How we adapt quickly to new clients and shifting requirements
Until October 2017 I worked in-house for a fast-growth, global SaaS vendor. During my time there I was largely in charge of creating our content, marketing tone of voice and developing our house writing style — with some guidance from the Corporate Marketing Director of course.
With speed of the essence, reviews were sometimes sacrificed in the interest of moving quickly. This led to small incremental changes to my writing over the duration of my role and I was comfortable producing large volumes of content to fulfil requirements and campaigns.
It was methodical. It was clean. It was routine. And surprise, it didn’t prepare me for agency life where the client expects (and demands) the best.
When you start working for an agency there are a few things you learn very quickly. One of which is that the client is always right, and another is that changing an ingrained writing style for a new client (or a number of clients in my case) can be a difficult experience.
What was once easy to describe, narrate, explain or map out is suddenly impossible to convey.
So how do you overcome these growing pains and what can be a tricky obstacle? How do you onboard new clients quickly? And how do you adapt to shifting demands to keep clients happy?
Always start with objectives
If you don’t know what you’re creating and why, you’re never going to hit the mark. It is therefore critical that before you write anything, you both understand what is expected from the content.
Much like this blog is a culmination of internal discussion around explaining how we work, and communicating the value of working this way, any piece you draft should have those objectives clearly defined from the get-go.
Invest the time in getting to know the brand
This is where you demonstrate your curiosity and creativity, getting under the skin of a brand to find out what makes it work and what they want to be known for.
We run narrative workshops with our new clients, where we invite stakeholders from across the business to come together and pick apart audiences, messaging, and tone of voice. From here we are able to pull together a comprehensive messaging framework that informs our storytelling.
Listen intently to your feedback
So simple. But, our egos and our personal beliefs as to what makes for better writing can cloud our judgement. Our minds will deceive us, or we may try and ‘sneak’ bits through that we feel work better, knowing full well our client has requested changes.
It’s a fool’s errand. You learn this very quickly, you aren’t your own client anymore.
Pay close attention to what your client tells you, because there is no substitute for a happy client.
They will (or certainly should) know what their audience does or does not want – provided you have the right metrics in place to track performance – and should be your barometer on what’s good.
It may well be the little off-the-cuff remarks that reveal the most about what they are looking for from your copy. So pay attention, take notes, and learn.
Implement an extra internal step in your review process
For me, inheriting long-standing clients of Branch Road, the pressure was two-fold.
One, I needed to step up and impress my new colleagues to demonstrate I was as good as they believed me to be. And two, I had to hit the ground running with clients who had come to expect a certain style and consistency from us. I had to adapt fast.
To accelerate this transition phase, we implemented one extra review step internally. Before any content reached the client, it would get one more pair of eyes on it to ensure that the brief was fulfilled and the tone of voice was bang on.
Adding this step helped me learn faster and produce client-ready content first-time much more quickly.
When we take on new clients, we now follow this same principal with the content team, allocating extra resource in the early stages to ensure we are completely aligned around the expectations of the content we deliver
Ask for examples of writing they like
With some clients, describing exactly what they want from their content can be difficult. They may not know exactly what they want until they see it.
If you find yourself in this situation, ask for examples of work they like from different writers, and see if you can decipher exactly what they are looking for. Ask them why they like it and how they see if working for their brand.
Try out different passages of writing in different styles and work with your client to find what resonates. Sometimes investing the extra time early on in the working relationship reaps huge rewards down the line as it shows a dedication and commitment to getting it right.
At Branch Road, we don’t operate on a hierarchical model where juniors are brought in once a client has agreed to work with us. Our clients always have access to the whole team.
We have found this approach to be beneficial throughout the relationship and ensures that at any point, they can speak to anyone, and we all know how to write for them, and can deliver anything they need.
Find tools to help you eliminate weaknesses in your writing
Whether you write in the passive voice too frequently or forget to use as many commas as you should, we all have our weaknesses. The good news is that there are a host of free and paid-for apps that can help you identify yours and correct them.
I use Grammarly and it has been invaluable in identifying any grammatical errors, no matter how small, as well as presenting me with various word substitutions to broaden my vocabulary and improve the quality of my writing.
And OneLook Reverse Dictionary can help you find those words that you can’t quite find to explain what you’re trying to say.
Employ these tools where you can and implement some of the other practices or tactics I’ve outlined above, and you should find adapting to new clients that much easier.