want results?” SEO will take 3-6 months. An Instagram ad campaign can bring leads in 1 day. Picking up the phone and making a few calls can sell in an hour.

Not all your customers will want to discuss these things with you. But those that don’t are unlikely to treat you like a partner in the future. Depending on where you are in your career and the value chain, you can choose how much weightage you want to give to this process, while making decisions.

When I think about what’s right for the customer, they stay with me longer and take care of me better.