In the beginning I’d prepare by reviewing my own resume, gathering up some samples to show and get myself dressed up in hose and heels. (Yes, when I began writing there was no ‘net, all interviews were face-to-face and wearing stockings or nylons was imperative if I wanted to present a professional appearance – which dates me. Be grateful it’s no longer like that; I know I am!)
I assumed that if the person interviewing me liked me and my samples I’d get hired. And indeed, that happened often enough to keep me at it, for awhile.
What do you need to know about the client?
Gradually I came to realize that although I was getting freelance writing gigs, more than a few were pretty awful. The kinds of problems that typically showed up included:
- Low pay
- Additional work with no pay
- Confusion on what constituted completion
- Neither of us being clear on why I was being hired.
I began to ask some questions of my own.
I was paid poorly because I didn’t know how to ask for more and get it. The whole topic of money embarrassed me. I thought it wasn’t ‘nice’ to talk about money, so I didn’t, or at least no more than to mumble a price if I couldn’t get them to state one.
I’ve since learned it’s totally okay to talk about money. In fact, if you want to be well paid you’ve got to get comfortable with the topic. I make sure what and how I’m to be paid is understood, in writing.
Confusion about completion and other terms
I learned that most people who hire writers have no idea what’s actually involved. That means it’s up to us to help them define what completion will mean for each project. This often includes stating the number of revisions I’m willing to do for the original price, and how much it will cost for additional changes.
It also means getting the client to decide who signs off on the project. As Lori Widmer talks about so eloquently in her Writers Worth: Undoing the Client Posse, we really need to know who has final authority over accepting or rejecting what we’ve written. When you think you’re reporting to one or two and suddenly find out you’ve got to satisfy half a dozen or more, trouble is in the making.
I’ve actually turned down gigs that had more than two people necessary to sign off and I’ve cautioned others that editing by committee is a guarantee of problems. Yes, putting exactly who gets to approve your work can be written right into your letter of agreement or contract.
Everyone needs clarity on the project
Making sure you and your client has clarity on the writing project is probably the most important. You can’t assume the potential customer knows what they’re doing. Here are some of the questions you should ask them:
- Why do you want this piece of writing to be done?
- Where will it appear? Company website? Other website? In print?
- What results are you expecting to get from it? Do you have a way to measure those results?
- What will happen if you don’t get this piece of writing done?
- What’s your plan for promoting this piece of writing?
- Who will I get the necessary information from? When are they available? Email, text, phone?
If the client doesn’t have and is unwilling to get this information, the chances are the project will be in trouble before you start.
On the other hand, you’ll find many clients are appreciative of this sort of information seeking. They don’t understand the writing process and don’t know what a writer needs to get the job done well. These sorts of questions help them as well as you.
Get used to interviewing clients as they interview you
You are the expert on writing. The client rarely is even if they’ve hired many writers before. I actually make up a list of questions like those above and print them out as a table, with the questions on the left and blank spaces on the right for my scribbled answers – or my messy keyboarded notes. I ask these and often more questions. I do this gently and with a ‘tell me more about’ attitude. But I make sure I get all my questions answered.
I generally end my interviewing them with ‘what else should I ask you?’ It’s surprising how often this will reveal a detail or two neither of us had thought about.
Got questions about interviewing clients? Or a comment to make? Go for it.
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Write well and often,