When I teach my freelance health writing course, I try to help writers understand exactly what’s involved in completing a project from beginning to end.
I’ve been told that the course is extremely thorough in this respect – in fact, one of my current students has told me that she’ll never have nothing to do again!
The importance of being prepared is one of the modules in the second week of the course.
I ask students: If a client contacted you about writing a website for their cardiology practice, what would you do?
What would your first move be?
- Would you pick up the phone and call them to talk through their requirements?
- Would you send an email to talk through the requirements in more detail, including how many pages needed to be written and what was needed on every page?
- Would you browse the current website before contacting the client, in order to learn more about them?
- Would you email them your rates and a project briefing document?
There are no right or wrong answers to this (though there are options that I recommend over others) but I’m bringing this up to get you thinking about how prepared you actually are.
Some people argue that you don’t need to have a website or be completely set up with all your processes and documents before you start working.
But I believe you do. I strongly recommend getting as much in order as you can before you even think about contacting clients, in order to:
- Work effectively – and efficiently
- Avoid missing key details – in your requirements gathering process
- Ensure your templates and business documents appear professional – as well as legally sound
- Ensure you are confident with your payment rates and terms – and that you know how far you are willing to negotiate if necessary
- Know how you would complete a project from beginning to end – including your personal drafting, writing and editing process
Being unprepared can harm your chances of securing ongoing work
Here’s a couple of key reasons why being unprepared can hinder your business:
- You won’t appear as professional – if you don’t have your processes, templates and documents in order, you will be forced to create these as and when you need them – which will probably result in you appearing disorganised and unprofessional. Also, you might leave out key details that you actually do require – particularly when it comes to contracts, invoices and legal requirements
- You won’t be able to work efficiently – you’ll save time by being organised and knowing exactly how you will run a project, but if you’re still fiddling about trying to invent an invoice or briefing template, you’ll waste valuable time – which translates to lost work hours and income
When I started out, I had no processes and templates.
I can’t really believe that I’m admitting this, but it’s true.
I was asked to do my first freelance job – a press release for a wellbeing professional – and I got stuck.
I realised that I’d actually never thought about the nitty gritty of completing a project from beginning to end – apart from the actual writing stage.
I hadn’t created any templates for invoices or contracts. I had no briefing document.
And when the client asked me about my terms and processes, I had no idea what to say.
So what do you think I did?
I basically made everything up on the spot.
I’m fairly certain I came across confused, frazzled and lacking in overall confidence.
To put it another way – I wouldn’t have hired me. Because it was clear that I didn’t really know what my processes were.
Think about when you’re hiring a plumber. If you call him and ask him his fee, whether he will accept a cash payment or how long he’ll take to do the job and he sounds uncertain – like he doesn’t know what his rates are, how long the job will take and whether or not he can actually get it done – you probably wouldn’t hire him.
As a freelance writer, you’re in a similar situation. You’re offering your clients a service. So, like any service professional, you need to know exactly what that service encompasses.
Miraculously, I was given that first press release writing job – and I completed it, but I wasted a lot of time (which translates to unpaid hours) doing so – and I probably didn’t make the best impression.
And here’s the other thing: making a good impression is vital to your long-term success. It’s not just about completing a job and getting paid. You want to be the best type of freelancer you can be, because this is what’s going to be most beneficial for your long-term career prospects – and help you produce high-quality work.
So, after my first disastrous experience, I decided to put everything on hold and get my business documents in order.
What being prepared means
Preparation equals confidence. As both a writer and a business owner, you do need to radiate confidence at all times.
Your first clients should feel as if they are your fiftieth clients. It’s important to give them confidence in your abilities and reassurance that you’re operating a professional health writing service – one that can deliver exactly what they are asking of you. This is not ‘faking it until you make it’. This is about being confident and prepared.
It’s also about believing in yourself and knowing your limits – which is often the line between being authentic and agreeing to take on work that’s beyond your capabilities.
If you are prepared and confident, your projects are more likely to run smoothly. Your clients will be more likely to have a positive experience working with you, recommend you to others, give you a positive testimonial and hire you again.
This means that before you start to look for work, you should consider being ready to go with the following elements of your business:
- Processes and workflows – including how you work most effectively – even down to little details like letting clients know that you prefer feedback sent via the track changes functionality in Word (believe me, this can make or break hours of your time!)
- Templates and documents – this includes contracts, terms and conditions, invoices, briefs, proposals, and email templates – as well as other less common templates
- Equipment – computer, mobile, software and apps are just the beginning
- Accounting – how will you manage your invoices and expenses, and do you know your local tax laws?
- Structuring your day – including tracking your time for your writing projects
I’d love to know: If you’re just starting out – have you considered all of these things? And if you have been working as a freelance writer for a while – do you have all of these in order?
If you want to feel confident that you have everything you need in place to get started when those clients do come knocking, take a look at my How To Become A Freelance Health Writer online course.