Building Long-Term Client Relationships – Part 4: Example – The Beginning

I’ve talked in general about my business model. Now, let’s discuss my long-term relationship with a single client. To maintain client confidentiality, my example will be a hypothetical writer who is a composite of several clients. I’ll share my client experience and intersperse comments about how my actions helped create a long-term client relationship.

Susan was referred by a writing consultant friend who told me Susan was looking for an editor for her novel based on her family history. When Susan called, she said that another client had also recommended me.

Since two different people that she respected had referred Susan to me, she already had a favorable impression of me. Starting off with positive expectations is an excellent beginning for a long-term relationship.

I asked about her writing experience and learned this was her first manuscript. Susan had not joined a writers groups, taken a class, or done anything else to develop her writing skill. She wanted to get the book published, but she didn’t know anything about the publishing industry.

Taking the time to learn about Susan’s background guided me in how to best meet her needs.

I told her how difficult finding a traditional publisher is and explained that an edited manuscript would have a better chance of being published than an unedited manuscript … but the odds were still heavily against traditional publication. I also warned her that she might hear some things from me that she didn’t want to hear. If someone is going to pay me for my advice, I’m going to give the very best advice I can. If the writer is looking for someone to tell them their words are golden, I’m not the right editor for them.

Absolute honesty builds trust and confidence. Aspiring writers, like many other people, often hear all kinds of false promises and don’t know who to trust. Telling the truth is in the client’s best interest.

After Susan assured me she was serious about publication, I sent her information about how I work with clients along with a short questionnaire. Susan answered the questions – genre, word count,  how much self-editing had been done – and returned the questionnaire with a synopsis of the novel and five pages for a sample edit.

I edited the five page sample, using Word’s Track Changes feature and including lots of comments to explain why I recommended specific changes. Then I used my experience with the sample and the information Susan had provided to estimate how long the project would take.

Time and effort to ensure a good understanding of the project  by both parties before the prospect becomes a client pays off down the line.

I also added a general critique pointing out recurring problems: dialogue was written incorrectly (no paragraph breaks between speakers and improper punctuation) and there were numerous run-on sentences. If Susan would use the examples I gave to make corrections throughout the manuscript, I would revise the price quote since editing would require less time. I also suggested she would benefit from joining a writers group and getting critiques from other writers before hiring a professional editor.

Giving the prospective client alternatives that can save her money gives her the opportunity to find the services that meet her budget and also builds trust.

Susan decided she would rather pay me to edit the manuscript in its current state than spend more time and effort herself. She signed the agreement and sent me the manuscript and a deposit for the first two hours of work.

I edited the first chapter and returned it to Susan with an invoice. Again, I made extensive use of comments to explain why I suggested changes to ensure she understood my reasoning. My goal was to keep Susan’s voice and excellent story but correct grammatical errors and make the book more readable. Susan approved the revisions and sent a check for the balance due. This process continued one chapter at a time until the book was finished.

Working on one chapter at a time ensured that I didn’t get off track and that payments were made on time.  The frequent contacts also built the relationship.

While I was editing the manuscript, I encouraged Susan to learn more about her publishing options. I sent her my Self-Publishing Primer. Periodically, I e-mailed links to helpful articles or blog posts, and I recommended several resources on publishing and marketing. Susan determined that her ideal market was her extended family members, people descended from the main character in her novel, an ancestor from several generations back. She decided she could reach that niche market better than a large publisher targeting a mass market; therefore, self-publishing would the best route for her.

Providing useful resources to help the client make an important decision strengthened the relationship and built trust.

After the first round of editing was done, Susan took my advice and found three readers to give input on the manuscript. Two family members and a history buff could offer perspectives that I could not. To encourage the readers to respond candidly without fear of hurting Susan’s feelings, I sent the manuscripts and asked that the feedback be sent directly to me. Susan would know what they said only if they told her. We found that Susan had made a factual error, which the history buff pointed out. I verified the information and made the change.

Going the extra step to solicit other opinions produced a better product and continued to build trust.

I did a second edit of the entire manuscript. Then, since Susan is local, she came to my office for several hours a day for several days in a row for a read-aloud edit. Reading aloud reveals awkward phrasing and errors that were missed on the earlier edits.

Spending so many hours working together on the manuscript created a stronger relationship.

That completed editing Susan’s manuscript, but it didn’t end the relationship. The next post will cover what happened next.

Share your suggestions on building long-term client relationships in comments.

[tags]client relationships, freelancing[/tags]

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