So often I hear from freelance writers that they’ve got contract problems because they didn’t understand what the client wanted.
Often, when I dig a little deeper, it turns out that the writing customer was vague and uncertain in their instructions.
When this happens it’s really up to the writer to help the client figure out exactly what they think they want.
When you help a client get clear on what they really want you accomplish at least two things.
- First, the project will go better because you’ve helped move it out of vagueness.
- Secondly, the client will be impressed with your ablity to help them understand what they need. They will recognize your professionalism.
Here are the five questions you’ve got to ask if you want the writing project to go well:
Why do you want this written? Obviously the client has something in mind or they wouldn’t be hiring a freelance writer. Often it’s the desire to sell something – a product or an idea. Sometimes the customer doesn’t really recognize they are selling and talks about some sort of lofty goal like changing the world or teaching folks… it gets pretty amazing sometime. Gently probing so you’re both clear on the reason will help get the project started well.
When do you want it completed? Deadlines can seem pretty cut and dried, or they can be a little more flexible. The need to make a specific deadline will vary from client to client, but you, as the writer, need to be clear on when the completed work is expected.
Why that date? When the client names a deadline you need to know why that particular date. If the job is, for example, a piece of copy writing that will show up in a publication, the deadline is hard and fast. If, on the other hand, you’re writing a whole book, the deadline will probably have some flexibility.
As the professional writer you can help the client know what a reasonable deadline actually is, and if they have an emergency because they didn’t plan properly, why you’re entitled to a (much) higher rate to meet it.
Who is the reader? You need to know precisely who you’re writing for. If the client says the piece is for everyone, you’re both in trouble. Help your customer discover their ideal reader.
What do you want that reader to do as a result of reading this? This question will both clarify who the reader is and give you another view of why you’ve been hired to write the piece. Actions can be as obvious as buying something to as subtle as being kinder to everyone, but there is some action the client wants the reader to take because they read the piece.
Of course, as you ask these questions and even more, you’ve got to listen carefully, even deeply. Take notes. Repeat your understanding of each to make sure you’re both on the same page. The post, 8 Tips About How To Respond When A Potential Writing Client Call may help.
Ideally, you’ll also be able to incorporate at least some of these details in your contract.
How do you help clients get clear on the projects they want you to write?