I once had a client that was getting her recruitment website redone and needed some kick-butt content. Ah, perfect! That’s my job! And recruitment? I worked in recruitment for a while. I sucked at it (some people are made for it, I’m not one of them), but I learnt a lot about the industry. This was going to be a piece of cake. We went for coffee, discussed her new work venture, and then swiftly moved on to her first marriage, what her kids were up to, her house and its pretty views. I went away confident. This was going to be a piece of cake. I mean, I can write website content in my sleep.
Yeah, well, maybe I should’ve rather hammered at my keyboard while unconscious because she hated what I so artfully crafted in my waking hours. I was incensed at first. Then, she rewrote it in her own words and sent it to me for proofreading. This is when I saw that what she wanted was an entirely different voice. She wanted industry jargon, recruitment lingo, sales talk. I’d given her something far too generic, soft. And I didn’t even know that because I hadn’t asked her the right questions.
So, unlike me, you should ask these insightful questions to get a much better idea of what your client really wants:
1. What is your project about?
This sifts out what they think they want from what they really want. As you understand the goals and scope of the project better, you’ll be able to advise on whether they need a refreshed website or a brand new blog, a Facebook post boost or an internal newsletter.
2. What are your start and finish goals?
Some clients call in help soon for a project that is only really going to get legs in a few months. So, make sure you understand the timeline so that you can give the appropriate amount of attention to it. Also, urgent jobs need to be charged for at higher rates as you’re going to have to put other projects and clients on a back-burner to get them done in time. This answer is crucial if there’s a reason that they need their website done by a certain date too (such as a product release or an expo).
3. What is the budget for this project?
Try and get a solid number out of them. If not, a bracket. This lets you know where you’re aiming and how much to invest. If they’re struggling to give you a number, let them know that how accurate your quote is will depend on the scope of their needs, which is determined largely by their budget. Mention a range – “For R2000, I can do XYZ; for R20 000, I can add ABC”. Essentially, be very clear about what they should expect and by when.
4. Who will be editing and signing my work off?
If it’s not the person you’re currently dealing with, make sure you meet these other key players. They are the ones that need to be happy with the final product, so make sure you’ve connected with them and you understand their vision. Also, try to narrow down the list of contacts you need to have. Keep your lines of communication simple by stipulating that you only have one point of contact in the company. Importantly, ensure that your communication is via email, not an instant messaging system. Instant messaging opens up a world of 24-hour access to demanding clients.
5. Who will be providing the information that I need?
Will you have to research it yourself? Interview people? Collate info from different sources within the company? These all take various amounts of time, so be sure you understand this process before quoting on content. If they have existing material, ask if you are able to use some or all of it. If they don’t like their current copy, it’s still important to see it – it’ll give you an idea of where not to go.
6. Who is your target market?
A client should know and understand this. If they don’t, you can be sure that they won’t know what they want or need from you in terms of content. Get any and all details available about this target market – what they do, where they live, what problems they have, how they’re currently trying to solve those problems, where the gaps are, and so on. Even better, try to get hold of some of their market research documents. Most of all, understand how your client and his product or service will help this market. If they can’t see it yet, it’s your job to convince them.
7. Who are your competitors? How are you different to them?
This gives you the cutting edge in terms of understanding the needs of your client because you need to capitalise on his unique selling points.
8. Will I be referenced online for the work that I produce? Can I include this project in my portfolio?
Try to secure a live link to your professional website. This goes a long way in boosting your own SEO and Domain Authority.
No two clients or projects are the same; so, be flexible. Of course, there will always be those clients that you just ‘get’ and producing work for them comes easily. But, don’t assume that this is always going to be the case. Work for your business, work for your clients; that’s the key to being a better content writer.