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5 Questions You’ve Got To Ask Each Writing Client

Listen deeplySo 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.

  1. First, the project will go better because you’ve helped move it out of vagueness.
  2. 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,ย 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?

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{ 21 comments… add one }
  • Good stuff, Anne. To Helenee’s and Carol’s points, one of my favorite things is when I ask a question to which the client responds, “Huh, I hadn’t thought about that.” It’s actually a tactic that I learned back in my sales days: If you provoke someone into thinking about something they’ve never even considered, that’s a sure winner. As writers/editors, we always need to leverage our spectacular interviewing skills, eh!
    Jake P recently posted..Write like youโ€™re richMy Profile

    • Absolutely Jake – and yes, leverage our spectacular interviewing skills… I like that ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Ruth N

    Good article, Anne. I just started working with a husband-and-wife client who between them run three different businesses (I think their branding is terrible because they are trying to market them all at once). This will be a challenge because I have to make sure they understand exactly what projects I’m doing for which company and exactly what the charges will be for each one. I’m actually meeting with them this afternoon to discuss two new projects they want me to propose ideas for, and I am going to walk in with a checklist for each project outlining the what, why, how and how much!

    • Good luck – sounds like it will be tough!

  • The first question I have to ask is, What do you want to accomplish with this (piece of writing)? Do you want to educate people, drive them to click/buy something – where does this fit in your overall strategy?
    It’s amazing, how writing customers don’t give a single thought to such stuff – they just assume you’re a psychic and you’ll instantly know what they really need.

    The second question, of course, is, Who are your readers?

    The third one is, Could I see your website and/or other material, so that I can get a feel of who You are? – because I’m actually going to ghostwrite as you.
    And, believe it or not, this can be tough sometimes – I’ve met people who are really secretive about revealing their online whereabouts!
    Helenee recently posted..Find A Good Writer updated Wed Jan 11 2012 3:16 am ESTMy Profile

  • Ooh, thanks. Good questions in both the article and the comments. I’m going to bookmark this.

  • Jandi

    This is actually what most people need and you really povide enough information here…Thanks a lot!!
    Jandi recently posted..Blossom Residences SingaporeMy Profile

  • This is a good checklist to post right next to my computer, so I know I haven’t forgotten anything!
    Amelia Ramstead recently posted..Interviews Part Two: Asking for the InterviewMy Profile

    • Amelia, leave some space at the bottom for additional questions that fit your work.

  • For me, baseline questions like that are just the starting point. I have a ton of questions for new clients. How does this fit in with the rest of your marketing? Who will be my prime point of contact? How many people will I need to talk to for this, and do I need to find them myself, or are you providing contacts?

    The more questions you ask up front, the smoother the project goes, I find.
    Carol Tice | Make a Living Writing recently posted..Why You’re a Better Writer Than I Am — But I Still Earn MoreMy Profile

    • Totally agree Carol – and I could have made it clearer – these are the minimum I’ll ask before contracting. But you’re absolutely right, the more questions the better the project.

  • Hi Anne: I have very similar questions. Since my typical clients are business corporations I have a slight twist to some of the questions.

    For the Why do you want this written I ask – What’s your objective for this project? Then, I typically give them some ideas like: To generate leads, to be recognized as an industry thought leader, to introduce a new product or change a brand perception.

    I also ask them what they want their Call to Action to be. For example – Contact us for a free evaluation of your health plan

    I drill down deeper as we get into the project with my litmus test (from the perspective of the reader) –
    Who are you?
    Why should I care?
    What problem(s) are you going to solve for me?
    What makes your product/service different from any other?
    Prove it.

    Spot on post, Anne – per usual ๐Ÿ™‚
    Cathy Miller recently posted..Health Care Tuesday Explores Why Boomers Put Off Health CareMy Profile

    • Cathy, I love how business-like you sound! And it gets us in the same place. I’m glad you used different language – it points out there’s more than one way to do it.

  • Now THAT’s going on my “read this or you’re stupid” list: another awesome post, Anne. Thanks a million!

    (By the way, the page title says 6 questions, not 5, hehe!)
    Spike recently posted..How Revenue Share WorksMy Profile

    • Did I blow the count again… oh, I know where… I changed it from 8, to 4 to 6 to 5 — saved some for another post.

  • You raise some good points. I currently work as a business analyst (helping figure out project requirements), and one of the main reasons projects fail is that requirements aren’t clearly defined. The same thing can happen with writing projects!
    Ellen recently posted..Shirttail relativeMy Profile

    • As a business analyst Ellen, how do you help clients get clear?

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