The post, I Don’t Want These Clients! prompted some comments that got me thinking about how I qualify my clients.
That term, qualifying clients, is most often heard at sales trainings. In a previous career I sold and I’ve been to more than a few trainings. Fortunately I’ve brought some of what I learned into my freelance writing career.
Yes, You’re In Sales
Writers often hate to admit it, but each one of us is also in sales. That is, we are if we want to make money from our writing or want more than just our best friends to read what we write.
Every time you write a query or a book proposal you’re selling your writing. If you pick up the phone and someone says they want to hire you, you’re job is to close that sale, or decide you don’t want that client. When you answer an ad for a job, you’re selling your writing services.
Selling is not a bad word or concept. It’s how the world works. Sure, selling has been abused by people who for any number of reasons push and lie to make the sale, but you don’t have to do that. And if you stop and think, you’ll realize that most of the things you buy are the result of selling, from your groceries to the paper you put in your printer.
Qualify Your Writing Clients
When you qualify a client you’re working to find out if that client is a match for you. If they are and you’ve got time available for them, you can move on to negotiating the contract.
Once you start consciously qualifying clients you’ll probably be surprised how many people you decide you don’t want to write for. It can be scary at first, but I’ve found that when I let the non-qualifiers go, the clients I want to work with show up pretty quickly.
Generally speaking, properly qualifying a potential client means getting all your questions answered.
8 Qualifying Questions For Writing Clients
Here are the questions I want answered:
- What, exactly, do you want written? I want to know how clear they are about their project. If they can’t tell me succinctly I know we’ll have to get clear or it’s not worth starting. I can help with that, but I often charge for my time.
- Why do you want it written? I want to know their motivation; it helps me capture their voice if I understand what they are trying to accomplish, or what their dream is with the writing.
- When do you want it finished? I’m hoping for a reasonable time frame – too short and it’s a problem, so is too long. When the deadline is unspecified or way out there, their interest and mine is likely to flag.
- Why do you want it finished by then? Again, I’m trying to get in their head and find out how important this project is to them. Also this may provide an opportunity for me to educate them about how the writing world really works.
- How much, if any, writing on this have you already done? Remember, I ghostwrite books. Many of my clients have taken a stab at getting their book written and discovered they hate writing or don’t have the time. But, if they’ve written anything at all, I want to see it even if it’s awful. I suspect the same is true for almost any other type of writing.
- How much have you budgeted for this project? Often I’ll get a weasel answer here, or none at all. But somebody’s got to start talking about money. I find if I ask I get some answer that’s revealing one way or another. If they turn this question around and ask me how much I charge I always say “oh no more than a million dollars a day” then we both laugh and go on to a discussion of money that works.
- What questions do you have for me? This is important too because they always have questions as they should. The sooner I know what those questions are and answer them, the sooner we can decide if we want to work together.
- How did you find me? This is just for me as a way to track some of my marketing efforts.
No, I don’t run through these in order and yes I often ask additional questions. What I really want is a conversation. I do, however get these basic questions answered.
If I’m uncomfortable with their answer to any of these I’m likely to let them go, perhaps suggesting how they can find who they are looking for.
But it’s not a formula. By the time we’ve talked about all this we both have a pretty good initial feel for each other. If we’re both comfortable I’ll offer to go the next step, which may be a sample, or a contract, or a non-disclosure agreement. Or just another phone call.
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