Monday, April 28, 2008

Should You Offer a Guarantee?

For a while now, I've been going back and forth on the idea of giving a guarantee for my work. Most writers whose sites I've seen either don't offer one, or offer one privately in certain circumstances but don't advertise it.

A guarantee gives new buyers a level of reassurance and security; it removes a barrier that might prevent them from hiring you. If they've never worked with you before, they may not want to take a chance on hiring you if they aren't a hundred percent sure they'll like what you do for them; and no matter how many samples you put up on your site, they won't be 100% sure until they've seen the first draft. Theoretically, a guarantee could bring in more business from new clients.

However, there are definitely drawbacks to the guarantee idea. If a project doesn't pan out, you might have to return some or all of your fee--for work you spent a lot of time on. It's enough to scare many writers and other creative professionals away from offering any sort of guarantee at all.

But think about how many times you've had someone come back to you and tell you they hate the first draft so much they want to go somewhere else. How many has it been, in all your years of business? For me, it's been once. That's one time in two years, hundreds of separate clients, and over a thousand projects.

If you're going to do a guarantee, here are a few different ways you can do it--and their pros and cons.

The "If-You-Don't-Like-It-You-Get-Your-Money-Back" Guarantee. This guarantee offers any number of variations on a certain theme: if the customer doesn't like what you write, he doesn't have to pay. There are two obvious drawbacks to this: you might get a lot of returns from clients who would rather take their work somewhere else than work through the revision process with you; or you might get someone try to scam you by claiming not to like the work, not paying, and then using it anyway.

If you're going to use this guarantee, you should probably take some steps to protect yourself in the fine print. Say the guarantee only goes into effect after two rounds of revision have been completed. Add a clause that says if the client takes advantage of the guarantee, all copyrights revert back to the writer.

The "If-You-Don't-LIke-It-I'll-Revise-It-Endlessly" Guarantee. This is a variation on the above, where you actually offer to rewrite the copy over and over to a client's specifications if they're not satisfied. With this one you don't lose money, but you do lose time--you could technically be caught in a never-ending revision spiral. These are a bit tricky--if I used them, I'd set the "endless revisions" period to only last a certain time frame, and be very clear that the guarantee does not cover changes in scope.

The "Results" Guarantee. Offering a guarantee based on results is tricky. You could offer a guarantee that your client's site increases its rankings in search engines; or that sales go up with your sales letter. If you want to specialize in sales-heavy work like landing pages or sales letters, offering a guarantee that your words will sell can be a very powerful USP. But you'd have to be extremely confident in order to pull this off.

Some things simply can't be guaranteed. Most legitimate SEO experts don't guarantee their work, simply because it's impossible to say with complete surety that your work can get a client's site to the top of the SERP's. With advertising, you can't really guarantee a certain response. I would love to be able to offer a guarantee like this, but only after years of observing the results my clients have had with the work--and even then, I'd probably find that a certain percentage don't go up as expected. This could be due to many different factors besides the writing.

The Partial Guarantee. The way I work right now, the client gets a certain percentage of the fee back if he wants to pull out early--no matter the reason. I have an "exit strategy" worked into my contract that states I'm entitled to a certain percentage of the original fee if the client pulls out at certain stages--say, before I''ve started writing but after I've done some research; or after I've done a first draft but before I've completed revisions.

This is part of my standard client contract, but I don't advertise it--in my marketing I'd rather put the emphasis on how much someone is going to LOVE the writing, not what will happen if they don't. I'm not sure if advertising it would do me any good, either--it might just remind potential client that if they don't like the work, the guarantee isn't 100%. Still, it's a guarantee that's fair to both parties--client and writer. You know what they say about a good compromise.

I think if I were to advertise a guarantee, I'd go with the first option listed here. I'd also list some qualifying factors in the contract. I also think I'd probably not have to honor that guarantee very often; most clients I've worked with have been very happy with the work. It's definitely something to think about.

Any writers or other freelancers out there: do you offer a guarantee? What's your experience been with it?


Matthew C. Keegan said...

No. Absolutely no. If they aren't satisfied with my work BEFORE the final submission is made, then I do what needs to be done to meet their expectations before the project is officially finished.

Once signed off, the job is over and done with. Any other work that the customer wants is subject to negotiation.

Jennifer Williamson said...

That's why I don't do "unlimited revisions"--I could see things getting out of hand if you offer revisions without a limitation, either on the time frame or the number of revisions. I stick with two.

Anonymous said...

I would never give a stated guarantee. I want my clients to be happy, but this would be folly. In my humble. If they don't think they will be paying, the have no dog in the fight to get the piece where it should be if revisions are needed.

Anonymous said...

We guarantee our work. It's arrogant to assume that someone is going to like what you write on the first shot, considering how subjective writing can be. That leaves you with one stuck client. A happy client? Not at all. No repeat business and a bad referral.

Unknown said...

I don't give any guarantees because I've run into too many unscrupulous people who claim upset months later. I will refund if necessary some of the fee, but not all. Why? Because it's difficult to say in most cases where the disconnect is. Sometimes it's my interpretation of the client's expectations, but sometimes it's the client not knowing what he/she wants in the first place.

No guarantees. I can't claim that time back after I've spent it.

Anonymous said...

No one is saying not offering a guarantee is arrogantly thinking clients will like the first draft. There are some people, however, who will take your time to play around with something forever and then sashay off not paying and saying they were dissatisfied. We all know this. Maybe in that time, they changed their mind about the project, ran out of money, or something.

Anonymous said...

I do not offer a "guarantee". I expect the clients to be savvy enough to tell from their samples if they think we'd be a good match; or I can tell from our first conversation or two.

My contract usually contains two revisions; however, additional revisions or change of direction are billed at my normal hourly rate.

In my experience, clients who want a "guarantee" usually are unfocused and don't know what they want, and they'll find ways to keep you working for nothing endlessly. They should come to me with a strong idea of what they want, or tell me what they think they want and listen to the options I present. Otherwise, they really need to do some more thinking before they go looking for a writer.

And, far too many would see a "guarantee" as a way to get out of payment.

Even if the client decides to go with someone else in the end, I am paid for the time and work I put into a project, per our agreement.

Oh, and, by the way -- the only time a client decided to go with someone else after we started work, said client came back to me, admitting it was a mistake and the project was messed up, and asked me to take it on again. I did. At a higher rate.

I'm a big believer in aggravation pay.

The ability to read samples and know if it's a good match is part of a professional client's responsibility, in my opinion, just as it's part of my responsibility to see the red flags from clients that are less-than-legitimate.

The "guarantee" is part of the agreement of quality work within the parameters set up between you and the client. It doesn't need to be a clause stated separately that can then be bent in order to avoid payment.

Anonymous said...

No guarantee.
Well maybe something along the lines of a Good Housekeeping seal with all kinds of flimsy wording that doesn't mean a hill of beans to anybody but makes everybody feel good.:)
Seriously Devon states it well why no guarantee should be given and the reason you would be hard pressed to find other people giving guarantees. If someone were to 'pressure' me for some sort of a guarantee, I would guarantee I would do my best - period.