My Professional User Manual — V1
Thinking about working with me or bringing me into your team as a contractor? Here’s some info on my preferred working style
Last night, while browsing Medium, I came across somebody advocating the idea that professionals should create personal user manuals.
There have been a few such pieces. Here’s one of them:
Personal User Manuals — The Good, the Bad, and a Template
What is a personal user manual and how can it help improve your team?
Fridges and software APIs have them, the author reasoned. So why shouldn’t humans too?
I was delighted to learn that there was a widely used name for what I attempted to do six months ago when I added a page to my writing website entitled (rather unimaginatively) ‘Good Fit Guidelines.’
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My idea here was to dissuade the type of clients that I don’t want to work with from reaching out to me and encourage those I’d likely jive well with. As such, I envisioned it as a kind of lead pre-qualification resource.
But —and I think I guessed rightly here —I figured that few people would bother clicking into a page with as unappealing a title as “Good Fit Guidelines” which I chose to reflect the idea that the manual is part of my sales process.
A personal user manual, however, is much more descriptive.
It also doesn’t pidgeon-hole you into only writing about your professional interface. I can spin out a private one too, a derivative of this work.
With that intro out of the way, here’s the first version of my personal user manual that’s intended for a professional audience — namely my clients and my prospective ones.
It’s an updated version of the Good Fit Guidelines on my website and (as Medium has proven such a great platform to draft in) it will probably end up superseding it too.
I Love Order. I Hate Chaos.
Please save your armchair diagnoses about what this might say about me for another day.
While you wouldn’t reach this conclusion by looking at my home office (read: a labyrinth of briefs, pens, and other manifestations of chaos), when it comes to my work life, I like to keep things pretty well-organized.
I find that a well-written brief is an integral part of the freelancer-client relationship. Which is why I’ve podcasted, video-d and written explanations about what I like to get in them. Here’s one such piece.
As a busy writer, I live and breathe deadlines. But there are two things that I dislike:
a) When clients unilaterally set deadlines without asking me if I can make them / they’re reasonable first. If we have a standard service level agreement (SLA) or we’ve been working together for years then there’s a lot more leeway. You know that I can do X in two days unless I tell you otherwise / send out a circular letting my clients know that I’m taking time off. But (please) don’t spring a white paper on me with a 2 day deadline and just assume that I’m down to take on the project. If you’re hiring me as a freelancer, please remember (with respect) that you don’t have a monopoly on my time. I have other clients. I also take time off. If you’re worked as a freelance before, you probably have an easier time understanding this.
b) When clients don’t give any deadline at all. Nothing confuses me more than “just get this back when you can.” I actually like having a firm deadline for every project in my workflow so that I can label it appropriately in my project management system. That way, I’ll get notifications if the deadline is fast approaching and the work hasn’t been delivered yet.
Essentially a derivative of the above, but:
I Dislike Same Day Meeting Requests And Clients That Are Always In Emergency Mode
Sorry to be so negative but there’s really no point in drafting this document if I’m not going to be honest about stuff that I don’t like. It’s actually easier for me to communicate this way. Avoid these few things and in most cases we can expect a smooth and enjoyable working relationship.
I have my Calendly set to disallow meeting requests for the next 48 hours.
In light of the above, I like working with clients that are pretty well organized. I don’t like clients that always want to meet in 30 minutes’ time or are always in fire-fighting mode.
Want to discuss something at the start of next week? Excellent. That gives me lots of time to prepare for the meeting. I’ll go over your website, existing collateral, and browse through your background on LinkedIn. Case study happening in an hour? It becomes very hard for me to prepare for the meeting well. The quality of the work will probably suffer. I’ll be more stressed out. Lose-lose.
The above probably has a lot to do with the fact that I love deep work but sometimes have trouble getting into it.
I block off periods in my calendar to undertake challenging client work and my own content marketing.
If I have 10 clients constantly blowing up my phone and asking to join a Zoom call that’s happening in 10 minutes … trust me, I’d get almost nothing done in a day.
Email Is My Go-To. Pointless Zoom Meetings Just Waste Your Time And Mine.
Although asynchronous communication certainly has its pitfalls, as a writer, I generally find email the most efficient way through which to onboard information. That includes edits to a document and requests for revisions. Even though I’ve used Slack for many years, for the most part, I just don’t see the point. Email, for me, is still the centerpoint of my working life.
I’ve noticed that there are clients who like to phone and email about every little thing. Those are ones that I tend to have a tough time enjoying working with (and I believe that working relationships should always be enjoyable if possible). Often these are extremely unproductive and just consist of somebody reading out a few comments on a document.
There are plenty of exceptions to the above. For instance, I’ve become a big fan of receiving briefs when they are communicated by Zoom video call.
Calls Or Documents: What’s Better For Briefing Creatives?
Which is more effective for briefing writers and other creatives?
But equally, organizations whose default response to any issue is “let’s meet” tend, in my experience, to be unproductive ones.
Speaking of communication channels, I’m not so keen on clients using informal tools such as WhatsApp to send me important information. If it’s an essential element for a project brief, I end up just having to copy it from WhatsApp into my project management tool or email. It makes keeping a searchable record of everything that can accessed across platforms very messy. You can save me the double work by putting it in an email / somewhere else.
I Can Do A Lot More Than “Just” Write. Ask Me For My Opinion!
One of the pitfalls of offering writing services to clients (or so I have found) is that clients tend to box you in as a “writer” and assume that that’s all that you can (and want) to do. For me at least, nothing could be farther from the case.
Prior to launching my own writing business, I managed marketing communications (MarCom) at two technology companies. I have strong interests in PR, marketing strategy, and content marketing.
I’m also something of a Linux geek, know my way around Google Analytics, and previously worked for and with PR agencies. So don’t be afraid to ask if I can do something. Best case: you can tap into a skillset I have and you make my job more engaging. Worst case scenario: I just say no.
Here’s an example of some of my thinking on inbound:
Inbound Marketers: Stop Watching Your Daily Social Metrics. It’s A Distraction.
If you’re playing a long game, you should consider not obsessing over short term needle shifts
If we’re working together, I love when clients treat me more as a creative partner rather than just a task executor. People tend to get bored with being repeatedly told “fill out this template.” They move on. That kind of one way communication and management style ultimately benefits nobody.
Please don’t be afraid to ask me for my opinion about your marketing.
If I have relevant experience and am pretty sure that I know what I’m talking about, I’d only be too happy to offer it.
A Dash Of Humanity Goes A Long Way
I once worked for a client for two years and got to know almost nothing about my account manager.
His communications were so black and white that I once asked jokingly whether he might actually be an AI bot that had been scripted to send me out projects.
“How was your weekend?” No answer. “Thanks, really looking forward to this project!” silence. The only things I ever got from my client were terse briefs and one word emails like “Received.”
Some freelancers / consultants actually like this kind of sterile communication. But I actually ended up finding it really dehumanizing, particularly the longer the relationship went on.
I do my best to run efficient meetings. But at the end of the day … humans are humans. I try to share a select few details about my private life with clients. For instance, I just told a local client that I’m planning on taking a day at the beach tomorrow so my next deliverable will likely be pushed out until early next week. I find that it warms up a relationship when clients do the same.
Maybe I’m the odd one out. But this is personally how I prefer to operate.