Clients who want services you don’t offer

Newer freelancers sometimes come to me in a panic because a client has approached them to do work that’s outside their typical scope. Commonly this is something like the freelancer offers copyediting and developmental editing but the client wants coaching.

What should they do? They don’t know how to coach, they don’t offer coaching services, they’ve never had a coach themselves! Obviously their answer should be no, right?

Well, maybe. Or maybe not.

Here’s the thing. Clients ask us to do work outside our usual scope when they trust us, and that trust matters. Can you do the requested work without violating that trust?

To answer this question, you need to know a little more about what the problem is. If the client who wants coaching has writer’s block, and you’ve never struggled with that and furthermore you have no idea what to do about it, then, yes, you would be violating their trust to take them on as a coaching client. But let this be a reasoned judgment and not just fear of stepping outside your comfort zone talking.

Suppose on the other hand the client is looking for someone to keep them accountable, and you’re a member of an accountability group and you have a clear idea how it’s done, then you wouldn’t be violating their trust to take them on as a coaching client, even if you haven’t had coaching clients before (everyone has to start somewhere).

If you can’t help them, one way to preserve their trust is to point them in the direction of a colleague who can help (the Editors Database can be a good place to start). Another way would be to provide them with some resources that would help them go in the right direction.

A second consideration is how the requested service might fit into your schedule and whether it would interfere with other, better opportunities.

For example, I don’t do proofreading and never have, but if someone just wanted another pair of eyes on a project and I had a slot in my schedule and nothing much to fill it with, I might take it on. Or I might pass because I’d rather spend that time marketing or hanging out with my daughter. If I really needed the money and there wasn’t much on the horizon it would interfere with, I’d take it on.

If a lot of people asked for proofreading, I would think about adding that service. Since for me personally proofreading isn’t a direction I want to go in my business, I would probably decide against it—or I might just do it for a select few clients who would really appreciate it (especially if doing so would help me retain them as clients). Other than that, I would find a proofreader I could refer people to (in the hopes that the proofreader would refer DE clients to me).

Finally, talking with your colleagues is always a helpful way to understand expectations and ensure that if you do take on a service you don’t normally provide you’ll be able to do so successfully.

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