Most business owners would like you to think that everything in their world is rosy. Nothing ever goes wrong; they have a whole raft of satisfied customers that never complain and everything they do goes smoothly.

They're lying.

The truth is, no matter how careful you are, sometimes things will go wrong. It's the side of business no one wants to talk about, but it happens. Yes, even you may, at some time, experience a relationship breakdown with a client.

Whether you're a freelancer or a small business owner, it is one of the toughest things to deal with. Firstly, you will not get paid. Secondly, it hurts because you always go out of your way to help your customers. But you're not alone.

The rest of this article is written from my own point of view as a copywriter, however the scenarios can easily be taken from any profession. Oh, they're also fictional, but still good illustrations of why things can go wrong.

1. The brief

Before any project can begin you need a brief from your client so you understand their aims.

Getting as much detail as possible is essential, but can also prove difficult. Ask lots of questions so you get a full picture of what they're looking for.

Some clients will expect you to be a mind reader and when they say “I want 4 web pages written” expect you to know exactly what should be written. Of course it does not work that way, but some clients do not understand that they have to provide you with the raw material to work with (ie what they do, who their customers are, what their customers want, their USP etc. ).

At times, when you're with a client who is particularly hard work, it's tempting to just get an outline and crack on with it, hoping you'll get it right. Do not because that's a disaster waiting to happen. All you'll end up doing is wind up your client because you'll have to do umpteen revisions. It's much better to take the time at the start to get the right information than try to put it right later.

2. I'm not sure

Some clients just do not know what they want.

They're not sure about what content they need, how it should be written, the type of layout they want, or even what the main benefits of their product or service are.

This is the type of information you'll have to fight during during the briefing session.

When it comes to the voice / style, a good idea is to ask them for some examples of other stuff they've seen that written in a style they like. It's much easier to emulate a style you can see than try to create one from vague directions from your client.

3. Review process

Why is it important to know how the process process is going to work?

Well, if the person giving the brief is the one that signs it off, you're on to a winner. But if someone else is signing it off, or a group of managers, there could be trouble ahead.

When more than one person is involved you've got multiple opinions to deal with. They may have different views on style and content and even if you've followed the brief to the letter, they may want changes.

The best idea is to find out what the process process will be and if it involved several people, arrange a meeting with them at the start so you can get some ground rules in place before writing.

4. Ideas

Every so often you'll get a client who knows exactly what they want. On the face of it this sounds great, but what happens when their ideas will not work?

They've hired you because you're an expert in copywriting, but when you tell them how it should be written (benefits led, second person, conversational) they're it their way – even though you know it will not work.

You have two choices:

  1. Write what they want knowing it's not going to work and risk your professional reputation
  2. Walk away and let them find someone else

In this case, walk away.

Is there any way you can prevent yourself from ending up in one of these situations?

The best advice I can give is to trust your instincts. If there's a little voice in your head that's saying “no”, listen to it.

Your instinct will tell you if the job is right for you or not. Do not be afraid to say no, something else will come along. When you do say it, it will save you a lot of sleepless nights.

Author – Sally Ormond