Business Writing

Talk, tips, and best picks for writers on the job.

Syntax Training | Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

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March 11, 2014


Jeannette Paladino

Naomi should just suck it up. The client gets what the client wants. The politics in organizations can be toxic and an outsider can't know what the underlying dynamic is among these people.

Michael Roberts

I would go to the clients and discuss efficiency and business etiquette with them. From my vantage point, it seems their insecurities are making for a poor business relationship that benefits no one. In order to "best serve them, some of the redundancy needs to be eliminated.

Frances Wilson

"Naiomi" should definitely talk to her client about handling communication. But before she does she should log the amount of time spent on email communication and assignment progress for at least a week. My experience is that customers are usually shocked when they realise that they are paying for tasks that they have not planned for the consultant to do and are grateful for the information.

This kind of thing can be avoided if you insist on a single point of communication with your client. It is important to do this early in your project. Money talks highest and customers usually buy in if you say something like "Experience has shown me in my past projects that it is the best value for you the customer if we have a single point of communication. Otherwise there is a risk that I will be spending a lot of time on e-mail correspondence instead of being able to concentrate on the actual assignment you have given me and are paying me for. Which one of you will be my single point of contact?" I have found that this works and that customers see it as a sign of experience and professionalism.

I don't agree that you should just do what customers say if you can see that it is costing them money in a way that was not part of the initial agreement. If you raise the matter and they still want to continue with the CCing and its consequences, then your log will enable them to work out if the number of hours assigned will be adequate or need to be revised.


"Weeding through eight emails?" My, my! How awful!

Naomi's contacts may be control freaks. On the other hand, maybe they have a really high due-diligence requirement placed on them for managing Naomi as a vendor. Maybe they need to demonstrate a hands-on style for the benefit of the other parties. Maybe they lack confidence in Naomi and have to be prepared to jump in when she fails.

I agree with Jeannette: Suck it up, Naomi. Do your best. Earn some trust. Failing that, decline future assignments from this client.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Thanks to you all--Jeannette, Michael, Frances, and Jim--for your good advice for Naomi.

I'd like to start with a question and some advice for the clients. It comes from my most recent newsletter:

"When you delegate a project or an assignment, do you require the person who has taken on the work to copy you on his or her emails?

"You can save yourself plenty of unnecessary reading (and even replying) if you ask for regular updates rather than copies of every communication. The size of the project and its urgency can help you decide whether you need daily, weekly, or monthly updates. Besides wasting your time, copying you on everything can make other people feel you are constantly checking their work. Also, your being copied can undermine their control of the project: Seeing your name on the Cc, people receiving the messages may view you as the person leading the project and may communicate directly with you.

"Key point: Insisting on copies of every communication suggests a lack of trust."

My thoughts above seem to agree with yours, Michael.

As for Naomi, I am guessing she bills by the project--not the hour. If that's the case, unnecessary email exchanges with the client eat into her profits. So I would recommend that she talk with her clients about the email situation, letting them know she will need to raise her rates on future newsletters because of the extra time her clients' needs require.

Frances, I agree that it's essential to insist on a single point of contact and to agree on the degree of communication before the project starts. I know a writer who walked away from a contract when she was told she would have to communicate with a team. "They couldn't pay me enough to put up with that" were her words in the telling of her story.

I agree with you, Jim and Jeannette, that Naomi may need to "suck it up." I have had to do that with clients whose communication styles were very different from mine. It makes those easy, agreeable clients seem that much more wonderful.


Randy Averill

When I worked as a consultant, my boss was a master at influencing his clients in subtle ways. Trying to emulate his style as it would apply to this situation for Naomi, he might say, "I certainly can do that (copy you on every email). Before we agree to that, I'd like you to call George at ABC Business. We tried something very similar on that engagement, and I think you should talk to him about his experience." Occasionally, the client would call George (which is fine because George and his scenario were real). Often, however, this allowed a conversation that was both frank and non-confrontational. Naomi could talk about George's organization and know that her new client can apply the learnings (wasted time, hurt feelings, overemphasis on trivial matters because the boss was copied) to her own organization.

One thing I think most consultants & free-lancers would agree about is that just about all organizations share certain dysfunctions even though all the individuals are completely unique. So it doesn't take much imagination to explain how Naomi's scenario will play out.

And directly "arguing" with the client is not generally a good idea. It's just better to lead them to draw the conclusion of what will happen on their own.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi, Randy. Thank you for your wise counsel. I admire your approach, that is, to allow clients to come to their own conclusions based on our guidance. Excellent advice!


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