3 Simple Tips for Better Communication With Your Writing Clients

3 Simple Tips for Better Communication With Your Writing Clients

Anyone who’s been in the freelance-writing game for any length of time has a horror story or two (or 10) about a client.

Maybe it’s multiple revision requests from some wayward editor who doesn’t know what they want, or perhaps it’s 30+ days post wrap-up and you’re still waiting to get paid. These debacles can often be prevented with some good old-fashioned communication.

I’ve played on both teams. By day I’m managing editor of the ClearVoice blog; by night and weekend, I’m in the trenches with y’all, making a little extra money to keep the dog in Alpo. Here’s my advice on how to improve communication with your editors and clients and, in turn, get fewer revision requests and more work.  

1. Never assume anything

Is it OK to write in the first person, or will only third person do? Do they want you to include images with your copy, or will they pull those themselves? Are they paying extra for you to promote it in your social channels, or is that rolled into the assignment price?

Don’t guess. Ask.

Get clarity on everything before you begin, and get it in writing. If you get hired with a phone call or meeting, send an email summarizing the scope of the project and ask for confirmation. Nail down such details as:

  • The type of content they want produced and the minimum/maximum word count
  • Who the audience is
  • Any links or keywords to include
  • Deadline, price, and how and when payment will be made
  • Tone and voice
  • Any brand and project guidelines
  • Will the content be ghostwritten or bylined?
  • Who the editor is (this is who you’ll work with the most) and how they prefer to communicate (email, phone, IM/Slack)
  • Any relevant resources/marketing materials that will help you better understand the subject matter
  • How many rounds of revisions are included in the price (two is industry standard)
  • Are you expected to promote the content on social?
  • And of course, make sure you understand what they want covered, including whether you’re expected to find an expert source

2. Ask for feedback (and give it in return)

Reasonable people want to know how and where they can improve. So if you’re a reasonable person, ask for feedback — and be a good sport when it arrives.

The more information you have about what you’re getting right and what you’re missing, the quicker you’ll learn exactly what the client wants. Editors love working with writers who can hit the mark on the first try. Once they’ve invested time in you and see you “get it,” the’ll likely want to use you on future projects.

Try not to be defensive or argumentative when the feedback rolls in, either. Take it graciously and ask questions, but don’t argue (unless it’s a ridiculous request, in which case, you have bigger problems).

Similarly, if you’re working with reasonable people and you have insight about how they could improve something on their end, don’t be afraid to give them honest (but tactful) feedback. But if you’re unsure about how your feedback would be received or if you’re overstepping your bounds in giving it, hold off.

3. Be yourself (just be smart about it)

Yes, you want to be professional. But you can be professional and have a personality. When I finally took off my “board room” face and was just me, it was like breathing a huge sigh of relief. My clients responded in kind, and it helped us form a relationship.

You know there’s a caveat, right? Here it is: Be you, but be you within the confines of good taste. If the real you curses like a trucker or doesn’t like to wear a bra, may I suggest you skip this tip. But if the real you sticks an emoji at the bottom of an email, why not? Everyone appreciates authenticity.

Ditto for disclosing personal things about yourself. Appropriate self-disclosure strengthens bonds with clients — so if you’ll be back online after you pick up your kid from softball practice, say so. Again, “decorum” is the key word here. People want to work with people they like and view as genuine.

How have you formed relationships with your freelance-writing clients?

Filed Under: Freelancing

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12 comments

  • Well said! In fact, I can’t tell you how important #1 is!

    I have one client that I’ve written a ton of sales copy for over the years. I’m so familiar with her products and style that she just tells me what she needs – and I write it. Simple.

    However, when I was approached by a new client to write a landing page for them, I just assumed things would go the same way. So, I didn’t ask enough questions. I didn’t probe deeply enough about the direction they wanted the page to go. After all, I’m an experienced copywriter. I knew what would sell their product. The problem was… they had certain expectations about the theme of the landing page that I didn’t discover until after I submitted the first draft to them. And then I had to spend a lot of time doing edits to the piece.

    I learned the hard way… always ask! Even if you think you know the best direction for a piece you’re writing, the person hiring you may have other ideas! And it will save you a lot of stress if you know what they’re thinking in advance.

  • Harshit says:

    Great! Content. Truly loved reading it. Learned a lot. Better communication with clients is very important step. You made it lot simpler.
    Thankyou!

  • Carol Tice says:

    Great post — I can’t count how many writers I’ve heard from who ended up getting ripped off, who when I ask say, “Oh, I just assumed they would send me a check right away…it turns out without a contract I guess they never have to send it!”

    DON’T. ASSUME! It is a route to getting stiffed. And also to having to do SO many rewrites…

  • Great post. I haven’t done any freelancing, but it’s something I plan to attempt eventually.

    It’s nice to see posts like this. It always helps to be as prepared as possible, especially when dealing with clients.

  • Good client relations and communication are so important and as Carol Tice says, making assumptions is one of the leading causes of getting stiffed. Never assume you will get paid. Never assume to know what the client wants. Mutual respect is paramount. A bona fide client won’t baulk at paying a deposit and will value your worth.

  • Josh says:

    I can’t overstate how critical these tips are, especially #1. I’ve found that I think I know the entire scope of a conversation or project and rush through without asking enough, in-depth or clarifying questions, only to find out that I can’t recall or state significant details after the fact. This is something I’m working on. This is a useful reminder and guide on how to take a more productive approach.

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