Picture this: You’re a new-ish freelance writer. You offer a good mix of services for varying clients, audiences and goals. You’ve got a solid writer website, a killer LinkedIn profile and you’ve been networking and marketing your business like crazy. And it’s working!
Your inbox is loaded with emails from prospective clients with writing assignments they want you to tackle. You happily accept all, knowing you’ll pull some allnighters if you have to just to hit your due dates. This is freelancing, after all, and with the unpredictable nature of work availability, you’re ready to capitalize on the full-plate opportunity.
As you look through your assignments, though, it hits you: these are all so different. It would be one thing to crank out a bunch of pieces for one client, but you’re writing a blog post for a software company, website copy for a pool builder, an ebook for a travel agency, a press release for a beauty retailer… And you’re just one person! It was hard enough to find your own writing voice, and now you’ve got to identify and adopt several others.
You know your clients are counting on you to properly represent each company’s personality, and you want them to feel like you captured their brand’s voice — so that next time they need something written, they’ll immediately think of you. But with such a variety of assignments, how can you nail each client’s voice, every time? Here are some ideas:
1. Interview the client
Conducting an interview with your client gives you great material for developing the appropriate voice for their writing needs. This works particularly well for smaller businesses, where you probably have access to company leadership (and the brand’s personality likely closely reflects the owner’s).
Get the head honcho talking about the beginnings of the company, the business model, target customer profiles, company values and overall mission. Hearing this information in the client’s own words is invaluable. What kind of vibe are you getting? How can you incorporate it into the piece?
An alternative to the sometimes-tricky task of coordinating schedules for a live interview is using a questionnaire. Simply put your interview questions in an email, suggest a due date and send it off to your client. While you won’t get the off-the-cuff — and likely more colorful — version of the info, you’ll give yourself and your client a chance to work through the questions at a time that works best for each of you individually.
Real-life example: When I received a completed questionnaire from one of my recent clients, I immediately noticed a liberal use of smiley-face emoticons. As I read through their answers, I giggled to myself at the response to my question about what differentiated them from their competitors: “We’d tell you, but then we’d have to kill you.”
I knew serious, straightforward business-speak was not going to work for this client, and that I needed to incorporate some playful, silly bits into their voice.
2. Develop a character
When you’re working with a larger company, it’s more likely that instead of capturing your client’s personal voice, you’ll need to write on behalf of a unique and independent brand. While asking the aforementioned interview-style questions of your contact person may still be a good idea, another powerful tactic is to develop a character for the writing voice. To do this, imagine the brand is a person (or cartoon, or animal, or whatever seems appropriate for the company’s personality; they may already have something you can work with).
[bctt tweet=”Develop a character to help identify a client’s voice, advises @“]
Now ask yourself: what is this character like? Is it a male or female? What age? What nationality? What are his/her likes and dislikes, traits and quirks, habits and hobbies? Once you’ve got a good grasp on the details of this persona, you can ask yourself the most important question: how would this character speak?
Real-life example: I once wrote for a B2B brand that wanted its messaging to seem as if it were coming from a “feel your pain” perspective, as if the brand really “got” their customers and prospects, and was familiar with the challenges they faced.
To accomplish this, I created a character who had held the same sort of professional role — senior-level marketing — as the people the brand was targeting, but was now working for my client. When I wrote with this character’s voice, I was able to use examples and terminology that illustrated how the brand could truly empathize with the day-to-day life of its target market.
3. Read existing material
This is a very “duh” tip, but it’s worth addressing, because it’s more effective than you might think. Ask your client if the material they’ve already got out there — on their website, blog or social media channels — is in the tone and style they want to continue using.
If so, read through as many pieces as necessary to pick up the voice with which you should write. You should read until you feel so comfortable with the language and pace that you’re confident you can easily mimic the voice. I like to do this right before I start working on an assignment, to pump myself up and get my “head in the game,” as dorky as that sounds.
Real-life example: This isn’t from a client, but it’s a good illustration of the power of the approach nonetheless. When I first read Shakespeare in high school, the style was so foreign to me, I had a difficult time getting past the language to follow the story. The more I read, though, the more I got used to it, and I eventually became so engrossed in what was happening between Romeo and Juliet that I didn’t even blink an eye at the “weird” words anymore. Not only that, but I also realized after an hour or so of reading, I’d start thinking in Old English! I had totally adopted the voice.
Bonus: Modify the voice for the medium
Even the most unique and defined voice needs to flex with the norms, expectations and audience of varying communication channels. In one day, the same business may tweet an informal comment on industry matters, publish a new compelling ad and release exciting company news. Each of these messages would necessarily read quite differently from each other.
Stick to your client’s voice — but don’t forget to adjust it accordingly.
How do you manage different voices for different clients?