Asking the right questions for new clients is an art form. Many of us forget to ask important questions once we get a few basic details about what the client needs – especially those who are just getting started as a freelance writer.
For every new client, it’s important to have a briefing or requirements gathering process in place that will allow you to understand your client’s project in as much detail as possible.
Also, you’re more likely to produce quality content if you ensure you have all the key details before you start.
Your requirements gathering process can happen as soon as your client agrees to go forward – and it can be as simple and straightforward as a briefing document.
Document your new client questions in a briefing template
Many writers rely on a briefing document, which is a list of essential questions for new clients – or existing ones. These questions should be designed to give you all the information you need about your project. They will help to ensure your work is thorough and efficient.
You could go over your briefing via email, phone or in person – but by encouraging your client to complete your brief and return it to you via email, you’ll be reducing the risk of any miscommunication. Also, a briefing document if clients ask for revisions that are actually out of scope.
The eight essential questions for new clients
1. How do you want to communicate with me?
While email is convenient and having a record (digital paper trail) of all communications is important, getting to know your clients and building rapport tends to happen more easily in person or via phone and Skype. Be aware that travelling to face-to-face meetings can be time-consuming, though.
2. What is the core objective of your project?
The most important question to ask a new client is what they hope to achieve with their new project. Even if you’re being tasked with writing a straightforward health article, you’ll need to know the purpose and context: will it be used for promoting a new product or educating clinicians?
Other questions that flow on from this include knowing whether you’ll need to include any call-to-actions in the copy and what the style of writing should be, eg persuasive, educational, entertaining
3. What is the ideal tone of voice?
Does your client want your writing to be funny, serious, conversational, academic or clinical? Find out any likes or dislikes, buzzwords or a preferred referencing style. Ask your client for details of competitors, other styles of writing they like (which doesn’t necessarily have to be health or medical-related). Include a series of adjectives (eg relaxed, professional, serious, lighthearted) and ask them to select which ones are most and least favourable for their project.
4. What is your brand personality?
Knowing the personality of your client’s brand or business can help you deliver the right tone and language in your writing. Finding the answers to these questions through getting to know your client and ask your client for their past work or whether they have a style guide. If client hasn’t yet established their sense of style, ask if there is a brand whose style of writing they admire (and offer to create their brand voice guidelines for them!).
5. What is your brand’s position in the marketplace?
And while on the subject of brands, learn your client’s brand position in their marketplace – and also ask them if they are happy with this. Knowing the answers to these questions can help your writing, particularly when copywriting for clients from the pharmaceutical industry or other large medical organisations or writing articles for newsletters and email subscribers.
6. What’s your single most important message?
Ascertaining your client’s single most important message for the project is crucial. Are there any secondary key messages your writing needs to include? Asking your client upfront will avoid time consuming revisions that incorporate key messages down the track, and also show your client you’re thinking about their brand.
7. Who is your target audience – patients, health professionals or industry?
Remember, you are not writing for your client, you are writing for their audience. Are you writing for or marketing to doctors, dentists, consumers or patients? Also, consider the context: Will the readers access the material online or in print? How will the audience receive the information? The answers to these questions help you to tailor your writing to the way the intended audience should think, feel and act after reading it.
Also, ask your client to be as specific as possible about their audience’s education level, ability to understand medical information and personality.
8. What’s your deadline?
Not meeting a new client’s deadline can make or break a relationship, even preventing them from working with you in the future. Make sure you are aware of any critical deadlines for departmental and government approval processes. If you’ll be providing multiple revisions, set deadlines for these, too.
Tip: Don’t be afraid to negotiate deadlines – you don’t have to agree to a client’s deadline straight away.
Finally, don’t forget to ask your new clients the payment questions
Confirm contracts, payment terms and other conditions with your client before you start their project. Does your client prefer to be invoiced for the total amount? What are their payment terms? Contracts may need to be signed and received by your client even before you begin writing. If you’re aware of these details upfront, you may not be in for a surprise when you complete the project.
Other questions for new clients
These questions aren’t exhaustive, and you may need to add and subtract questions for every new client – as each project will have unique requirements. Some entrepreneurs advocate asking certain types of power questions and you may be asking different questions the work is still being negotiated.
Do you have a client brief containing all your essential questions for new clients?