RTFB. It stands for: Read The Brief.

I got a job last week from a client I hadn’t worked for before. It was on Upwork; only 30% of my work comes from there, but that’s where I got this one. I did the job – it was the home page for a new website and I was quite pleased with it – and sent it off to the client. Nine minutes after I sent it, I had an email from Upwork saying the client had ended the job.

I couldn’t understand it. Why was there no contact from the client? When I sent the job, I’d labelled it “Draft 1” and made it clear, as I always do, that this was a draft which I expected the client to send back to me marked up with the changes he wanted. I got none of that. I sent a message to the client asking if there was a problem. No reply. I’ll be honest; I was pretty hacked off.

That was yesterday. It wasn’t until today that I re-read the brief. Most of it was fine; he’d given me keywords and I’d used them; he’d told me the message he wanted to get across and I’d incorporated that clearly into the piece. Good. I’d done what I was supposed to do.

Except that I hadn’t. The brief quite clearly said: Word Count: 1000 – 1200. I’d written 371.

surprised-1184889_1280My stomach turned over. I’d made one of the fundamental errors a freelancer can make. And it’s not as if I didn’t know: in my book, How To Make Money As A Freelance Writer, I say this:

Read the brief
Of course that sounds obvious; of course you’ll read the brief. I know. I always read the brief, too. But sometimes, even though I’ve read it, I fail to do everything I’ve been asked to do. Here’s an example. This was the brief:

Write two paragraphs about the “Foot in the door” online marketing technique. Show how it can help in lead generation.

How difficult could that be? Not difficult at all if you happen to have the background and knowledge base that I have; you take on fiddling little jobs like this because the client is someone who uses you a lot and you want to keep them happy. I knocked it off in about eight minutes. This is what I wrote:

The Foot in the Door Marketing Technique
Not many of us would react kindly to a salesperson who came to our door and then stuck a foot inside to prevent us closing it. But that’s not what “Foot in the Door Marketing” is about. Foot in the Door is a way to make a positive answer to a large request a great deal more likely by making a small request first.
For example, what you really want is someone’s commitment to take your online photography course. You start with a seemingly harmless request for their comment on a simple proposition: perhaps which of two pictures is better composed. Immediately they’ve clicked on one of the pictures (either; it really doesn’t matter which they choose) present them with another choice, this time of three simple and well-known photographic “rules” (like the Rule of Thirds) and ask them which of these they’ve heard of. The third screen is the one that asks them to sign up to your course and studies have shown clearly that you are MUCH more likely to get a “Yes” to the third and big request having already had a positive response to the two smaller ones.

That’s all right, isn’t it? Fits the bill, doesn’t it?

Well, no. It isn’t and it doesn’t. Where’s the bit about lead generation?

As I said, read the brief. Your client will almost certainly come back and point out to you that you’re missing something, giving you the chance to fix it, but you don’t want that. What you want is to get a reputation as someone who meets the brief spot on, every time. A magazine editor once told me I was an editor’s dream. That is exactly what you want to aim for. Fortunately, before I sent this one off, I re-read it and noticed that I hadn’t completed the job I had been asked to do.

So, as you see, I have form. I’ve done it before. I’m the hotshot freelance, top rated on Upwork and a writer who really fancies himself, and I can’t follow a simple brief. And, this time, the client did not come back and give me the chance to fix it. He just closed out the contract. So I’ve damaged my reputation, I’ve lost a well-paying client I wanted to keep, and my 95% Upwork satisfaction rating is going to take a hit when he posts his review.

I could have said, right at the beginning, “Look. 1,000 words is too many for a home page. Look at that one you’ve given me as an example of what you want; it’s too wordy, too verbose. That would have given the client the chance to say, “It’s my website and I’ll have it the way I want it.” But I didn’t say that because I hadn’t read the brief properly.

elephant-279901_1920It’s a lesson for me. This time, I hope I learn it.

If you’d like to learn more about the freelance writer’s life, you’ll find it here.