If you’re a freelancer who’s got a steady stream of work coming your way – either from the same loyal clients who know you and trust you, or from referrals from said loyal clients, or you’re very good at selling yourself and you have the chops to back up your claims of brilliance – the chances are that you have one very special quality. Not just one, of course. Among your plethora of other qualities, you will [obviously] be very competent in your chosen field and skillset, punctual, skilled in oral and written communication, and probably an all-round good bloke/lady bloke.
But I’m talking about one quality in particular here that I feel is sometimes overlooked as being absolutely vital to the success of a freelance. I’m talking about being tactful.
Granted, being tactful may well fall under the banner of being a good communicator. But a good communicator may also try to convince the other party that they (the skilled communicator) is right – or that their way of doing things is the best way to do them. But does that make them tactful? Arguably not.
So where am I going with this? Well, although I flatter myself that I at least have a fairly good dollop of all those qualities I described above, I quite recently found myself in a position where I had to deal with a rather tricky situation.
This was a new client and I had to write 25 pages of new content for their new website. I’ve done these sorts of projects before and they’ve all been hunky-dory, but in the past I have usually dealt with only one person – or two max. This time, however, I had to deal with no less than five people…all with a slightly different take on what they wanted, what the core messages were, and even how much content there should be.
I had to conduct five phone interviews of 30-45 minutes each, using those as the basis for my copy. Luckily, I had had the foresight to record all of these phone interviews so that I could refer back to them later in the process. As an aside, if you’re a Mac user, I recommend putting your client on speakerphone and using GarageBand to record the conversation. The software is usually preinstalled, is dead easy to use and the sound quality is absolutely fine. What’s more, you can type as you talk.
Anyway, the submission deadline arrived and I duly emailed my copy to the team leader. I was certainly prepared for feedback…but not quite so prepared for the increasingly visceral comment boxes on the side of my copy from one of the five members of the team. Rather strangely, he deemed it appropriate to rip apart one particular section – without actually liaising with anyone else first – to the point of actually being offensive: “What does this even MEAN? Am I missing something?” was one of the comments – verbatim.
At first, I was annoyed. Not least because it was unnecessarily rude even if I had misinterpreted something. But the fact was that I hadn’t – and I had the recordings to prove it. It would have been all too easy to land him in it with the senior team member, and even easier to fire back a sharp email in reply. But then, of course, it may well have meant bye-bye new client. So what I actually did was to phone the senior team member and just ask for more of a steer on that particular section so that I could be sure of delivering exactly what they wanted – because maybe there were a few ways the requirements could have been interpreted.
Sure enough, he replied that he didn’t think all HIS team members were on the same page, even going so far as to name the sharp-tongued colleague in question…then apologised in case they’d confused me!
So just by dropping the right sort of hint and letting them name the issue themselves, the problem was solved without my coming off looking like a smart aleck. They ended up happy, I ended up feeling better, and nobody’s nose was out of joint. Well, mine was initially, but rather mine temporarily than the client’s nose permanently. After all, it’s their dosh protecting my door from the proverbial wolf.
Ashley is a blogger, copywriter and editor
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