Today started with a surprise in my inbox. It was 9am and I’d just been sent my ‘team’ headshot by one of my agency clients.
There she was, staring back at me with gleaming white teeth, flawless skin and perfectly preened eyebrows. Is my nose really that big? Who’s to say?
This avatar would soon fit neatly on my client’s Meet the Team page. I don’t work in their office and I’m not employed by them – and yet, here I am, on the page, in cartoon form!
Do freelancers feature on your team pages?
Little Katie caricature got me thinking about the many hats we freelancers wear. In four years I’ve worked with more than 90 clients, and I can safely say less than one in 10 admits it.
Testimonials aside, of course, very few clients actually feature me on their websites. Jump into my hat wardrobe, if you please:
- Head writer at M3 Publishing
- Content writer at Legmark
- Content writer at Bright
- Digital marketing lecturer for Hub Inspired
- (Former) marketing manager at The Group Company
- Fundraiser for Deafblind UK (primarily I write for their magazine, but also…marathons)
On smaller scales, the KT name features as a byline for a few agency clients.
— Sarah Clay (@CurlyClay) November 29, 2018
Loud and proud or hidden away
In a strange way, I almost like being hidden from public view. I wouldn’t call myself a ghostwriter, but there’s a certain pride in knowing you’re the only content writer for a small agency or business. You’re technically the voice of their brand, and that’s something special.
But sometimes, you might take it to heart. Aren’t our clients proud to work with us?
In four years, I’ve learned some key differences between smaller agencies, larger agencies and SMEs.
Let’s face it – an agency could be one person nowadays. So when we’re offering a huge spectrum of services, we’re going to want to ‘appear bigger than we are’. (Sage advice from a professional connection, as discussed in Is ‘Freelancer’ A Dirty Word? here.)
That’s absolutely fine. The agency says it offers copywriting, and if you’ve got a good enough client relationship, you know that you are that service.
On the flipside, larger agencies appear to be more transparent – not to the extent that we appear on their websites, of course, (the turnover is often higher) but certainly when it comes to client comms.
This changes the whole dynamic. There will often be ‘approval by committee’ and your edits will need to go through internal and client approval. The client will ask the agency to “instruct the copywriter”. One supposes, in large agency terms, it’s a point of pride – the agency is so busy and successful, it must outsource. Huzzah!
Small businesses are an interesting one. On the one hand, everything is ghostwritten. There’s no byline and no mention of you on their team pages. But…they’re quite happy to acknowledge you on social media. I often communicate with my SME clients over LinkedIn, for example. We have each other’s backs, and they write killer testimonials. That’s a warm and fuzzy feeling.
Now then…why would these clients want to hide us? Likewise, why should they shout about us?
Why clients hide their freelancers
If you’re new to freelancing, for your sanity, do not take this personally. Clients may be less than transparent for any number of reasons, including:
- The look. Many more ‘agencies’ nowadays are actually remote collectives. They want to appear as though they have an office and a standard hierarchy of content writers, designers, project managers etc.
- Ghostwriting. They love your content so much; they want others to think they wrote it! Don’t be upset if you don’t get a byline, or if others praise the client for their thoughtful insights. Praise is still praise. Your client will give you credit.
- They want you all to themselves. Clients know your workload is spread amongst other people. They may rely on you so much; they’re cautious to shout about you on socials. Again, flattery…
- They can charge more. Sorry to be crass, but that’s how it works. Agencies charge their day rate; you charge yours. Their work is done with minimal fuss and they can skim a little off the top. Everyone’s a winner.
Why clients shout about their freelancers
On the other hand, there are benefits to clients classing you as ‘one of the team’. For example:
- Fancy ‘meet the team’ pages. The irony, of course, is that you may never have ‘met’ this team. Nevertheless, it gives strength to the page and humanises the brand.
- Accountability. Mistakes happen, and if we freelancers cock up, it’s not on the agency. It’s not blame culture – rather, project managers communicating between the end client and the freelancer. It’s not always mistakes, either. It could be differences of opinion or lack of consistency, but it’s always good to know who’s involved.
- Promotion. If they’re happy to work with you, they’ll be happy for you to shout about them. It’s mutually beneficial – big each other up on the socials, and you could both win more work.
- Connections and trust-building. Your client may know somebody else needing your services. It benefits you to be recommended, while they build trust by recommending quality suppliers.
So how do we feel about this, freelancers? Does being a dirty little secret work in our favour, or do we crave the extra promotion?
When secrecy works for us
Nobody likes to admit it, but we may be working with two separate competitors at once. This is less of an issue for agencies, but much more for SMEs. If one cursory Google search shows your byline on two competing articles… eeep.
Again, if a potential client is looking you up, featuring on multiple ‘meet the team’ pages could be confusing. Are they freelance? Do they have time for me? Are they a con artist?!
And in really extreme circumstances…
You never know when you might write something that’s a little more…contentious than you’d planned. The client, officially speaking, is the editor of your content. As we all know, the Editor’s Code of Practice deems the editor responsible!
When secrecy doesn’t work for us
Building the portfolio
Always read the Ts and Cs when taking on a new client. Some may specify that the intellectual property is theirs, which likely means you can’t use it in a portfolio.
Creating social proof
Everybody knows that genuine client testimonials are great for building trust. If your client’s secretive, he or she may be less inclined to leave a review.
General brand presence
If we’re bound by secrecy, we might not be able to tell X agency we’ve worked with Y, or we might lack general online presence.
So, what’s your approach? Team player or creative chameleon? Whether you’re a freelancer or work with one, I’d love to know your thoughts. Get in touch here.