I’ve often thought that most of the world’s problems could actually be solved if we figured out the right questions to ask. I know when I ask prospective freelance writing clients the right questions I often land the contract and the project goes well. On the other hand, if I get careless and ask fewer questions or questions that don’t elicit the information I need, even if I land the client the writing project rarely goes really well.
What I’m trying to find out is if the client really knows what they want from me. As a freelance writer I know what my skills are and there must be a match if we’re to work together. I find that when someone calls a ghostwriter or a writing coach – my two core services – they often have only the vaguest of notions of what they need and want. My questions often helps them figure it out.
- What, specifically, do you want to write? This usually gets a fairly general response, like “a book about my grandfather” or “articles about meditation.”
- Who are you writing for? All too often this first gets an answer like “everyone.” We then chat about the fact that nothing is written for everyone and that writing for everyone guarantees writing for no one. It’s here I’ll encourage them to tell me more about the project, although I wont’ just let them run on and on. With luck I can help them discover, at least in a general way who they’re writing for.
- Where are you in the project? Here I want to find out if they’ve done any writing at all. Surprisingly many have. Others haven’t written but give talks on the topic. Often, if they haven’t done something toward the book or project other than calling me they’re not far enough in their thinking to actually hire someone. On the other hand, I’ve had good clients who welcome my questions and want the guidance they provide. If they do have something in writing or a video I’ll offer to send them my non-disclosure agreement and ask them to send at least a sample so I can take a look at it. Looking at what they’ve written or what they’ve said helps me assess if it’s a project I both can and want to do. It also helps me establish my fee because I can make some good guesses about the amount of work involved.
- What kind of a budget have you set for this project? I ask, but I often don’t get a real answer. Some have done some research on freelance writing fees, but many don’t have a clue. If they ask about my fees I tell them I’m not cheap, or I’ll use my “no more than a million dollars a day plus expenses” line. Then I’ll tell them I can’t give them a firm bid at the moment but it will be based on my hourly which I quote. Then I shut up and wait for their response.
- What’s our next step? As you might guess, there’s a lot of conversation that takes place with each of these questions. If it seems I’d like and be good at the project and that the potential client and I are simpatico, I’ll often use this question to wind up the initial conversation and set the next appointment.
Notice that none of these questions can be answered yes or no. They are designed as conversation starters, to get the potential freelance writing client talking. My job at this point is to listen carefully. I’ve learned not to listen with dollars in mind, but from a place of real inquirery. I want to know if we’re a match.
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