In my various engagements as a freelance writer and marketing communications consultant, I often find myself working with the clients of a client.
It’s a situation that adds a whole new dimension to the relationship between service provider and client. Not only are you serving the needs of that primary client, but now you are also in the role of their ambassador; how you conduct yourself with their clients reflects on them.
For me, this typically manifests itself in this way: My primary client is providing a service to its clients which includes my services as writer and consultant. This most often involves situations where a media outlet is selling advertorial space (in other words, content marketing space) to their advertisers and I come in to help those advertisers fill that space with strong and effective content. There can be quite stringent deadlines to meet and my role is that of project manager as much as it is writer to herd the cats and ensure the job gets done on time.
It could be another industry, another kind of service being provided, but if the circumstances require the service provider to work with the primary client’s clients, the dynamics of the relationships likely remain the same. In my example, I must budget the time to ensure the job gets done. There are 11th hour revision requests on copy that has already been approved, approval processes that push past the press deadline and leave my primary client begging the indulgence of the printing shop, even new advertorials that sell within a couple days of the press deadline.
As the hired pen I have to be ready to scramble, even as I move on to new client projects to avoid a lull in my cash flow. That’s just par for the course.
But regardless of the situation, once you’ve started a job, you must see it through. Your client has introduced you to its clients, likely by having made some grand statements about your expertise. Those clients may have signed on for whatever the project is because of the evident trust that the primary client has expressed in you. This has created certain expectations, not the least of which is that you will be there until everything is across the finish line, no matter how painful the course may be.
So if you have to bail out before the race is over, even if you can pull in another great service provider who you consider as good or better than yourself, it can still reflect poorly, not only on yourself, but on your primary client. And if you make your primary client look bad, it’s not likely to bode well for you.
A couple of years ago, I was approached by a west coast publisher who had been working with a local freelancer to produce a corporate history for a Canadian retailer. This freelancer had produced, under the terms of her contract, a first draft. But the retailer didn’t like it and wanted it heavily revised. The problem was that the freelancer had already committed to another project and was no longer available.
The publisher found their way to my door and it appeared that they were ready to hand the revision job to me, but the stumbling block was the retailer. I can only guess at the discussion that went on between closed doors, but the outcome was obvious –the project was never completed despite the time and effort that had already been put into it. Faced with the prospect of having to start over with a new writer, the project fizzled.
What’s the moral of the story? As the service provider, ensure that all of the deliverables are clearly expressed at the outset of the project so that both you and the primary client have realistic expectations about what is possible within the period of time allotted to the project. If there is any possibility that you will need another pair of hands, make certain that person is in the picture and known to the client at the outset.
As the primary client, be transparent and forthcoming with the service provider about the dynamics of the project and variables that are likely to pop up and pose deadline challenges. You are in the best position to know what individual clients of yours are like to work with and who is most likely to push things off schedule – share this knowledge. And have realistic expectations about what can be accomplished at the 11th hour.