Trust vs. Control in the Client / Writer Relationship| Part 1

“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You get what you need” -The Rolling Stones

When it comes to content marketing, there is a complex dynamic between the client and the writer. Clients are investing in content that will provide positive growth for their product, their company, or maybe just their name recognition. Writers are trying to produce excellent quality content, both for the success of their client and for the improvement of their own reputation.

The result of these slightly different motivations is that clients need to have relationships with writers that give trust and leeway, while also maintaining control and direction. When one of these relationships involves an experienced writer and an experienced client, the ratio of trust to control works to produce excellent content.

But sometimes a client insists on too much control, or doesn’t offer enough trust, and then the results can be damaging for both writer and client.

The Root of the Problem

While the rare bad apple can arise in any batch, it is incredibly rare that an overly controlling client is due to the client simply being unreasonable. More often than not it is the result of a client being overly cautious. In general clients are overly cautious because they:

  • Are new to content marketing
  • Have had a bad experience with a writer in the past
  • Learned bad information about best practices in content marketing
  • Are trying to mimic another successful content marketing campaign

No matter the reason for this level of caution, the result is almost always the same: strict instructions that shackle the writer and result in ineffective content marketing.

The Difference Between a Good Writer and a Great Writer

Good writers will produce passably good content marketing, regardless of the instructions. Great writers will identify harmful instructions and find a way to get the client to loosen those instructions. Then, once those instructions have been altered, a great writer will produce excellent content marketing.

As a writer there are situations where you will simply have to refuse an assignment, because the instructions simply are impossible to work with. But any content marketing writer that is dedicated to the craft should take every effort possible to help the client create quality content before taking that step. The following are some approaches that may be effective in helping your client create quality content.

Discuss the Instructions

Assuming that prompt communication is possible, the best approach is to logically and politely explain to your client why the current instructions are not in their best interest. This should be done from a position of knowledge, preferably with evidence to back up your suggestions for a different approach.

This is a particularly useful approach when working with a client that is new to content marketing or seems to have given certain instructions due to a misapprehension about best approaches to content marketing. Always make sure to be polite, never to talk down to your client, and to listen as well as speak. Never start working on a project until you are both on the same page.

Even if instant communication isn’t possible, you can still provide limited communication, if only small changes are needed. For example, when a client recently gave me instructions about including a phrase in the first sentence of some content, I balked.

I couldn’t come up with a way to write the content where the phrase wouldn’t sound awkward in the first sentence. Instead, I included the phrase in the second sentence and left a note explaining to the client why I did that. I also promised to edit if the client wasn’t satisfied with that.

Make a Counter Proposal

This is similar to the above suggestion, but is better when communication is limited, but the timeline for the project is flexible. Instead of accepting the project as given, offer a counter proposal that you think would be more successful.

This works best if you are in e-mail contact with a client, but can’t use any instant forms of communication. This also gives the client the option to decline in advance. The one thing to be wary about with this suggestion is that by making the proposal, you are seriously risking your reputation if the content you produce isn’t effective.

Ignore Instructions (With a Major Caveat)

Ignoring instructions is rarely a good idea. Nine times out of ten, it will harm you, your reputation, and your client. But occasionally it is exactly the right thing to do.

If the instructions you receive are likely to be very harmful to the client’s business or reputation (for example: involving plagiarism, using terrible SEO strategies, insulting to potential customers), you may just have to ignore them completely and build unique content marketing that you believe will fulfill their needs even if it doesn’t match their instructions.

If you want this to be successful, you almost certainly need to have built a very strong rapport with the client already or have built a very good content marketing reputation. Additionally, you should write, and be ready to provide on demand, the originally directed content should the client refuse the alternate you provided.

Offer Future Edits

Most of the above suggestions work well unless the client has had a bad experience with a past writer. In that case, the client is often wary of writer suggestions. A good solution in this case is to write the content exactly as directed, but express your concerns to the client when you do so.

Also offer to perform future edits if those concerns come true. If they don’t come true, you provided good content and the client will trust you a little more in the future for that. If they do come true, your good faith offer helps build trust and helps the client.

What You Can Do as a Client

Learning to offer the right amount of trust and to keep the right amount of control can be difficult. You are almost certain to make mistakes the first few times you hire a writer. Experience is the long term solution, but in the short term, it helps to learn more about your writer.

If you are working with a middle man, like Crowd Content, you can ask for more information about the reputation of your writer. If you aren’t, try asking your writer for samples or references. Just knowing that the writer has succeeded in the past when given some leeway will make you more comfortable in giving leeway.


Article by

Mickey has degrees in linguistics and logic from a top 25 university. He has been writing online for the approximately five years, specializing in gaming, hobbies, and media. He has never missed a deadline. Quality and speed are equally important to Mickey and he'll never sacrifice one for the other.

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