It doesn’t matter whether you’re new to writing online or you’re a vet who was writing back when keyword density was at the top of SEOs’ minds. There are few things more satisfying to a writer than successfully negotiating a new project with a new client. Agreeing on a price to produce new content lets you know that you’re a pro and people see you that way. But while it’s gratifying to see a proposal or pitch pay off, that rush usually dissipates once you focus on actually writing. And whether or not the time you spend at your computer is fruitful usually depends on how much info you gathered before you started.
Starting with a new client can be difficult, because something that may have left one client smiling might make your new one completely indifferent. In order to get a feel for your new gig, there are a few questions you need to ask in order to produce your best work and prevent frustrating hang-ups.
1) What Is The Goal?
This may seem simple, but writers frequently tap away at their keyboards with only a vague idea of what the client hopes to accomplish with a particular piece of writing. Should the page drive sales? Will it be shared on social media? If so, will the piece be promoted primarily on a brand’s Facebook page, reddit, or some other social network? Or should the piece make your client’s site look authoritative?
Knowing the goal will shape how you create the piece and help you nail the first draft. If you need to drive conversions, then you’ll know to include strong, active language. Social media content will be punchy and fun (check out this Facebook page as an example). And content that’s designed to boost a site’s authority will have a longer-than-usual word count and links to respectable sources.
2) Who Is The Target Audience?
Every product is different, every audience is different, and every client has slightly different tastes. Considering all that, it’s nearly impossible to write your piece in a way that will satisfy your audience if you don’t know who they are. You might as well guess what their favourite flavour of ice cream is without knowing anything about their favourite foods.
To focus your writing your next question should be: who are you writing for? All writing is a conversation, and an important part of conversation is context. You speak to your friends differently than your family and co-workers, and writers speak to different audiences in different ways depending on their values and experiences. Knowing who your audience is and understanding their age, education level, hobbies and other demographic facts will help you tailor the piece to your readers.
3) What Are Some Of Your Favourite Or Most Successful Pieces?
A quick way to know what your client likes is by examining their personal favourites. If you ask what kind of pieces your client really respects and which pieces were the most successful (however it is defined), then you can begin to understand what the client is looking for. If your client has done their due diligence by paying attention to their content analytics, they should know what works for them and what doesn’t.
Do they like long-form articles, or pieces that are brief and to the point? Do they like lots of bolded words and bullet points, or do they prefer well-structured paragraphs? Do they appreciate fanciful wordplay and clever turns of phrase, or would they prefer the writing to be more direct and clinical? All these questions, plus more you haven’t even thought of can quickly be answered by reviewing your client’s greatest hits.
4) What Is Your Editorial Process?
This can vary wildly from company to company. In some smaller operations, the editorial process will just be the owner reviewing the piece and giving the final thumbs up. In larger companies, the piece might be reviewed by an editor, then the director of marketing, and finally whoever is in charge of operations before it can finally be approved for publication. This question lets you know who and how many people you have to impress. Don’t be caught off guard if you suddenly find your inbox filling up with editorial notes from four different people.
5) What Is Your Editorial Schedule?
Time is money, so you should know how your new client likes to work at each stage of the writing process. What is the deadline for submission of the first draft? When should you expect notes and revisions (if any)? When do they expect another draft? Do they have a hard date when they’d like to publish it? Some companies have a very loose, free-form schedule, while other editorial departments are run with the efficiency of an assembly line. Either way, knowing how they work will get you on board with the person (or team) you’ll be working with. Plus, it will allow you to properly manage your time, giving you the ability take on more clients.
Information Is Power
Starting your piece without knowing what to do and how to do it is like throwing a basketball at a hoop with your eyes closed. There’s a chance you might hit your target, but you’ll increase your odds of success if you keep your eyes open and get all the important information before you make your shot. By asking the right questions, you’ll leave lots of happy clients in your wake and a lot more, and higher-paying, gigs in your future.
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