EPISODE 91: STABLE: Build a Writing Business that Makes You Feel Appreciated
Does your writing business—and the clients you serve—leave you feeling appreciated? This is a huge key to running a writing business that feels sustainable and exciting. When you feel appreciated, you’ll enjoy your work even more, and be able to do your best for your clients.
In this episode Jessi + Marie will cover:
- Appreciate yourself so you are confident in the respect you are owed.
- Use a simple tool for assessing which clients do and don’t make you feel appreciated.
- Establish yourself as a trusted, equal partner in the eyes of your clients.
This episode is Part 3 in a new 7-part series on Creating a STABLE Writing Business. STABLE stands for:
Each episode in the series will talk about one aspect of STABLE, because you deserve a writing business that sets you up for sustainable success!
Plus, we invite you to join the STABLE Writing Business Challenge, a free challenge for freelancers and content creators kicking off on July 11, 2022. Within the challenge, you’ll identify your #1 biggest business challenge right now, so you can take strategic action to address it.
In this episode, Jessi and Marie talk about building a writing business where you feel appreciated. In the world of writing, this can sometimes feel easier said than done. It’s unfortunate, but a lot of people out there think of writer hires as cogs in their marketing machine. This can lead to uncomfortable assumptions around pricing, boundaries, availability, and more.
You want a writing business that feels expansive, where your unique expertise and skills are valued. You deserve to work with your clients as peers and colleagues (after all, they’re not your boss). Otherwise, it won’t take long for you to begin to resent your work.
So what’s a writer to do?
To make sure you never feel taken advantage of, it’s important to know what appreciation looks like. Think about the different parts of your business’ sales cycle where a client (or potential client) could make you feel great… or not so great. Your sales process, onboarding process, project delivery period, and offboarding period are all examples of this.
For each part of your sales cycle, what does appreciation and mutual respect look like?
What doesn’t it look like? We like to categorize these actions based on a light system:
- Red Lights are no-go zones. They’re actions that make you feel taken advantage of.
- Yellow Lights leave you feeling a liiiiittle iffy. If they happen over and over, they can become red lights.
- Green Lights are actions that leave you feeling appreciated and loved.
When you know what appreciation looks like (and doesn’t), you can cultivate it more easily and intentionally. And don’t forget to share the love–your clients deserve to feel appreciated, too!
Are you struggling to feel Appreciated in your business?
When you join the STABLE Writing Business Challenge, we’ll help you identify your #1 most important business challenge right now, so you can take the next best action. If your biggest challenge is appreciation, you’ll know it by the end of the challenge!
- Join the free STABLE Writing Business Challenge, which kicks off July 11, 2022.
Services/Products/Offers/Freebies Referenced (for affiliate links or list growth):
Welcome to the copywriter collaborative podcast, where we're digging into how you can build a sustainable writing business. We're your hosts, Jessi...
...and Marie. We're the co-founders of North Star Messaging + Strategy. When we started our business in 2010, we had no idea what we were doing. We just knew we wanted to write. Since then, we've learned a lot and we've grown into a successful multi-six-figure copywriting agency with a talented staff of writers and project coordinators. We've served hundreds of clients and we've seen it all. We wish we could have had a resource like this way back then. So we created it for you.
We're here to share our and top tips to help you achieve personal and professional success in the copywriting industry. Every week, you'll get valuable insights from us, members of our team, and special guests. Whether you wanna write better copy, create a stronger copywriting business that can support you financially or both, grab your earbuds.
Hello friends, and welcome to another episode of the collaborative copywriting podcast. Almost called this a contest. It's a contest to see who's the most collaborative. And obviously, I'm a little punchy today. So, this is our third episode in our series on the topic of building a stable writing business. Today, we're talking about the A in that acronym, which is appreciated. If you are interested in the other topics, the previous two episodes were on creating a strategic offer in your writing business and targeted: making sure that you're targeting the right audience. But today it's all about feeling appreciated in your work because you know, when you're not feeling appreciated, you are not having a good time and it's not a sustainable stable place for you to be.
Yeah. And I think that in some ways this feels almost like the most abstract thing in the acronym, except for maybe the E, which is energized, which we'll get to in a few episodes. But appreciated often isn't the first thing that people think about when they think, oh, I wanna build a sustainable business. It's one of those things that comes up after they've had some experiences where they don't feel appreciated and then realize how unsustainable it is to work in a situation where you constantly feel like you are not really being... appreciated. What's a good word... there's not even a really good synonym for it. It's just like the appreciation in and of itself is such a valuable part of the work that you do and what you get out of the work that you put in, it's where a lot of the will to carry on and to do the work that you do comes from.
Just slightly dramatic. Yeah. No, I think it's respect, but it's also like respect in a way that lights you up, right? Like there are people who I respect that I'm not like going out of my way to gush about necessarily. Right. And so I think that's maybe part of the nuance here. The other part of this too, is, I don't know what if you've ever taken that love languages quiz, dear listener. Some people who like, words of affirmation are their thing, they're gonna be like, oh yeah, I need this. Some people who, words of affirmation are not their thing, that may not be as important to them. But I think regardless, all of us want to feel appreciated in whatever way resonates for us. It doesn't mean that our client has to just constantly be like, oh my gosh, Marie's so amazing. I love working with Marie. It can just be in the way that they treat you and the way that you interact with each other. And if that is feeling like you are appreciated and respected, then yeah, like Jessi said, you're gonna have the will to go on a lot longer.
And you know, it may be a little dramatic, but I wanna challenge you to think back to a time when you had a job where you didn't feel appreciated and how that felt. And it really can become kind of crushing. I remember back when I was teaching high school, there was a mixture of experiences there where some of the people that I worked with, particularly those who were in a position of power over me, so like people in admin and things like that, some of them were appreciative of the work I did, and some of them were not. Some of them were actively antagonistic in some cases for a slew of reasons. That is a totally different tangent. But at the end of the day, one of the reasons I left the classroom, despite the fact that I loved teaching and I loved my students was because I didn't feel appreciated by the system and by the administration. It really led me to say, I cannot go on. I cannot do another year like these past years. And that lack of appreciation looked a lot of different ways. It was not, you know, there weren't administrators coming to my room and yelling at me. It was in small, subtle things that over time built up. It's like that death by a thousand paper cuts type of thing.
And this is very true with running your own business too. Especially I think as a writer, there's a risk inherent in that sort of career description because there's this connotation that we've talked about in past episodes that hiring a writer is hiring cheap labor. It's hiring a churner who can just write the thing so that you don't have to write the thing. And then you can get on with your life. And that assumption, if someone is hiring you with that assumption in mind, it can lead to a lot of those little things that can lead to an overall sense of lack of appreciation.
Yeah. I mean, I think some of those like death by a thousand paper cuts, some of those paper cuts are, they're always pushing back on your rates. You always feel like you have to justify every cent that you invoice to them. We have a previous episode on what happens when your client treats you like you're their employee and they're your boss. That is another way where it can be like, they're not showing appreciation. They're not respecting the fact that you have your own business and are making your own decisions. You're not one of their minions. You are their peer, right.
Another area in which that appreciation, lack of appreciation, shows up is if they're always having these last-minute changes that take everything you've done and, it's annoying enough that they have maybe no regard for your boundaries in terms of, Hey, I need this much heads up, or I don't like to work weekends. Not only that, but they're like, and I'm just not gonna use all that content that you work so hard to make for me ahead of time. It just makes you feel deflated, right? Or like, oh gosh, here's another one, right? If a client emergency becomes your emergency, their poor planning or their change in plans becomes your emergency. Every now and then this makes sense, right? Like if there is a family tragedy or if there's some huge PR thing that's going on, like every now and then this makes sense, right. But if this is a habit and you always feel like you just can't get ahead and you're scrambling and you're feeling dread with this client, you're probably not feeling appreciated by them. And you're probably no matter how much money is coming in through it, tempted to just like throw in the towel. And you're probably gonna do a little dance party on the day that the contract ends. And so that's what we mean about not being able to have a stable, sustainable writing business if you're not feeling appreciated by your clients.
Yeah. And I think you said a really key word there, Marie, which is habit. These things can happen from time to time where maybe it may be a miscommunication or it may be an exceptional situation, or it may just be that you have, going back to what Marie said earlier, different love languages. You may just communicate appreciation in different ways. And so you're talking past each other. So it doesn't mean that if a client has questions about your rates once that means, oh my gosh, they don't appreciate me. It doesn't mean that one PR emergency means that you're not being appreciated, but when certain things stack up over time, it can lead to that. And there certainly are situations that the first time it happens, if your client decides to suddenly start cussing you out in the middle of a strategy call or something, like, okay, like that is definitely a line that has been crossed. And so I think part of this is sort of being aware of the big things that are an immediate, okay no, this is going too far. And also being aware of those more subtle nuanced things so you can build a business where you identify them early enough that you can take action and then incorporate that stability into your business because you know what to look for.
Yeah, absolutely. So another word that came up earlier is peer, right? Like we believe that you are a professional writer, whether you're a freelancer or you own an agency or whatever. You're a business owner. And that means that you're their peer, you're your client's peer. You bring your own unique, valuable skill set to the table and you, professionally and personally, deserve appreciation and respect. And when a client isn't doing that, we can always invite them. We can say, Hey, here's my boundary. And we can invite them to course-correct. It doesn't mean that they're out to get you or anything. It just means that there may just need to be some communication that takes place. But your business, in a perfect world, is designed in a way that really makes it easy for your clients to recognize the value that you bring to see you as a peer, to treat you as a peer, and to understand and respect your boundaries.
And I just wanna know that your client doesn't have to be dismissive, rude, cruel, annoying, name calling to leave you feeling unappreciated. It could just be that you're not a good match for each other in terms of your needs, your communication styles, your love languages, your working styles, your areas of expertise, whatever, right? Like it's just not a good match. So don't necessarily villainize people who are leaving you feeling unappreciated. If they're not necessarily doing anything wrong, it may just be they're not a good fit for you and you're not a good fit for them. And that's still valid. You can take action on that.
Yeah. It really, at the end of the day, having a way to gauge how appreciated you feel and how appreciation is worked into your business is a decision-making tool. It allows you to know things like when it's time to part ways with a client or when you can get really excited about a renewal coming up. It lets you know if it's worth it in long run, because maybe the clients who appreciate you less, like maybe one of your indicators of less appreciation is constant revision requests and last-minute changes and practically over time, that means your profit margin goes down. And that all of that makes decision-making easier. So it's not necessarily that anyone is a bad person here. It's I mean, it could be, and I hope that's not a situation you come across, but it's this whole myriad of things that could impact your own wellbeing within your business.
And we've seen both sides of it. We've had situations where we have had people who just flat out didn't respect us and didn't respect our business. And we parted ways as a result of that. And we've had people who, the lack of appreciation that we felt was due to a miscommunication. And we kind of all sat down together and had a conversation about it, reset some boundaries, which will be the next episode will be all about setting boundaries, and then continued on from there and low and behold the issues went away. So when we talk about how do we do it, how do we put appreciation into our business, this abstract seeming thing that's like a feeling, how do we make sure that it exists in our business? One is by using it as a decision-making tool and being willing to have conversations. So in our business, one of the decision-making tools that we have that takes this idea and kind of gives it something more concrete that we can grasp onto is a red, yellow, and green light document. This is something that we created in tandem with all of the writers on our team. Everyone kind of participated in the creation of it. And it allows us to keep a finger on the pulse of our client relationships right from the beginning and throughout the duration of that relationship.
This document is living and breathing. Every time we wrap up a client project, we ask the writer who was involved on that project to let us know, Hey, were there any red lights? Were there any yellow lights? Were there any green lights? And what we mean by that is red light is something that happens where it's an immediate no, like, Hey, you're not a good fit. Like Jessi said an example of like, they're cursing you out in the middle of a meeting and you're feeling extraordinarily belittled, they're being very cruel to you. The true colors have come out, right? Red light. We're ceasing to work with you. We will not work with you again. Yellow light. Well, and I'll say green light is the opposite of that. Right? The green lights are where you wanna keep going with them. Right? Like you, you love them. You wish all your clients were just like them. They're kind, they appreciate you. They don't push back on your pricing. You know, it's just the ideal person, that you just love working with them.
And then the yellow lights, these are things that kind of just make you go, Hmm, right? So maybe it's something where they've been late to pay a few times, but they always do pay. But you know, if that keeps happening, you may want to have a conversation with them because it's gonna affect your cash flow. It doesn't mean that they're horrible and evil or that they are totally broke and can't afford to work with you. It just, who knows what's going on. Maybe it keeps getting stuck in their spam. I don't know. But it's just worth a conversation. Or maybe there was one time when they were pretty snippy with you, but you could also tell that they were kind of having a bad day. It may be something to have a conversation with them about and just say like, Hey, you know, you doing okay? I noticed that, you know, right. Like just reach out. So the yellow lights are the ones that kind of make you raise the flag a little bit, but it's not like an insta you're out. And it's often something that can be mitigated and removed as an obstacle or as a frustration with just a conversation.
Yeah, absolutely. And the way that we use this practically in our business with the yellow lights in particular is after a client accrues a certain number of yellow lights, especially if it's on the same type of thing happening, but it could just be there are multiple yellow lights popping up of different kinds, that's when it triggers a conversation. We initiate that conversation, and then we see, we kind of wipe the slate clean and say, okay, this conversation has happened. Let's see what happens now and none of the yellow lights keep popping up, that's when it's like, okay, well maybe this is becoming a red light now. And so that gives us a lot of valuable information.
That said, you can start doing this before you even start working with a client. This doesn't have to be after you've signed a contract and are locked into work with someone. I wanna challenge you to think about what mutual respect and understanding looks like during four different phases of the client's cycle. First being the sales process. When you're in a sales call with someone and where you're exchanging emails with someone, what does respect and understanding look like if someone decides to work with you? What does the onboarding process look like? What does mutual respect and understanding look like during the client projects? Which is what we've focused on mostly today. And then also when you're offboarding or approaching ongoing relationships with past clients, same question, what does mutual respect and understanding look like at each point during those processes? Because they could indicate whether it's worth pursuing the relationship to begin with or circling back to it later on, all of these things are useful pieces of data for you as you're going through your process.
Yeah. So quick examples from each of those: during your sales process, they show up on time to the sales call, right. That shows respect for you and your time. During the onboarding process, they sign the contract promptly without making 17,000 requests to change everything in the contract or they are dilly dallying on signing it or whatever. During the project, yeah, we've given a bunch of examples of that, but just kind of sticking along with this promptness theme, they continue to show up to strategy calls and they give feedback in the way that you request that they give feedback. For the offboarding, they fill out your offboarding survey which includes a request for a testimonial, right. So basically they're kind of doing all the things that show like, Hey, I respect your time. I respect that you're a fellow business owner and we're sort of here in mutual appreciation for each other. So those are just a few examples.
Yeah, absolutely. So, we wanna give you a little homework today, two-part homework. Part one is to just think about those four categories: your sales process, your onboarding process, your client projects, and your offboarding ongoing relationship with past clients and see if you can just brainstorm an initial red, yellow, green light list based off client experiences that you've had in the past, or just sort of an imaginary ideal type client situation, or less than ideal type client situation. What those would look like, what lights, red lights, yellow lights, or green lights might pop up, just as a journaling prompt and as an experiment.
If you want additional support around this and if you feel like being appreciated in your business is an area that you really, really wanna spend some time on, we want to encourage you to join the STABLE writing business challenge. The very first thing we're going to be doing with you is helping you identify whether this actually is the best place for you to spend your energy in building a stable, sustainable writing business so that you can dig into it and know that you are digging into the best place to make the most progress in your business.
Absolutely. So we hope that you will join. Please check out the show notes for that join link. It's a free challenge, so please register so that you can get all the information and we will be guiding you through knowing your number one biggest challenge to address in your writing business so that you can take focused strategic action in that direction.
Completely. Hope to see you there!
Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Copywriter Collaborative Podcast. Make sure to visit our website, northstarmessaging.com/podcast, where you can subscribe to the show on iTunes, Spotify, and more.
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