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?