This article is based on content presented by Katherine Molnar‑Kimber, PhD, Kimnar Group LLC, and Deborah Anderson, PhD, DGA Medical Communications, at the AMWA Medical Writing & Communication Conference.
For freelance writers and independent contractors, establishing long‑term client relationships has clear advantages. Working with long‑term clients reduces time spent on administrative tasks, such as marketing, acquiring resources, and learning new formats, which increases the time available for producing the deliverable. The stability provided by long‑term clients also improves peace of mind and is usually financially beneficial.
In this very informative session, Drs. Molnar‑Kimber and Anderson offered many practical suggestions for fostering long‑term client relationships. Their talk centered on the topic areas detailed below. Often they shared examples and information from their own areas of specialization (Dr. Molnar‑Kimber, publications; Dr. Anderson, sales training).
Eight Tips to Nurture Long‑Term Client Relationships
1. Identify the goals of the deliverable
Because an on‑target deliverable is the client’s top priority, it is crucial to identify the ultimate goal(s) of the project.
2. Flesh out specific goals of the target document
Clearly defining the specific requirements for the final deliverable involves considering many factors, including the type of deliverable, audience, timeline, and responsibilities of each team member (when applicable). For sales training, it is also useful to review the current approach (especially what is or is not working) and identify any limitations that must be considered.
3. Identify and acquire resources
The resources that are currently available and that are yet to be obtained should be determined, considering such factors as their cost, age, and usability. It is especially important to identify which references the client wants cited.
4. Provide experience‑based insights
These insights can add greatly to the value provided to a client. They may include advice on a suitable target journal, appropriate style or tone, and how to conform to the expectations of journal reviewers (for journal publications) or medical legal reviewers (for sales training).
5. Offer deluxe services
These can distinguish one freelancer from others. Graphic design, education, curriculum development, and publication planning are examples of deluxe services.
6. Write and send deliverables on time and on budget
In addition to deliverables that are on target, clients also want deliverables that are on time and on budget.
7. Continue to hone your craft and services
Conferences, courses, webinars, online forums, and article writing are ways to improve and expand a freelance writer’s skills.
8. Communicate effectively and with respect
Communicate openly and honestly with clients, keeping them informed and responding promptly (eg, within 24 hours). Seeking clarification and reiterating goals and other points will help avoid misinterpretation.
Three Types of Actions that Turn Off Clients
1. Value‑related mistakes
These mistakes result in a deliverable that has poor value to the client. They include not meeting expectations, making formatting or other errors, and misinterpreting reference material.
2. Systems‑related inefficiencies
Inefficient business systems negatively affect a freelancer’s productivity and relationships with clients. Examples include inflexible policies, difficulties with obtaining resources or references or with contacting subject matter experts, poor access to clients, and inefficient contract negotiation processes.
3. Communication mistakes
These mistakes include contacting the client too often or too infrequently or multitasking during phone calls. They also involve not using good communication skills. Examples of good skills include being friendly and a good listener, softly educating clients with stories or suggestions, exhibiting self‑confidence yet being humble and acknowledging mistakes, and ensuring queries are respectful.
Three Exercises to Identify Ideal Clients
1. Know your expertise
Identify topic areas, audiences, and documents that most closely match your skill set.
2. Consider your interests
Identify topic areas, audiences, and documents that you most enjoy working with.
3. Consider the client’s characteristics
Identify specific characteristics of a client to determine how closely your preferences align with the client. Consider such characteristics as the client’s availability, personability, location, and expectations (eg, reasonable or not).
The presentation included a number of other helpful suggestions, such as using calendars to organize time spent on work‑related versus personal activities and working with all pertinent individuals (especially the medical‑legal review team) early in a project to avoid problems at a later date.
Perhaps the most important tip was for freelance medical writers to remember the wise words of entrepreneur Gene Caballero (as quoted by Dr. Molnar‑Kimber): “The customer: someone that indirectly pays for your food, clothes, and vacations. Be nice to them.”