You rush home from a meeting and there’s a message from a potential client needing a freelance writer and asking you to call back. Or you are sitting at your desk writing away and the phone rings and it’s someone who needs a writer. They’ve found out about your writing through your website or have one of your business cards or something.
These calls are potentially pure gold. How you respond often determines if you land the client or not. Think through your response in advance. Some writers actually build sales scripts, but since you can’t predict where the conversation will go, you may just want to jot down a few things you’re sure you want to cover.
Here are eight tips based on what I actually say when a potential writing client calls me:
- Identify yourself clearly. The caller may have called a dozen other writers and have no idea really who you are. I always ask for the client by name and say “I’m Anne Wayman – the freelance writer you called. How can I help?”
- If their name was unclear which, with cell phones, seems to happen a lot instead I say “My name is Anne Wayman; are you the one wanting to talk with a freelance writer? I’m sorry, I couldn’t make out your name.”
- Shut up and listen. I put it that way because when I learned how to sell from my father he’d say “shut up and listen!” to his whole crew in his real estate office. It’s so tempting to talk, to fill the silence, but we really have no idea why the person on the other end wants to talk with a writer. I’ve gotten calls from other writers asking advice, from people wanting to sell me something, from people who want me to write for free and from people who are truly interested in hiring me. Until I listen, however, I have no clue.
- Ask questions. People usually call me about ghostwriting so my questions are aimed at determining if they really have a book and who they think their market it and if they are planning on self-publishing or trade publishing. In other words I’m trying to find out how they see their project. You’ll have to shape your questions to fit your niche. For example, questions about press releases might include target publications, how many releases, and of course, details on the product or service. Blogging would include the topic, the frequency, the word count, etc.
- Ask lots of questions. In many ways these calls can be thought of as mutual interviews. It’s tempting to think that your only goal is to get the caller to hire you, but that’s only true if they are the type of client you want. You want to have a conversation with them so you not only get a clear picture of their project but a genuine sense of who they are. And, if you find they are not clear about their needs, which is often the case, you want to ask questions that will help them get clear.
- Bring up price. You’re the business person, you need to bring up pricing. I like to bring it up first if I can, just to break the ice on the subject. After I have a sense of the project I’ll say something like, “What’s your budget for this?” Then I shut up again, letting the silence grow of necessary. Often they counter with “What would you charge?” That’s when I laugh and promise not to charge them more than a million dollars a day plus expenses. Somehow a bit of humor here seems to make the rest of the discussion easier. I often say something like, “well, I base my price on $xxx per hour but I’d rather work out a flat fee.” Or I may say something like, “hmmm, I don’t have a very accurate picture of the book you want to write yet, but ghosting a book usually runs between $xxxxxx and $xxxxxx, depending on a number of things.” Again, my goal is to find out if they can afford me and if they can’t give them some hints about where they might find cheaper services. Yes, I actually will refer them to other, cheaper writers or suggest they post on CraigsList, etc. I want to leave them with more solid information than they came to me with, even if they don’t hire me.
- Make sure you’ve got their contact info. If it seems we can do business I offer a non-disclosure agreement that obligates me not them. I actually will try to send them a test email while we’re on the phone, asking them to respond to it so I’m sure we’re in email contact. And I double check their phone number and the spelling of their name.
- Set up the next step. In ghostwriting books I don’t think I’ve closed a deal on the first call ever, and that’s not my goal. There will be a next step and I suggest it. In my case I often ask for a sample of their writing and schedule an appointment for our next conversation. Of course, I still do some article and other writing. The other day I was able to close a contract for two articles a month in one phone call, just by naming a price. They hired me; I sent the email spelling out our agreement and they sent the information on the first two articles. It can happen that way, although not often. Setting up the next step is actually also setting up the sale.
Keep in mind that it’s okay if you don’t want to work for the person or they don’t want to hire you. Assuming you’re doing a reasonable job of marketing there will be other calls by more qualified clients.
How do you respond when a potential writing client calls?