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Dare To Ask Questions!

writers need to ask business questionsDo you ask enough questions?

Many freelance writers and other freelancers simply don’t ask questions often enough, particularly business questions. Consider:

An editor buys a piece, publishes it and your check doesn’t arrive, not in a week, or ten days or even a month. Picking up the phone and asking the editor when to expect the check will often result in the check and it may even help you develop a more productive relationship with the editors. Yet many hesitate to ask for fear of offending someone or appearing greedy.

It’s my contention that asking when to expect to get paid is a business-like question and actually helps build your reputation as a professional.

A potential client calls and you like the sound of the project.  Asking what their budget is will reveal all sorts of things you need to know. However, many writers won’t ask for fear of scaring the client off or hearing something they won’t like.

If, however you ask this question you’re likely to discover if this client is really for you or not. Either way it’s a legitimate business question.

A potential client lets you know they are considering at least one other writer. Asking “how will you choose?” can open up the conversation in ways that either move the relationship forward or let’s you know this one isn’t for you.

Here you will find out either what their criteria is or if they are looking only for the lowest bidder. No matter what their answer is you’ve gained needed information.


Asking an open-ended question like “why do you want to do this?” can tell you if they are focused enough to hire a writer or if you need to help them find out what they’re really doing.

“Why do you want it in such a hurry?” is a question that will tell you a lot about how the client thinks.

“How much time can you set aside to give me edits and feedback?” may help the client understand their role and make your life easier.

“Why do you want this project to start now?” might reveal that there really isn’t any urgency, or it might tell you what the urgency really is.

Do you see what I mean?

All of these questions except the first are open ended, designed to let the person you’re talking with tell you what’s really going in in their mind, what they really want.

You, of course, will have to listen carefully. Chances are if you ask good questions, the answers will lead to more questions and you and your clients will become truly clear on the projects you’re doing.

What’s your favorite question to ask a client?

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{ 11 comments… add one }
  • I did just this very recently. I had written some articles and then the client just seemed to evaporate. I asked Anne what I should do and she suggested I contact the client over email. I did and it turned out that he was looking for me, too. Being new to skype I had turned my status on “away” and never turned it back to “available”.

    What started as a misunderstanding ended with my promotion to Managing Editor. He liked my moxie so much and the tactful way I confronted him that he gave me a promotion and a raise.

    So it’s true, ask questions. You never know what response you might get.
    .-= Kathryn Pless´s last blog ..Seeing the Other Side of the Page =-.

  • My magic wand is on recharge.

    Another question set that sometimes should arise is: Is there anyone else at your company who will have to sign off on this? Have they formally approved the scope of this work? Will they be signing your purchase order? Are you the single-point of contact, or is there someone else that I need to contact for input? Do you have a written specification for the deliverables and/or a sample format?

    The answers to these questions can lead to additional questions or requests for a modification to the contract. If it turns out that everybody and his brother has to approve the final document, beware. You may find yourself doing multiple edits, including retreating to Rev Zero at the last minute when the hitherto uninformed Grand Poobah discovers a late draft and needs to flaunt his/her authority. In such cases, somehow, the writer will often be blamed for any omissions, errors, or added cost and delivery time.

    The questions may occasionally evoke a fleeting look of panic on the part of your contact as he realizes he’s omitted a crucial step. Be watching his expression.
    .-= jorgekafkazar´s last blog ..Tenirax, Ch V =-.

    • Anne

      Or listen for the confused pause if you’re not f2f. Good points.

  • Charlotte:

    You mean you don’t have a magic wand? Another fantasy dashed. 🙂
    .-= Cathy Miller´s last blog ..Health Care Tuesday Brushes Up on Oral Health =-.

    • Anne

      Actually I do… but it’s running out of wishes… so I’m in conservation mode… you understand Im sure.

  • Great questions.

    Mine is a variation of the one that Cathy mentioned–“What are your expectations for this project?” I find this is especially important with ghostwriting book projects. Some clients who come to me think I have a magic wand I can wave that will make their books automatic bestsellers.
    .-= Charlotte Rains Dixon´s last blog ..Lower Your Expectations =-.

  • Good points, Anne! Asked some questions today about pay and some online procedures. Was met with some ambiguity and a bit of negativity but I’m hoping it will work out for the best. But, the point is if I hadn’t asked the questions I might not have been paid or found out about an important policy…

    Toni
    .-= Toni Star´s last blog ..Check Out My Latest Book, "The Twisted Life of Julia Knight" =-.

    • Anne

      Toni, sometimes your questions will actually help the client sort out things they need to sort out.

      • Anne, that is so true; particularly in this situation where the site is having logistical problems and some confusion with “Who is on First?” and “What is on Second?”

        I can see where my questions and concerns are helping them clear up site concerns and payment issues…

        Toni
        .-= Toni Star´s last blog ..Check Out My Latest Book, "The Twisted Life of Julia Knight" =-.

  • Mine is a variation on your “Why do you want to do this?” I ask, “What are you hoping to achieve with this project?” This helps me figure out the scope of the project.

    Thanks, Anne.
    .-= Cathy Miller´s last blog ..Believe in Your Business – It Shows =-.

    • Anne

      Nice variation… I may adopt it 😉

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