Building a successful freelance writing business is far from the easiest job in the world. It takes skill, dedication and a commitment to quality. The hours are long, and you have to manage every aspect – finding the work in the first place, keeping the customer happy at all times, actually doing the work, and making sure that you get paid in the end. There is no way that you would put in all of that effort if you didn’t have a true sense of pride in what you do. When it is 2 o’clock in the morning and there are still 2000 words to write, you need to be dedicated and believe in what you’re doing just to keep on going.
Because of this, your reputation is the most precious asset that you possess. You want to be known for high-quality output and for your focus on doing the right thing for your customers. It’s not just about pride – getting things wrong just costs too much time and effort. Not only does poor work lead to lost business, it often means endless revisions until the client is satisfied. It makes it hard to get work, and it takes all of the profitability out of the work once you get it.
Given the amount of effort you put in to build and maintain your reputation, it is incredibly galling when you see negative feedback – or even outright attacks – online. The truth is that you are going to have the occasional unhappy customer no matter what you do, but when this happens, you put in the extra effort to get them back onside. With most customers, this delivers results. However, there is always the nightmare customer – the one who really doesn’t know what they want. No matter what you do, they don’t like it – but they can’t or won’t tell you why. Even worse is the customer who is pleasant and positive to your face, and then stabs you in the back at the first opportunity.
However, negative online sentiment doesn’t just damage your ego – it damages your business as well. If people tweet critical comments about your writing, post scathing reviews, or cast you in a bad light in marketing forums and chat rooms, then it can have a serious impact on your ability to bring business in the door. For example, a survey carried out in early 2013 by Dimensional Research showed that 90% of consumers say their buying decisions are influenced by positive online reviews, and 86% say they are influenced by negative reviews. In other words, what your customers are saying publicly can make a huge difference to how much work you are going to win.
Of course, when prospective customers are looking for information about you online, they are expecting to see positive feedback. While they may be swayed to go with you because your feedback is exceptional, there are going to be other writers out there who have also built a positive reputation. On the other hand, if you get a single negative review, it stands out like a sore thumb. Put yourself in the client’s position – would you rather choose a writer with uniformly positive reviews, or one with some outstanding ones and one or two disasters? In general, people are looking for a high probability of success, rather than a genius who delivers most of the time – but not always.
The problem is how you keep on top of what people are saying online. You are too busy to keep tabs on the hundreds of different corners of the web where people may be talking about you – and yet negative comments in any one of these can do real harm. Even worse, these comments may start to show up in search rankings – and unless you know what your prospective clients are searching for, you may never know this is happening. And, when you can’t see what you’re up against, there is no way you can do anything about it.
Fortunately, there is a way to keep track of online sentiment without spending all of your time doing it. A good Online Reputation Management (ORM) company can give you the visibility that you need, as well as help you to maintain a positive image online. In the past, ORM was primarily the domain of large enterprises and senior executives – and was even used in Barack Obama’s election campaign in 2008 – but now it is readily accessible to small businesses and individuals. For example, Reputation.com is one of the leading ORM firms, and has many corporate customers.
To start with, an ORM agency can provide you with alerts when you are mentioned online, so that you get an immediate view of new information as it is posted. The coverage provided is typically very broad – including static web pages, searchable databases and social media. They can also provide you with regular reports on what shows up about you in search results. Getting this type of useful information pushed to you is inexpensive, but makes a real difference.
If you do find unflattering or misleading information about your writing online, then an ORM company can also advise you on the best approach to dealing with it. Obviously, sometimes the right thing to do is to make a polite request to the website owner to have the information removed – along with an explanation of why they should do this. However, in many instances, this approach just doesn’t work – particularly if the website is posting the material maliciously. In this case, the agency will be able to drive down the offending content in the search engine rankings, so that it doesn’t show up on the results pages that people actually read.