I had a project recently where I totally miscalculated my suitability to the client’s needs. I lost money because of it because I had to spend way too much time dealing with the client mismatch itself.
There’s the scope fog for the job itself (conflicting scopes from different client representatives), and then there’s scope creep because of queries from me or long conversations on the phone to clarify what the client really needs.
These client-match issues cause more trouble and eat up more time than any other project issue. I do set some boundaries on projects based on their content (don’t give me literary criticism books to index or doctorate-level engineering tomes—I will refer you!), but it can be harder to gauge how well I will “get along” with the client. And since that assessment can cost me, I need better tools to figure this out ahead of time.
Asking Questions to Understand the Client
Cue Chris Lema. Several years ago, I decided to keep this little gem from one of his daily blog posts, tucked it into a digital note, and forgot about it (stupid me!). I rediscovered it during a purge of my notes list and now it’s time to 1) integrate it into my practice and 2) customize it to my business. Chris’s original business was website design and functionality (if I remember correctly), so let’s start with his questions and then we can see how to apply them to my publishing services biz. Chris asked
—Do you feel comfortable talking about your budget?
—Do you understand that you can’t match your competitor’s site without matching their spend?
—What have you tried already?
—Are you prepared to help get things done?
—Do you work well with timelines and accountability?
—Can you articulate what success will look like?
—Are you the decision maker?
—Are your expectations realistic?
—What do you know about me?
Great questions for Chris’s clients when he’s talking with them about working together. I looked at his questions and realized that most of the time, I don’t ask hardly any of them to the authors I work with. Hmm. I got used to working with a handful of publishers whose needs and methods I got to know over time, so I could expect consistency. I stopped asking questions. But that was in the 1990s.
Since then, the publishing world has obviously changed just a bit (!). I deal much more with individual writers or individual scholarly authors these days. Schedules are much more unpredictable, and more of these folks don’t know the difference between developmental editing and copy editing and proofreading. And that’s OK. I’m the one who needs to ask the right questions for my purposes, as well as listening to theirs.
So, today, I stand committed to asking the following questions of new clients to create a better chance for a good match:
—What’s your book about?
—What are you looking to have me help you with?
—Interesting. May I see a sample chapter?
—What editing work have you done on your book so far?
—May I see a sample from the middle of your manuscript?
—What do you see as your role in the my editing/proofing/design process?
—What budget did you have set up for this part of your writing process
—What kind of turnaround time do you need for me to successfully support you?
So, there we are. Now to implement this set of questions with every.single.client.
How about you?