When and why to be choosy about content marketing clients

It’s been a while since I wrote a blog post for writers — ever since I realized that it makes a lot more business sense to write for people who buy what I do rather than for people who do what I do. Every now and then, though, I feel the need to play my grande dame card…so here goes.

While getting started in writing is a gazillion times easier with the internet than during the bad old days when everything was in print and demand was limited…it’s still hard. While the need for content has grown exponentially, the number of people writing content has, too.

Unless you’re incredibly lucky or have some kind of inside track (and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing), you have to pay your proverbial dues. You write boring copy for picky editors who are more interested in word count and SEO than in quality content. You jump through multiple hoops and try not to get whacked in the head when you bend down to scoop up a few pennies.

Eventually, though, you work your way out of that beginner mode (and if you don’t, perhaps that’s a clue to consider another line of work). Once you’ve done that, you’ve earned the ability to be a little picky when it comes to taking on projects or clients. But that’s a power you need to exercise wisely — otherwise, you’ll be sitting home by yourself on prom night because you found something to criticize about every potential date.

So let’s look at some valid and not-so-valid reasons for saying “no, thank you” to a client.

Not-so-valid reasons for turning down a client

A client is not an employment agency. If you’re so busy that you can’t accept occasional projects here and there — fine. That’s a legitimate reason to say no. But don’t say no just on principle. No client owes you a steady stream of work. The work they send your way is based on their business needs, not yours.

Again, it’s not about you. It’s important to remember that content is probably not your client’s core business — otherwise, they wouldn’t be outsourcing it. So it may take a week to get feedback and/or revision requests. As long as they’re not expecting you to work miracles (such as making their revisions in the next 30 minutes) or stalling just to avoid having to pay you, so what? They’re busy running a business with lots of moving parts, and content is just one of them. Just because you’re ready to scratch a project off your list, that doesn’t mean your client feels the same sense of urgency.

One more time: This is business. Your client has a business goal for the content they ask you to write. If your content doesn’t help meet that goal, they’re wasting their money — no matter how beautifully written it is.

It basically comes down to one thing: While there is certainly an art to content marketing, content marketing is not, in and of itself, art. Your client isn’t posting content on their blog just so it can be enjoyed and admired. Marketing content has a job, and don’t blame your clients for expecting your content to do it.

Valid reasons for turning down a client

If you know more about their business than they do, and you’re having to hold their hand every step of the way, that’s fine — but realize that makes you a consultant, not a writer, and you should get paid accordingly. Otherwise, they’re getting a really, really good deal for someone who’s helping them keep the doors open.

I’ve turned down several projects lately for “natural” health and skincare products. Why? Rules, that’s why. There’s a very thin line between what the FDA considers a cosmetic and what they consider a drug…and once you cross that line, the difference in regulatory requirements is huge. There are also specific requirements for terms like “organic” and “natural.” Unfortunately, not everybody knows that.

Sometimes people who have no previous experience in a certain niche get a great idea for a product — and that’s awesome. But when they start the process of making that ingenious idea a reality, a lot of them don’t even know what questions to ask. If you don’t know that there are actually rules for calling something “organic,” you’re not going to ask what those rules are. And you’re probably going to unintentionally break them.

If there’s something you don’t know about the topic, business, sector, etc., you want to make sure the client does. Otherwise, you’re operating without a safety net, and that’s risky both in terms of liability and of reputation. Just don’t.

I’m pretty straight-laced personally, but I’m even more so when it comes to my business. There are some topics/industries that — even if they’re legal — I won’t write for because they don’t fit with my brand image. Even if you don’t find the content/topic personally objectionable, it’s worth asking yourself how it will look to prospective clients.

Whether it’s using a source without citation, ignoring contradictory data, trash-talking a competitor, or tossing unvalidated claims around like candy, just don’t. It will eventually come out and will harm your reputation. And it could even be a liability risk.

I think the challenge for writers who take up content marketing is making that mental switch from art to business. Unlike art, content marketing doesn’t exist just for its own sake. It has a business goal, and it’s not unreasonable for clients to expect it to accomplish that goal. If you want your clients to treat your writing like art, stick to the creative side of things. If you have a legitimate business reason to turn down a client — that’s another thing entirely. Because that’s what content marketing is: business.

Originally published at www.pattipodnar.com.

Wife, mother, and content marketing consultant. Discovering and enjoying life as a work-from-home business owner while #50ishwithafullnest.