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EPISODE 33: Managing the Client-Writer Relationship

by May 11, 2021Podcast, Thought Leadership

In this episode we will cover:

  • Examining our assumptions and beliefs about the client-writer relationship
  • Understanding and balancing power dynamics
  • Using Brand Voice to strengthen communication
  • Maintaining and communicating healthy boundaries
  • Nurturing the client-writer relationship
In this episode of the Brand Your Voice podcast, we’re talking about managing writer-client relationships. This one has tips for both writers AND business owners outsourcing their content, so anyone can dive in!


Examining Our Assumptions About The Writer-Client Dynamic

In any business relationship, there’s an inherent power dynamic. But because creative careers are frequently undervalued in society, the writer-client relationship dynamic can be skewed from the start. Writing is often viewed as an “expendable” skillset, which can easily turn into professional relationships where writers aren’t fully respected. In order to correct that power dynamic from the start, both writers and the people hiring them need to examine their assumptions about creative careers.


When You’re The Writer…

If you’re a writer looking to improve your relationships with your clients, here are a few tips:

  1. Promise only what you can deliver. Understand your own boundaries in terms of capacity, types of projects you work on, and strategies you recommend.
  2. Keep your client’s vision in mind. You have a special opportunity to dive into what your client believes in and communicate it to the world!
  3. Do your due diligence. Dive into brand voice—learn how your client sounds and replicate it in your content. Show them you understand both their brand and their content needs, and they’ll see you as a valuable asset to the team.


When You’re Hiring A Writer…

If you’re a business owner looking to outsource your content, what should you do to encourage a healthy working relationship with your writer? Here’s a couple tips:

  1. Understand if you’re looking for a task-focused or strategy-focused writer, and hire the right creative for the job you need done.
  2. Be aware of changes in your content plans, and communicate them to your writer as soon as possible.
  3. Have timeline conversations early. Find out how long your writer needs to complete different projects and communicate how long you need for revisions.


Communication Is Key

Like all relationships, communication is key. You can’t read each other’s minds—you have to talk it out! Make sure your writer-client relationship…

  • Discusses preferred channels of communication (email, phone, Zoom, etc.), as well as preferred frequency.
  • Establishes timelines and key boundaries upfront.
  • Listens to the needs of one another.
  • Keeps the promises you make (and communicates quickly if they have to be broken).


Remember, you want to make sure everyone feels heard and stays on the same page. That’s key to longevity in your writer-client relationship.


Continue Learning With These Other Brand Your Voice Episodes

Episode 1: What Is Brand Voice and Why Does It Matter?

Episode 4: How to Capture Your Unique Voice

Episode 5: Core Stories Every Brand Needs

Episode 6: Are You in Control of Your Brand’s Message?

Episode 20: Upholding Boundaries as a Content Creator

Episode 27: Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries


Jessi: Welcome to the Brand Your Voice Podcast, where we’re digging into how you can create personality-driven content that connects and converts. I’m Jessi… Marie: …and I’m Marie. We’re the co-founders of North Star Messaging + Strategy, where we support business owners in outsourcing content without sacrificing authenticity. Jessi: Every brand has a unique voice that sets it apart. We're digging into how to capture the way your brand communicates from the words you use to the stories you tell, so you can create more compelling content that strategically helps you meet your business goals. Marie: And if you choose to outsource that content, you'll be able to do so with confidence, knowing your brand voice is in good hands and you can reclaim your time. We're so glad you're here and hope you enjoy this episode. Hi there, and welcome to another episode of the Brand Your Voice Podcast. We're going to be talking about brand voice today, but in the context of a larger topic, or maybe a smaller topic, I don't know, there's no hierarchy here. But it's another topic which is all about the relationship that exists between a writer and their clients. This episode is for writers and it's for clients. So if you're a CEO, if you're a marketing director or anybody who works with some kind of writer who you're outsourcing to, this can be helpful for you. And if you're the one being outsourced too, this also can be helpful for you. Jessi: Yeah. So at its core, this conversation is really a conversation about power dynamics. And this is something that is really important to us to talk about, because I think that it goes back to something we mentioned in a previous episode. And I can't remember which episode it was. It was our soap box episode, where we talked about how writing, especially freelance writing, for those of you who happen to be on freelance websites, but really all writing as a profession can sometimes be viewed as something that is... I'm trying to think of the right word to say here, almost like something that's expendable, but not, that's not quite right, but something that you, you really just hire someone to churn something out and you look for the bottom dollar and you just want to get the content and then kind of go. And what that has led to in some cases is an uneven power dynamic that impacts the relationship between a client and the writer. And if you are a CEO listening to this, we trust that you are not one of those people who does not respect the writers that you hire. We have a feeling that the people who listened to this really do try their hardest to maintain an a level relationship where everyone is respected. But it's worth mentioning that this power dynamic does exist within the industries as a whole. That writers often are seen as a little bit lower on the ladder than the person who hires them. And that is a power dynamic that sometimes happens right from the beginning of the relationship. And so today we want to talk a little bit about our own experiences with that, as well as how to avoid that from either side of the equation, whether you're a CEO or a writer. Because I think some of these things happen without us realizing them they're subconscious. And so no one goes into a relationship like I am going to have an uneven power dynamic and make this a really uncomfortable relationship for everyone involved, like that doesn't happen. So we're going to talk about what a great client writer relationship looks like and what a not so great client writer looks like. Marie: I mean, you know, some people might wake up and be like time for my morning cup of Joe and tyranny, but probably not most people. And certainly, probably not most people listening to this podcast, but you're right. I do think there are unconscious and subconscious. I had a word for this... Assumptions, beliefs. That's not the word I was thinking of, but it works. All of us have no matter where we are on this, on the side of the suburbs where the writers CEO's are both like in our case. Um, and so all of us have to do a little digging and a little inspecting and see like, when we think something like, where does that come from? You know, like kind of question those assumptions. I mean, I can tell you for me, you know, a lot of it came from when I was in school, like, especially like in middle school and stuff like STEM that like, wasn't like a thing yet that was being talked about in that way that I heard, but there still was this like, hierarchy, right? Like if you're, if you're very talented in like a STEM area, then you're seen as like better than people who were... may have fallen under the umbrella of steam when you include arts. Right, and if you don't know what I'm talking about, if you, you know, I'm talking about science, technology, engineering and mathematics, do I get that, right Jessi? Jessi: Yup. Marie: Woohoo, gold star for me. And so there's always kind of been this hierarchy. And even when I went to my beloved Alma mater, which I think is an incredible University, I'm not going to call them out here specifically because though there was this very pervasive, bias against social sciences, humanities, all that. You know, if you were an engineering students, cool, you're worth something. You know, if you're not, you'll find a way. And it isn't just school, right? Like I think these, these messages are reinforced in a lot of places. And so it's really easy for a lot of us to feel like things like writing professionally, are a little, whatever that word is that we couldn't think of, not expendable, but just kind of, you know, it's, it's that thing it's a necessary evil, but it's like not rocket science. And see, even that phrase right there has, has a STEM bias, by the way. I mean, I'm, I would not be a competent rocket scientist, but also, I don't know if they'd be a competent writer, so. Jessi: Yeah. Yeah. You know, I think when you look at this, from the perspective of, you know, our own experiences in professional writing, the way that this shows up practically is, you know, everyone has taken a writing class at some time, you know, not everyone has taken a rocket science class, but pretty much everyone has taken some sort of writing class. Marie: Actually. Jessi: Fancy. Marie: Oh yah. Landed on the school roof and caught fire. Anyway, carry on. Jessi: That is a story that I would like to hear at another time. But it's something that everyone has exposure to in some way, shape or form. Even if you don't take a formal writing class, odds are that in school, your other classes require some amount of writing. And so once you get into the professional sphere, there is this idea of it's something that I kind of know how to do, and I'm outsourcing because I just don't have the time or the energy to do it. Or because you want someone who knows how to do it well and has trained in that specific area. And so this kind of goes into, I think, where sometimes the power dynamic between client and writer can have a few hiccups sometimes. And this can show up in a lot of different ways. At the end of the day, we want to view all of this as any type of relationship. You know, it's all about communication and it's all about making sure that you're upholding the promises you make and not making promises you can't keep on both sides. I think on the client side, what our experiences have been over the years are when the relationship starts to deteriorate, it's when the client uses their background in writing, however minimal or not it might be, to start to dictate how the writer does the writing, not necessarily the, the voice which we'll talk about in a minute, not necessarily the values, not necessarily the programs you're talking about, but the actual technical part of the writing. So from the writer side of things, there's a certain level of confidence that is really helpful for you in maintaining this relationship in knowing if I'm not just doing this because I took an English class in middle school or high school, I understand the strategic way of doing this particular type of writing because I have practiced and studied. And I understand the ins and outs of this particular type of writing, which we honestly are not taught in school. And that allows you to really kind of stand in your own and be able to create the content that you create. And then when a, when a client comes in and says, Oh, no, I want to do it this way and doing it that way actually disrupts what is considered best practices, that's when you end up in a potentially sticky situation, that's one instance where you might end up in a sticky situation. Marie: Yeah. You know, one thing that I heard one time from one of my clients, our clients, I asked her like, what is something you'll, you'll never say. And she was like, I will never say, do you like it to a client. It's really more about like, what serves the client. And if I can take a look at the data and be like, this is doing better than that, but maybe you have like an aesthetic preference for this or that, or you, um, you know, there's something that it's not necessarily based on like a values thing where you're like, this is unethical, but like maybe you just have a preference for like A over B, but B is actually performing better than she's like, I'm going to advocate for B every time. And it's not that you're wrong. It's not the, you know, you're dumb. It's nothing of bad taste. It's just that like, you know, kind of like, you never know what's going to go viral. Right. You never know what's going to be successful until you test stuff. And it's kind of the same way with writing. And there are sure there can be there's exceptions to every rule, but a lot of the time there are best practices and those have been tried and true and they do change over time. They follow, you know, trends and marketing. So it's not that like something you learned in, you know, 1947 is going to be true right now necessarily. But typically if a writer is a professional writer and that's like their job, they are probably keeping up with the trends too. So, and they may not even realize like they're staying on top of things as they change because they do happen gradually enough. But, I think this is where CEOs can often remember that writers can be more than just writers. They can also essentially be consultants for the writing. And that they have that experience. They have that expertise. And if they don't then yeah, I mean, okay, then there's a separate problem happening. One that isn't, you know, you can overcome it. Maybe they can take some more courses or whatever, but like, it doesn't mean they're a terrible person. They might just be kind of, you know, new, or, you know, they may be a self-centered jerk. I dunno, like, right. There's all types of people who are writers. But you know, there is some level of trust there. And I think what you were saying earlier, Jessi at the bottom line is the power dynamics thing. Like so long as both come to the table as equals, respectfully, then you're going to go a really long way. Jessi: Yeah. Yeah. So let's put this on its head for a second and talk about the writer side of this, because what we're, what we just asked for, what we just talked about is asking clients to put a lot of trust in these writers. And so as a writer, you have a responsibility to make sure that you are making promises about your knowledge and experience that you can uphold. You have a responsibility to really dig into your client's expectations and your client's needs and your client's voice. Do your due diligence, not just within the industry and within the type of writing that you do, but also make sure you're doing your due diligence with the clients so that you can represent them. As a writer you have a really special opportunity to showcase everything that your client believes in. And of course, you know, sometimes that's, I'm writing a sales page because I want to increase their sales numbers and that's sort of the hard line of it. But what you really are doing is you're helping them bring their vision to fruition. And that's a lot of responsibility and it does require due diligence, which is really where two things come in, communication again, and brand voice, and really having those conversations early on about how the client communicates naturally so that you can reflect it accurately with that added layer of your professional expertise around how a specific type of content looks. And it also provides an opportunity for the client to essentially brain dump a whole bunch of information, because you cannot read your client's mind and you are representing what is on their mind. And so in order to do that, there has to be an open line of conversation and starting off by digging into brand voice and talking about all of those aspects of brand voice that we mentioned on some of our earliest episodes, things like the mission and vision of the company, things like the words that you use and don't use because they just don't fit the brand or the content pillars that are most important to upholding that vision, knowing all of that from the get-go and then revisiting it occasionally allows you to level that power dynamic a little bit allows you to both be approaching the goals, hand in hand and really feeling like you're collaborating on it, and each of you are bringing your different areas of expertise to the team. Marie: Yeah. I mean, you can ask really granular questions and a lot of times the clients will appreciate it. Like, I remember one time asking client, like some, I can't remember what the exact word, but it's something like, you know, what does authenticity mean to you? And the answer I got was not exactly how I would have defined it, it wasn't wrong either. It was just like really interesting to get their particular spin on it. And so yeah, you can ask, I mean, you can ask anything, you know, and don't think it's a stupid question. Quote, unquote, it's really not, because I think a lot of us have a lot of assumptions about things like language. And as writers, I think that's one of our great nerdy joys, right. Is like dismantling some of that and like taking a look and I would say as a CEO, same thing, like assumptions are the death knell of, of any relationship, right. But also this type of relationship, so sure. It's things like, how do I define the word authenticity, but it's also things like, you know, like when, when are you going to get this to me? Like when can I look at the draft? Or like how many rounds of revisions is reasonable or, you know, people just meet assume things based on their experience or what they would do, what they think they would do. And so clients also ask, ask a bagillian questions, if you want to your writer, if they are a confident, competent writer, they will be able to answer for you or they will say, that's a great question. Let me get back to you on that. Jessi: Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, really, I think taking a look at this as, as you would, any relationship, if looking at what both of you are bringing to the table and how both of you can provide the most support for one another so that you hit your mutual goals. I think that goes a long way towards making sure that everyone is benefiting from the relationship and that the relationship has longevity. And this goes, regardless of whether going back to, I think our last episode where we were talking about a task-based writer versus a strategy-based writer two episodes ago, I believe, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if you are a writer who's sitting in the strategy role and heavily directing that. Or if you're a writer who is really just taking on tasks that the client is assigning you like, Hey, write this blog post about this topic. Here are the keywords go. Either way it's important to have a strong relationship where as a writer, you're able to follow the best practices for the piece of content and represent the brand voice and for the client to know that they are not placing unreasonable expectations on the writer and that they're getting what they want out of their head and into the writer's head. Otherwise there's going to be a discrepancy between what is handed off and what is received back. And we want to make sure that that doesn't happen. Marie: Yeah. One other quick point on guidelines for the person hiring the writer. Let's say you want to hire a writer to support you with launch content, one thing can be really difficult for a writer that you may not realize is if like the launch plan changes several times, right? Or like if you're maybe developing a course and then you're like, actually, no, I think this is going to be like a coaching program. And then you're like, actually, no, I think this is going to be a... it's less that it's more like, I think it's for this audience. I think it's for that audience because swapping out something like feature list is less problematic than like completely changing the targeting on something and the messaging that goes along with that audience targeting. So, I would say, you know, sometimes that's how people operate and that's the way it goes. But if at all possible, you know, try to find a plan that you can live with and test, right, because it's a whole going back to testing thing. It's not what you prefer necessarily so much as what works a lot of the time, you know, within, within reason. Um, but also if your writer tells you like, cool, that's fine. If you want to change this. But like, if there are any other changes, I need to know it by X date, like please do honor that kind of boundary because it can be very disruptive to a writer to need to rewrite things, but also is kind of disheartening, you know, you're like, wow, I wrote this beautiful sales page that will never see the light of day. And it's also more expensive for you cause like probably they're going to charge you for another page. So. Jessi: Yeah, absolutely. And I think, you know, having a timeline conversation early before you even, you know, finalize hiring a person or not is really key. You know, knowing how much lead time does a writer need, how many revisions do you get for every piece of content, if something like that happens where everything changes, how do they handle that logistically. But also how much lead time is needed for things like that. Or, um, you know, if something comes up last minute and you need a piece of content with less than a 24 hour turnaround, is that something that the writer you're looking to hire can honor? And if not, can you respect that boundary? And as a writer, think about what those boundaries should be for you in order to support you and your business and not put yourself in a situation where you feel like you are constantly scrambling to catch up. And so that goes back to our boundaries episodes, where we talk about, you know, how do you think about your boundaries, making sure that you're really solid on that, so that when you start the relationship with a client, you can be very clear about those boundaries, because that really is what helps nurture that relationship is just kind of knowing where they exist and then communicating them often. Marie: Yeah. So let's wrap a bow around this conversation here, you know, what are some best practices for both sides of the table? You know, communication, absolutely. Nurturing the relationship from the very first contact, even if you don't end up working with each other, like it's, you never know what's what the fruits a relationship will bear. And you're right, Jessi, like part of that too, is maintaining and communicating boundaries, because that's how relationships can stay healthy. And then another piece of this is whatever you're promising, keep that promise. And if for whatever reason you can't communicate it as quickly as possible. You know, take ownership of the things you need to take ownership of. Jessi: Yeah. And I want to add too, listen. Regardless of what side of the table you're on, make sure you're listening to the other person. And especially if you are the writer in the relationship, make sure you are listening early listening to often and taking note of what you hear, because not only is that going to help you sink into the brand voice, that's also going to help you really feel like you understand your client and can help direct some of those conversations, especially if they end up going into content strategy land. Like having that, that listening muscle trained well-trained really, really helps support the relationship. Marie: Can I add a pro tip here? It is not uncommon for me within a sales call to literally already start, start writing down words and phrases that the clients say. Jessi: Oh yeah. Marie: Even if I don't work with them, I'm like, well, that was interesting. That's a good practice for me, but if I do work with them, I like already have, you know, 30 words of their brand voice word bank before I even like start the conversation. So it's really, it's helpful. Jessi: Yeah. And I'll actually add on to that pro tip with another pro tip- Marie: Ooh, pro-pro tip. Jessi: Pro-pro tip. Which is if you happen to be a writer who has a team recording those sales calls and making sure that the team who's doing the actual writing has access to that initial call is incredibly valuable. Not just because of what Marie just said with the words and phrases, but also because it's a really good opportunity to really dig into what they're coming to you for right then. And it may change between that initial conversation and getting things rolling because things can always be in flux, but really knowing what led them to the point of wanting to hop on a call is really valuable. So if you do have a team making sure that your team has access to that call is really helpful. Marie: Yeah, absolutely. I love doing that. So yeah, and I think, you know, otherwise it's just going to piggy back- piggy back. Piggy-backing, that's what I'm going to have to Google. On, on the importance of communication, it's also taking a look at like the lines of communication, the methods of communication, and being pretty clear about that, you know, is this person somebody who wants to communicate over email or is this somebody who like they- were going to have, you know, if you have a question about your invoice, you talked to this person, if you have a question about your strategy, you talked to this person, right? Like, so all that stuff, I'm making that clear, or not like if it's just you as a writer, you know, you, you may not have multiple people for them to talk to, but like this meeting is for this purpose, right. And then I would say too, because you know, this is all about like nurturing the relationship. Um, do you do what you can to keep it from fizzling, you know, reach, if you, you know, if you enjoy them and you want to maintain the relationship. This goes for CEOs and writers, right. Just checking in with each other, seeing how things are going. Um, if you can systematize that process. Great. We have a more in-depth podcast episode on all of that. But, again, you never know what fruit relationship will bear and, and at the end of the day, it's not transactional it's relationship. And, um, and so, yeah, it's not just that you don't know what fruit, it will bear, but you never know what wonderful outcome will come from meeting that person, from working with that person, from staying in touch with that person. Jessi: Yeah. Yeah. You know, and I want to add that just like in any other type of relationship, whether it's a friendship or romantic relationship, whatever it might be, you wouldn't hopefully just ghost on that person and disappear from existence when you're in a professional relationship with someone. Sometimes if it's an ongoing relationship where they're sort of ebbs and flows to the work, there can be a point of that fizzle where it's sort of like, Oh, we haven't talked in a while. We haven't like connected in a bit, but we should probably reconnect and systematizing that so you know, that you're reaching out to your client every two weeks or every month or something like that if you're not in constant contact and other ways is really helpful to making sure that it doesn't fizzle. And I'll give a quick example of something we just recently implemented in our business. That's been really helpful for this. Because we have- each of our clients has a team that is responsible for helping support them. You know, there's kind of a lot of moving parts happening. We have a monthly strategy call that our retainer clients receive. We have a content calendar that they have that keeps track of all of the content we've delivered for them. And we have the ongoing communication that's sort of happening in between those monthly strategy calls. And up until a few months ago, all of those things were happening sort of organically, which was great, but it also made it kind of hard to keep track of when things were starting to fizzle. And so what we started doing is at the beginning of every single month, we just send a monthly update to the client and we say, Hey, here's where you are in your contract. Here is a link to your content calendar. Here's a link to updates we've made in your brand voice guide since the last month. And here is a link to schedule your strategy call. And, you know, if you have any questions, let us know. And you know, it's just a systematized point of contact that is definitely not the only point of contact, but it took a lot of disparate pieces of the relationship, put it together, and some of the responses from our clients were honestly a lot of gratitude because it was putting things in one place that made it easy to find it made it easy to feel like the relationship was structured in a way that felt beneficial to everyone involved. Marie: Absolutely. So, your homework, I think, you know, A, if there's something like a tidbit like that, or one of those pro or pro-pro tips that we gave that's useful, go ahead and implement that. But otherwise we would say, regardless of whether you're the writer or the CEO, talk about communication, have a meta-conversation about communication, and a really solid understanding of, if you're the writer, how you're going to capture the brand voice. And if you're the CEO, how the brand voice is going to be captured. Because at that point then you'll be able to really continue leveling that playing field, coming together as equals as supportive, you know, a supportive relationship, you know, you hired the writer because you want that support and the writer wants to work with you because they want to support you. This is yes, it's transactional, but it's also relationship like any other. And so it's important to kind of have relationship best practices as you go, go through nurturing that. Jessi: Yeah, absolutely. And if you need any support around brand voice and how to capture the brand voice, if you are the writer and how to communicate the brand voice, if you are the client, we'll link to those episodes down in the show notes so that you can go and listen to us as we break down all of the different components of brand voice. Marie: All right. Thanks for joining. Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Brand Your Voice Podcast. Make sure to visit our website, Northstarmessaging.com, where you can subscribe to the show on iTunes, Spotify, and more. Jessi: If you found value in this episode, we'd love for you to leave us a review on iTunes and share it with your friends. Thank you, and happy content creating.
For additional content strategy and branding tips, check out northstarmessaging.com/blog. Also, please tag us on Instagram and let us know you’re out there! @northstarmessaging 

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