Over the years, I’ve made plenty of embarrassing mistakes with freelance copywriting clients.
To be honest, most of my boo-boos stemmed from the fact that I was thinking about selling myself … rather than focusing on how I could help the client. My blunders marked me as an amateur and cost me time and frustration.
On the other side of the coin, if I’m sitting in the client’s chair, I want to be able to ask good questions of a prospective content writer in order to find out whether or not this person can partner with me.
That’s why I’ve developed a few important questions to guide my first few conversations with a prospective client. These questions help steer me away from trying to make a sales pitch and put the focus on who the client is, what she does, and what she needs. Plus, these questions help me gather background information so I can hit the ground running when the client hires me.
In other words, these questions help me be professional.
I’ve also included a “client version” of each question for leaders who are looking for a freelance content writer. This can help you communicate your needs clearly and provide a screening tool to help you choose a writer.
If you’re speaking with prospective freelance copywriting clients – or if you’re a client, and you’re speaking with a potential freelancer – keep this list handy and use it. (You can even download a PDF version here.)
Once you open this door, listen carefully and take notes. You’ll learn a lot.
The first thing you’ll find out is what is most important to your client about his business or organization. (Note: you may not find out what your client does. You’ll find out what’s most important to him. So you may have to dig deeper.)
You’ll also learn whether or not the prospective client can explain what they do in 30 seconds or less.
As the client talks, ask questions to prompt answers: who is your target? What do you do for them? How long have you been operating? I’ve looked over your website – do you have additional identity content or collateral material? How did you get started in this work? Tell me some stories of the people you serve. (See more questions you can ask.)
If you’re lucky, the prospect knows what kind of content the organization needs the most.
But many times, you may run into leaders who know they need content but don’t know where to begin. In that case, find out what content the client has in place and work from there.
Tip: every organization needs 1. An online hub – a website 2. Email marketing, such as newsletters and campaigns 3. Client stories. (Just saying.)
When the client describes what he needs, take notes. Repeat back what he has told you. Follow up your conversation with an email summary. And in that email, you want to include answers to your next few questions, too…
Don’t assume you’re being hired. Ask.
The prospect may ask for writing samples or referrals. I always give these away freely.
Nothing feels worse than getting a panic call from a client who says, “The content is due at the printer’s this afternoon” – and you haven’t finished it. Or “I expected this project to be done in three days” which was two days ago.
Ask your client for a timeline, including approval dates and mailing back off dates. Include the dates in your confirmation email or letter of agreement. That email or letter will also answer Question #5 …
To be honest, the client usually talks about money early in the conversation. And why not? They’re the ones that have to fit your fees onto a line item in their budget. So be prepared for this, especially if you (1) are not used to asking for money (2) know that a business, ministry, or nonprofit operates on a tight budget and (3) you suffer from The Imposter Syndrome and are worried that your writing skills are not good enough. (Plenty more on that in another post.)
Here’s a simple way to handle a discussion about fees, particularly when you’re starting out as a freelance writer. When your client asks, “What do you charge?” ask your client this question: “What is your budget for this project?” Then ...
A few years ago, I took on a new client and for a couple of weeks, I copied the executive director and his assistant on every email.
Then I received this polite email from the executive director. “You can interact directly with my assistant,” he said kindly. “Just copy me on the email when you send the completed drafts.”
It was a nice way of telling me that he was overworked and didn’t need to deal with all the project minutiae. I could have avoided that discomfort if I’d asked him about the editorial funnel right from the start.
On the other hand, I’ve dealt with executive directors want to read every little detail and answer every little question.
Bottom line: ask. If you’re the client, tell the freelancer who you want to communicate with.
Download your own copy of this list and keep it handy. Use the next time you talk with freelance copywriting clients. You’ll save time, aggravation, and be able to operate more professionally. (Get the list here.)
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