8 Questions to Ask Before Every
Writing Project

If you’ve ever spent five minutes in the company of a three-year-old, you’ve experienced their insatiable curiosity.

Why is the sky blue?

Why do I have to go to bed now?

Why does the cat hide from me?

So many questions!

Turns out that channeling your inner toddler (within reason) can make for successful client relations.

No, you’re not going to ask never-ending series of “why” questions, but you do want to have the information you need to complete the project, and that includes establishing a framework for doing your best work.

There’s nothing that makes a client relationship go south faster than not being in agreement about what you’re going to do.

Imagine if they thought you were going to build them a new website when you thought you were agreeing to rewrite just their core content pages!

That’s where simple proposals are invaluable. It gives a framework that you’re going to do x by y and this is what they can expect.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, I usually do simple bullet points with a delivery date, payment methods, and a signature because we’ve already discussed the project and their goals. Yet, I want something in writing that will keep it clear for everyone involved.

In my initial conversations with the prospect, I ask questions about their target audience and their marketing goals. This helps me determine if the project is a good fit for my skills. It also shows the prospect I can think strategically and add value beyond writing. Here are the eight I use.

8 Questions to Ask Your Prospects So Projects Go Smoother

1. What’s Your Goal?

Well-defined goals make for a clear project. Can you imagine someone saying to a builder, “Can you build me a house?” And then expecting the house to be exactly what the person wanted? Of course not. You’d expect to have lots of conversations about the type of house you wanted and your expectations.

Fortunately, writing projects are far simpler, but you’ll still want to get clear so you can deliver on their expectations.

  • Do they want to revive a dormant blog so it can attract more traffic to their site?
  • Do they want a lead-generating e-book?
  • Do they want SEO web copy that speaks to their visitors and guides them to the contact form?

If they don’t have a clear idea but they’re disappointed with their website, then you can suggest a Site Audit to have a basis for recommendations.

2. Where Does [This Project] Fit Within Your Larger Marketing Strategy?

You may discover they plan to create 2-3 e-books over the next six months. Or, they want to overhaul the website. Not only does asking this question show you’re a strategic thinker who can see the larger picture, it also opens the door for conversation about those future potential writing projects!

3. How Will We Define Success?

It’s nice if you can follow this up with “I suggest x and y.” (When you take the lead, not only are you choosing things you can accomplish, but you’re also showing your professionalism.)

For example, they may have a goal of reviving a dormant blog to bring in more web traffic. If that’s the case, then it makes sense to use current web traffic as a baseline and then review after three and six months.

4. What Format Do You Prefer?

Word or Google Docs? As a professional writer, I recommend having both and asking which your client prefers. My experience with agencies is they all use Google Docs exclusively and that’s true with a lot of tech-based start-ups too. I recently had a new client tell me, “We’re a Google shop, I don’t have Word.”

Good to know. Then I’ll note that I’ll deliver the work in either Word or Google in our agreement.

5. Do You Have Examples You Like and/or a Style Guide?

It’s essential that you have guidance on the tone of what you’re writing. For a silly example, imagine they wanted you to write like Bugs Bunny talks but you didn’t know that and turned in something more professional sounding. Then they’d want you to rewrite it.

Ask for examples of the type of writing they like. You can also ask if they have a house Style Guide. Like it sounds, a Style Guide lets you know whether they want it to sound folksy and conversational or buttoned up and corporate. It also shares what font(s) they prefer and if the Oxford comma is necessary.

6. Who Will Be My Point of Contact?

When it comes to final approvals, you want to make sure you have one point of contact. I’ve heard horror stories of projects going off the rails because the freelance writer had to deal with multiple stakeholders who were not in agreement with each other.

Define your primary point of contact early, and you’ll simplify the process.

7. Revisions

Okay. This isn’t a question but rather is an expectation you want to address early. It’s also a part of the business. There may be revisions. Hopefully, by asking good questions early on, you can avoid major revisions.

Personally, I charge a flat rate and include two revisions which I include in my agreement.

8. What’s Your Deadline?

Some companies will have a hard and fast deadline — we need it on Tuesday for our big event. Others may have a time frame rather than a specific day. Whichever the case, find out and meet those deadlines!

Running a successful freelance business requires good communication skills between you and the client. When you structure it so expectations are clear on both sides, you’ll find that things go easier.

What questions would you add?

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Published: December 19, 2019

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