Earning clients’ trust


Why can’t they just trust me? I’m a professional.

~ Every Writer Ever

According to my research, every writer on the planet has uttered some form of this phrase at least a hundred times. (Disclaimer: My research has consisted of talking to my fellow writers here at work. Still, I’m pretty sure I’m right.)

It’s frustrating when we feel like our clients don’t trust us.

We pour ourselves into our work. We take pride in it. We can also be slightly sensitive about it at times, too. When someone questions that comma or that phrase or that arrangement, it’s easy to get defensive. Because really, why don’t they trust us?

But really, why should they trust us?

Seriously. Have we earned their trust? It’s their project, their company, their brand, their reputation, how they look to their bosses. We’re their resource.

So instead of taking it personally, let’s empathize and earn our clients’ trust.


Hear what they’re saying when they describe their process, their audience, what they need to project to accomplish. Listen to their feedback, even if you don’t agree with it.

People will feel more comfortable working with you when they feel they’ve been heard.


Active listening is part of our job. By repeating back what you hear them saying, you’re telling them that you’re paying attention and that you want to understand.

You’re also giving them the opportunity to clear up any muddied communication if you’re hearing them wrong.

Ask questions.

Dig for a deeper understanding. Find out why, why, why. Listen to their answers. Look for additional insight. When you ask an insightful question, you’re not just getting more information; you’re letting them know that you care enough to make sure you understand correctly.

Note: Yes, there is such a thing as a stupid question. Asking questions for the sake of asking questions is annoying. So ask good ones.

Answer questions.

Clients should feel comfortable asking us about our work. We’re doing for them in the first place. If they feel the need to question a comma or a word choice, we should be able to answer it professionally.

That doesn’t mean we have to change it. It doesn’t mean that we’re supposed to give in to every piece of feedback.

It also doesn’t mean that we can’t get annoyed when we’re asked a question. But we need to answer it professionally and thoughtfully.

Provide rationale.

We writers tend to just ‘know’ what works. We can’t always point out why or even apply all of that technical, grammatical and punctuation terms that sound impressive but that don’t really explain what we’re talking about.

But dang if we don’t try sometimes just to get the client to accept what we’ve written.

(You can’t see me right now but I’m raising my hand because I’m totally guilty of doing this when I’m really annoyed.)

Instead of going into the details and mechanical labels of sentence structure, we need to be able to explain why we did what we did. Our thought process behind it. How our choices in phrasing and mechanics align with what they want the project and messaging to accomplish.

Preferably in plain language.

Show our work.

Using tracked changes (Microsoft® Word) is only one way I show my work. I also share drafts with certain stakeholders for what I call ‘gut checks’ to get their input on if I’m heading in the right direction.

It can also help if we show some of our exploratory work that led to what we deliver. Show your other options. Why did you choose what you chose?

As much as I hate them, another way is to hold working sessions with key stakeholders if you can. For me, it’s a last resort. I hate working sessions. However, even 15 to 20 minutes together can go a long way to building trust through collaboration and sharing your thought process—and getting the job done faster.

Own your mistakes.

Everyone makes them. People who own their mistakes earn more people’s respect than those who don’t.

Deliver on deadline.

I’ve touched on this in a previous post. Meeting your deadlines means you’re reliable. Being reliable builds trust. Our clients shouldn’t have to worry about a deadline coming up and us leaving them empty-handed.

In a previous professional phase, I’ve hired a writer who left me in the lurch without warning. I had to let him off the project. It sucks. Everyone lost, especially him because we never contacted him for more work again.

I also remember his name and will not hire him again.

Be patient.

It takes time to build trust. Would it be easier if it automatically came with the job? You betcha. But that’s not always the case.

Working for a client means building a relationship. It takes time to cultivate a good one, and that means being willing to earn trust instead of getting frustrated when it’s not automatically given.

If we want to be trusted, we need to earn it.

All of this goes for in-house copywriters and freelancers. We all need to work to earn our clients’ trust. It doesn’t mean that every one of them will trust us or even like our work. It just means that we need to have done our job to earn it.

And if we’re still not trusted, it’s out of our hands and we can move on knowing that we’ve done our part. And we can whine inside our heads guilt-free.

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