Client relations management for professional writers- Working with experts

If you’re an experienced writer, you’ll also probably be an expert on a range of subjects. It’s quite inevitable, particularly if you’re a copywriter, because you absorb a lot more information than you realise. Being an expert, however, is paradoxically part of the problems of writing, both for you and for your clients.

I have a standard saying about information written by expert clients- “Great, but it’s written by an expert.” I actually spend as much time working as an interpreter for expert clients as I do writing. The problem is that these guys know their subjects too well. They assume a level of knowledge that readers are unlikely to have, even sometimes expert readers.

This is actually a lot trickier than it looks. The client wants you to write up or rewrite text on their important subjects. This can involve a process which is very like technical writing, and in some cases actually is technical writing. Being an expert or even well-informed on the subject yourself is sometimes a very double edged situation.

In these cases, you must consider:

The client’s objects in having the content written- The client wants a productive result, naturally, in their own interest. They’re trying to create market interest. This is a business operation for the client, and should be respected accordingly by writers. Make sure you understand the client’s objectives.

The fact that the client, quite rightly, doesn’t want dumbed-down materials- I occasionally scream when I read all these damn articles about how you need to reduce information to lowest common denominators for public consumption. To start with, the public doesn’t (and won’t) “consume” information unless it’s interested in the subjects. The more banal the materials, the more likely you are to turn off motivated readers. “Dumb” will also equate to “offensive” to knowledgeable readers. The client may also be very disappointed with this type of content.

Facts matter- Expert level writing also invariably includes a range of facts with which you may not be very familiar. It’s critically important to make sure that your text matches applicable facts. Getting those facts wrong or distorted exposes the client to quite unnecessary criticism for no fault of their own but trusting you with their materials. Get those facts right. If you don’t understand something, ask about it.

Explaining writing issues to expert clients- The good news on this subject is when you talk expert to expert you’ll get a fair hearing. The bad news is that if you garble your messages on this basis, you’ll get a less than enthusiastic reception when you try to clean up the resulting mess. Think about what you’re telling your clients before you say a word. Make sure you’re sending clear and correct messages.

Client expectations- This is a core client relations issue, particularly with experts, and you really must watch your step with it. The client wants fabulous work, beautiful expression and above all a professional standard of quality. This means their professional standard, not yours, and may well mean also a niche market standard, which can be quite demanding. Make absolutely sure you know what the client wants and expects to see as an end product.

Disputes- Writers can find themselves in dispute with clients over many things, but with experts, the bar is raised much higher. You can’t really challenge their expertise, in most cases. Nor is it likely to be much more than a catty nitpicking session if you do, even if you're an expert yourself. You can, however, challenge how they express themselves on solid ground. Communications is your area. You may need to point out apparent non sequiteurs or contradictions or gaps in the continuity of the materials. Don't do a "critique" of their work, stay focused on quality issues.

The expert will understand the logic of your issues, if not the writing issues. Don’t get into a fistfight over these things. Focus on results and quality. In any kind of dispute with an expert, shut up and listen. They’ll eventually clarify themselves. Ask questions likely to have objective, positive answers. Put an expert in a position to say “Yes” and the relationship will work a lot more smoothly.

Working with experts can be extremely rewarding. You can learn a lot in a hurry, including very valuable knowledge. Just remember that they’re the experts, not you, regarding producing the materials they want from you. They know what they want; you’re there to make it happen properly.


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