Educating Your Client By Don Baumgart

I get a lot of work from graphic designers, and it usually starts with a phone call. “A client came in today and wants me to design a brochure. But, I told her, ‘You need some help with this copy.’ I gave her your number.”

Developing a good working relationship with one or more graphic designers can be like opening a wellspring of job opportunities for a writer. You’re going to have to be fast because when the designer hands the job off to you, it’s usually the midnight hour with a client expecting ink on paper in a few days.

I’m always glad to take a first look at a client’s words for free. I don’t expect an employer to pay me to come to a job interview, and I’m pretty sure I can get the job by making a few suggestions at that first meeting.

I’ll give the client one suggestion. (My usual give-away is to suggest a closing urge-to-action, but not giving the client the exact words. Most business people who write their own material don’t do the final, vital thing: tell the reader what to do, and how to do it.)

I sometimes suggest, in the same general way, a grabber headline for the cover of the brochure. I’m always astounded that in doing the self-written brochure the client usually just puts the company name on the brochure cover, giving the reader little reason to open it.

If I’ve done a good job explaining how to make the client’s brochure really work, the only big question left is, “How much will this cost me?”

I firmly resist the temptation to lower my price because she’s already done some of the work. Does your mechanic ever lower his price because you filled your car with gas just before it quit running? I steer away from talking “fix it” and concentrate on “build it.”

I try to make the turn-around time quick, so she can get back to where she was before the graphic designer told her gently that he didn’t understand what she had written.

But, if my timetable and hers don’t match, I explain that I have a commitment to the clients on whose projects I’m now working. When I take up her work, I will have the same commitment to her. “If I delayed another client’s work, how could you be confident I wouldn’t put aside your work when the next emergency comes along?” That always sells.

We agree on cost and a deadline. I’m careful to explain that there are at least two deadlines; first draft and final copy. I educate her about the fact that it’s vital to allow time to revise, and that needs to be planned into the schedule.

When do I get paid? I tell the client I want my fee when she approves final copy. This is crucial! The writer is the first step in the process. Don’t get trapped into waiting until the brochure is printed. That will be weeks, perhaps months after you’ve finished the writing, but the client will tend to think that all the bills should get paid when the printer’s bill is due…usually 30 days after delivery of the brochures!

You won’t meet with any resistance by asking to be paid before the piece is printed. It’s just another area in which you need to educate the client.

I make a note to contact the client a few days after the printer delivers the job. I ask her to send me a few copies of the finished piece, and ask if she needs a cover letter written to accompany brochures that are mailed.

Educating the client is communication, and, after all, that’s what we do. This discussion needs to take place before you can sit down at the keyboard and exceed the client’s expectations.

Don Baumgart is a skilled business writer providing promotional services to local and national business clients. His services include brochures, newsletters, ad copy, news releases, radio spots, and speeches for corporate executives. A former daily newspaper reporter and Associated Press editor, Don also has a strong magazine writing background, with dozens of bylined publications to his credit. He is the author of It Came From Citrus Heights, a science fiction novel about a wild weekend at a science fiction convention.