Freelance Boost: Help Build Credibility

Part of owning your business is protecting your knowledge and information. But protect it too hard and no one will know you have it. That’s not a successful step in being successful.

One of the biggest leaps in understanding how to run a good business happened when I was employed in an ad agency as the creative director in an ad agency. A client called, asking for a process we did not do. At all. I was pretty sure that if I asked one of the designers, she could have created something pretty good.

Trouble was, the big client was used to excellent work, and our work was not going to be excellent. Having worked in the advertising community for a while, I suggested another company that did that process very well. Yes, they were a competitor. Our client was grateful.

The ad agency president didn't really look like this, it just felt like it.

The ad agency president didn’t really look like this, it just felt like it.

At the next staff meeting, I reported what I had done. The company president was livid. I was sending business to our competitors, he yelled. I was costing us business we could have used. We could have done something, he screamed, banging his fist on the table. And then he fired me. In front of my colleagues.

What hurt the worst in that story was the complete missing of the point exhibited by the company owner. The point of a good client relationship is to help people, even if it means sending them somewhere else. It builds trust and credibility and that beats any marketing plan you may have.

How do I know this is true? Because, those many years ago, the client heard what had happened. They moved the business to the company that became my new work home. They did it because I had helped them honestly when they needed it, focusing not on my own company, but on the client’s needs.

I still follow that rule today: offer the best help you can, but when someone else Free-Vectors-Crown-GraphicsFairy1does it better, tell your client the truth. Make the introduction. If the client leaves your company entirely, the relationship was not as strong as you thought. Almost all the time, the relationship will grow stronger, and you will become trusted and a credible resource. And when you own your own business, that is a crown you can wear with pride.

—Quinn McDonald teaches writing to individuals and to corporations. And she’d still send clients to the best provider of services.

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8 thoughts on “Freelance Boost: Help Build Credibility

  1. Totally agree. I work at an agency and we do it all the time. It is woman owned. Wonder if that makes a difference?

  2. I do this in my business. Of course, if I can help the customer I do so. But if they are looking for a particular product or class that I know I can’t provide, I help them to find it. People are often surprised when I tell them to visit one of my competitors. I feel like I am in the business of helping people, and if it means they shop somewhere else, then I am OK with that. Most of the time people appreciate that.

  3. It takes a lot of conviction to do what we know is right, especially when we foresee it will not be understood. But acting accordingly to our limits is a maturity we should be proud of. I am with you all the way, Quinn. And paying the price price for our convictions is totally worth it. I think that a lot of what is wrong in this world is that attitude of “anything goes”.

  4. Pete has a point, granted, but I definitely think you took the higher road. You knew that the customer wanted something extremely specialized. You asked the artist and the key words she said are “I could fake it enough.” For the money the client presumably was paying, faking is NOT enough. The buyer is paying for a service and expects to get what he pays for. IF you had taken on the job and the artist created something the client hated, you would have lost any chance at future business. And possibly gained a poor reputation as I’m certain the client would complain. In the long run, you kept your company in business by doing what you did.
    It’s very true that a short sighted boss wouldn’t understand this. Pete doesn’t understand your reasoning. Most businesses probably wouldn’t look at it this way.
    To bring it back to an art business, I have turned down opportunities because I felt at the time I wouldn’t be able to follow through. Not following through is something I can’t allow myself to do. It ruins reputations.

    Quinn, I’m glad you had the guts to do this even though I am sure it wasn’t easy and you paid for it with your job.

  5. We could never have produced what the client wanted. It wasn’t our specialty, wasn’t even close to what we did. We would have failed and lost the client. I’m well aware of the President’s perspective, but he didn’t trust my judgment, either. And as creative director, it was my job to judge if we could get the job done for the client. I spoke to the artist and she clearly said “I could fake it enough.” I knew her work. So there was no back stabbing, Pete. It’s not what I do. Ever. And it’s pretty ballsy of you to accuse me of it.

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