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Has “Busyness” Become an Excuse for a Lack of Professional Courtesy?

A commercial-writing coaching client of mine recently sent me this missive about the outcome of a quote she’d given a prospect for a freelance copywriting project.

I quoted, then called/left a voicemail, then emailed (waiting a few days to a week between each). The company never wrote me back. It’s frustrating because it’s so rude on their part. It’s one thing if someone asks, “How much for a blog post?” and I respond with a number, and then I never hear back, since that takes so little time.

But we exchanged several emails and had a phone call to get the project details. I may follow up again with them in a few weeks, in case something more pressing came up and they just haven’t had time. But damn! How long does it take to write back, “We decided to handle it in-house,” or something like that?

The silver lining is that, 1) I have another ballpark figure added to my internal fee schedule, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time, and, 2) it reminds me not to get my hopes up until a bid letter is signed. Trying not to be bitter 🙂

I felt for her… We’ve all been there. By way of commiseration, I wrote back with a story of my own…

Sorry to hear that, but afraid to say, it happens to all of us. And I agree, it’s tacky and unprofessional.

A year or so ago, met a guy at a networking function (he and I were connected, in person, by the guy whose space the event was in, and who’s a big fan of mine; my book got him started way back when, though he’d since evolved into a big creative agency).

He knew his guest (a client of his) was planning on doing a book and thought I’d be the perfect ghostwriter.

The prospect and I clicked, talked at length that night, and he definitely wanted to pursue it. We spoke by phone the following week for 30-45 minutes, and found even more common ground. We had lunch together the next week, hammered out parameters, and agreed I’d get him an estimate the next week for the first part.

I did just that, didn’t hear back for 10 days, emailed him to make sure he’d gotten it, he said he had, and that he’d get back to me soon.

And that was the last time I ever heard from him.

Two more emails and two more voicemails went unanswered. Sort of blew me away. Like you said, if it was one contact, no big deal. But that much invested? They OWE you a response.

FYI, next time I spoke to the guy who’d connected us (we were talking about something completely unrelated), I mentioned what’d happened. He was flabbergasted. Said he didn’t even know how to react.

Obviously, he was torn, embarrassed to have steered someone he thought highly of (me) to his client, only to have me treated pretty disrespectfully. To him as well, it was completely unprofessional.

So, yes, unfortunately, that’s how it turns out occasionally. It’s like “busyness” has become an excuse to dispense with common courtesy. It says, “My time is infinitely more valuable than yours.” Perhaps I’m just old-fashioned, and expect more. I can’t say for sure if it’s a younger/older thing, but maybe?

Ever had a prospect vanish without a trace after multiple calls/discussions about a project that had gotten to the quoting stage?

Did you do anything?

What did you take away from the experience for the next time?

Have you ever reacted in a more in-your-face fashion after such an incident (figuring you had nothing to lose at that point)?

Do you see it happening more with younger than older prospects, or is it universal?

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Instead of Just Sharing “What You Do” with Clients, Share “Who You Are”…

I went to a networking function recently, and struck up a conversation with a middle-aged gentleman who’d recently moved to Atlanta from Minneapolis. He offered event-production services including light/sound design, DJ’ing, and more.

Since his business often involved subcontracting—especially his DJ business—we got to talking about his experiences hiring people in Atlanta versus the upper Midwest. He said he found those he hired in Atlanta to be less professional and reliable than those back home (something I’ve heard many times before). At my prompting, he shared an example…

He’d hired a guy to handle one of his DJ gigs (a wedding reception) since he had several going on one night. At the initial meeting with his client, she was clear that while she was open to all kinds of danceable popular music, she wanted no rap music with vulgar lyrics. He spelled this out to his sub and figured that was that. Well.

After the event, he got a call from the client explaining that, while generally speaking, the evening had gone well, exactly what she didn’t want to happen, happened: his sub had “gone rogue” and played a few offensive songs. When he confronted the guy—with whom he been crystal clear—the sub had no good excuse beyond a lame, “I didn’t think it was a big deal.” Huh?

But it was what he did about it that spoke volumes about who he was. After his client explained what happened, he apologized profusely and told her he was immediately, and with no questions asked, refunding her entire fee for the service (which she hadn’t asked him to do).

When he spoke to the sub, he told him that because of his actions, he’d returned the client’s money in full, adding that he’d never be hiring the sub again, but that he was going to pay him in full, just so that he couldn’t say—to anyone who’d listen—that he’d been cheated.

His telling of the story was delivered in a steady, low-key, matter-of-fact tone—free of theatrics and with little emotion. Just the way it was. In the wake of it, I found myself racking my brain to try and think of ways to hire this guy for something—anything—or to steer work his way.

We’d actually gotten into very little detail about the services he offered, but it didn’t matter. Something told me—as I’d wager it would tell anyone—that if this was an example of his business ethics, his actual services would be top-notch as well.

In revealing how he conducted business, he made an infinitely more compelling case for hiring him than a pitch about his services would ever have accomplished. Which, of course, got me thinking about how this maps onto our world of commercial freelancing—or that of any other free agent out there.

Yes, any prospective commercial copywriting client needs to know what you do, how good your copywriting skills are and how you work, and those things by themselves have been enough to land many gigs for many commercial freelancers.

Yet, seeking opportunities to share who you are and how you conduct yourself as a businessperson—in that same low-key, matter-of-fact way he exhibited, as opposed to grandstanding—can quickly move a future client from pondering taking the next step to putting you to work as soon as possible. It’s in the details about you, your life, what you believe, etc., that people get the chance to “take your measure.”

Arguably, this is another example of features versus benefits. Explaining what you do, how you work and even how strong your skills are, is all about you: features. But, sharing who you are and how you conduct business is benefits: it shows the client exactly what they’ll be getting—someone in whom they can trust and have confidence. That’s pretty powerful stuff.

This can be tricky to pull off, of course. He’d never have shared what he did—and thereby reveal his immense strength of character—had I not prompted him with my questions. But realizing what a powerful reaction I had to it, had me think of ways to harness this idea.

In many ways it’s nothing more than just being and sharing yourself, but given our natural human tendency to compartmentalize—business here, personal there—it can be challenging. But, I say it’s worth exploring.

1) Have you had similar experiences, where you were able to share yourself with a commercial freelancing prospect and have that seal the deal?

2) OR, through a similar character-revealing experience, were you able to take the relationship with an existing copywriting client to a much deeper level of trust, confidence and more business?

3) What are some ways to pull this off in a genuine way, so it doesn’t look like it’s being done for affect?

4) Any other thoughts ideas or comments?

Want to be a guest blogger on TWFW Blog? I welcome your contribution to the Well-Fed writing community! Check out the guidelines here.