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Questions To Ask Prospective Writing Clients

freelance writing marketingI’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.

For example:

  • 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.

What questions do you ask potential clients?


Image from http://www.sxc.hu

{ 7 comments… add one }
  • I always ask what format the deliverables should follow. Most people are okay with MicroSquish Word and standard spacing and margins, but the sooner you find out they expect the files in McTavish-Write, using kanji characters, booklet format, and 144 tiff graphics, the better. You may intend, regardless, to draft it in your favorite software, but you’d better at least allow for a translation step at the end, and maybe two such steps. Translations can be hideous, though, so find out early on and try to talk them out of it.
    .-= jorgekafkazar´s last blog ..Watcher in the Night deciphered =-.

  • I ended up turning my questions into a form I like clients to fill out. I find having them try to put in writing what they want is very helpful in getting them to define their project, goal, and deadlines. I ask a few initial questions, then if it sounds like a real client I let them know I like to gather a lot of info before giving a price quote…could they fill this out? It’s really helped me avoid scope creep and other problems with clients. I also get the sense it sort of impresses clients that they’re dealing with a real pro — response has been really positive to the process.
    .-= Carol Tice´s last blog ..6 Tips For a Great Freelance Writer’s Vacation =-.

  • This is such great food for thought, Anne. Great questions to get a feel for what the client wants and whether they’re worth working with. I’m pretty intuitive and enjoy these kinds of conversations as a way to tell me what I might expect. Thanks for the reminder!

  • These are great questions to ask! I also ask the following questions: What is the deadline? What communication method do you prefer? How often do you want updates? How often do you want to stay in contact? What time is it best to speak with you? What is your schedule? What research have you done? What are your goals for this project?
    .-= Rebecca´s last blog ..Don’t be Frightened to Pitch Your Ideas =-.

    • Anne

      Also excellent questions. I particularly like the scheduling questions and I hadn’t thought to be that specific. Thanks!

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