Recently, or not so recently, I started working with a client in a new industry. I love the thrill of new industries because it creates the opportunity for me to learn new jargon and new things that I get to turn into compelling copy.  

When these projects come my way, I’m fired up to prove myself, mostly to myself, but also to my client.

So I eagerly got on the job and set to work.

When I sent my client the first draft  I couldn’t get a hold of him for a couple of weeks. This isn’t rare. My clients are busy. I also know that for the most part, they appreciate that I’m “running after them,” because it means that I’m managing the project and it’s one less thing for them to worry about.

I thought this was the case here.

Except that when I got in touch with my client three weeks later, he told me that the draft was not what he expected and so he passed it on to his colleague. But perhaps to make me feel better, or perhaps because this client really wanted to “give me chance,” he ended the conversation by saying that I could work on it as a test.  

I got off the phone and at first I tried to figure out what went wrong.

  1. I may not have listened enough
  2. I may not have clarified my working process
  3. I came off as a novice who needed “a chance” or otherwise I seemed desperate for work
  4. I wasn’t adamant enough about receiving a deposit

I then contemplated my next step. I thought about whether I should rewrite the draft as a “test” (meaning I wouldn’t be paid for the project) or cut my losses.

I decided to cut my losses. Here’s why.

Trust.

After giving the whole process some thought, it became very clear to me that the element missing from my relationship with this client was trust.

While it may or may not be true that I could have been a better listener and perhaps done a better job on the initial draft, what it really boils down to is the fact that the client didn’t trust that I could deliver the work. And that’s why he felt that the right decision was to pass it on to someone within the organization who could get it done.

And the client, being the nice person he is, felt that he was still willing to enter the process of building that trust which is why he offered me the chance to do the work as a test. And from his point of view, it was a generous offer.

Clueless clients hire people they don’t believe in.

Would you ever hire a painter to paint your house if you didn’t think he could complete the job?

Exactly.

Clueless clients don’t understand work processes.

As a copywriter, I am a service provider. My job is to make my clients (or their organizations) look good and sell products. If I wrote something that didn’t exactly capture what the client was going for it’s my job to make sure that I get it right and that they’re happy. But first I need feedback – from the client.  

Clueless clients will cost you more than their worth.

This specific client was asked to pay a deposit. They said they would, but they never did. And like a fool, I began work and submitted a first draft without receiving payment. Even if my contract stated that I get paid for a project cancellation for work done up to that point – you think they paid?.

Here’s what I learned from working with a clueless client:

  1. There must be trust in the person you are entering an agreement with.
  2. When a person doesn’t keep their word – i.e. says they will pay you a deposit but doesn’t – it’s a red light – and you should question your trust.  And when you compound an unpaid deposit with a work process gone wrong – trust is lost and so is hope of a good working relationship.
  3. Don’t dwell. Keep going. I had been very lucky up until this project, I had always been paid in full for every project. But as one gets more business, one is bound to meet clueless clients. Don’t let them bog you down. Just keep going. More great clients are just around the bend.

Did you ever have a clueless client? What did you do?