Wednesday, December 15, 2004

On fairness to clients

What I love about being a writer is the diversity my job brings. No two days are the same, and no two projects are alike.

For example, this week I put the finishing touches on a media kit for a client, attended a BNI networking function (and attended a holiday party for this group...'tis the season!), revised a brochure/flyer package for my local Chamber of Commerce, and met with a potential client about writing web copy. I also finished an editing project...let me share with you this experience.

Over the summer a fellow showed up at my door. Keep in mind that I work from home and don't typically see clients at my home office. I try to meet with them at their place of business or in neutral territory, such as the local coffee shop. So it was a bit strange to see someone on my doorstep, waving a piece of paper with my address scribbled on it and claiming the library had given him my name as a typist. He was writing a novel--longhand--and needed someone to type it for him.

I politely explained that I don't offer those sorts of services. I pulled out the Yellow Pages and gave him information for two typing services, as well as the local university's English department. An undergrad would be happy to earn some beer money, and a grad student would probably love to have the opportunity to eat well for a few days.

He was satisfied and thanked me, and he left. I did not hear from him again until he showed up again on my doorstep two weeks ago. This time he had the typed manuscript in hand and wanted me to proofread it.

Now, I don't promote my services to individuals, really. I try to work with businesses, mainly, for several reasons. But this fellow was insistent that I had to do this for him.

I had a couple of projects scheuled to be wrapped up that week, and of course Christmas is coming and I hadn't (and still haven't!) started my shopping, so I figured why not, in a few days I'll have the time and could put the payment towards something nice for my husband.

I took his manuscript. I reviewed it and called him the next day to let him know it would take about 5 hours (it was just about 75 pages) to proofread. We met again (at the coffee shop this time), signed a contract, I collected my deposit, and began the work.

This project--which I thought I had reviewed thoroughly enough to quote an accurate, fair rate--ended up taking 12 hours. I was, thankfully provided with an electronic copy (which saved time as I could make changes directly rather than scrawling notes on paper), but English was the author's second language and there were lots of changes to be made regarding basic sentence structure. The project took more than twice as long as I expected.

But I will not charge him more. The error was mine. I should have been more thorough in the review of his book. I will eat the additional 7 hours of work. (Yikes.)

Maybe it's because this is the season for giving that I'm being accommodating. But I don't think so. While other situations may have warranted a discussion about boosting my fees, this isn't a business with a big marketing budget. It's just a guy with a dream--to publish a piece he's worked very hard on for some time. He even hand-wrote it, for Pete's sake!

In the end, it's all about fairness to clients. Well, it's about making a living, too, of course. But fairness is what will earn you a decent reputation. It's what'll bring clients back for more. Deliver what you promise, when you promise it. That's not to say there isn't room for negotiation, but every situation is different and this fact should be recognized.

There isn't enough fairness in the world as it is. Anything I can do--personally or professionally--to help the ratings in this department is worth it.

Just don't ask me to type your manuscript for you.

And if you request an estimate on a project, please don't be surprised if I quote a range of the dollar amount next time!

Happy holidays!

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