Free Advice Friday: The Writing Client Interview

What’s on the iPod: Summer Girls by LFO

For a week that had just a little work in it, this one was quite busy. When I have these lulls between projects, I like to have personal projects lined up. They move from just one segment of my day to the larger part of my work. Make hay while the sun shines, they say.

I spent a lot of time marketing, too. I’m branching out into a related area of my specialty, so there’s a good bit of groundwork to be completed — locating potential clients, gathering contact info, researching each one, etc. Thankfully, I have it down to a pretty smooth process, so I can get to know their business operations quickly. It helps to know a specialized area well, for sure.

So it’s Friday. I was going to post my monthly assessment, but that will wait until Monday. While all advice here is free, today is the day designated just for advice. I guess that makes it special somehow. All I know is you have questions. Here, you’ll find answers. And if you don’t see it, ask. I’m happy to help, as are most of the readers in this blog community.

The Writing Client Interview

I had an interview with a client yesterday, and because I know him well, it went well. There’s confidence in familiarity, and some clients are just hard-wired to be great to talk to, as is this client. However, there are times when clients want to talk about those freelance writing projects, and the first thing you may think is “What will they ask?”

I’d bet the second thing you say is “What will I say?”

When a client wants to talk about writing projects and wants to learn more about the writer they’re about to hire, you can prepare to some extent. Here are some strategies I use when I’m facing a writing client call:

Your résumé. Your résumé/portfolio/list of accomplishments should be in front of you. That way, you’re ready for the client curve ball. When they ask “Have you worked on any sales sheets?” you can tell them exactly how many.

Your speech. It’s coming. You know it and yet I bet you rarely prepare for it. “Tell me about yourself.” I start with how long I’ve been writing in the industry (or in general, depending on the client), some of my more recent writing projects (always tailored first to what they’re asking for/what they do), and what training I have or trade shows I attend. Whatever will resonate with them, include it. Don’t get long-winded, but do give them a brief snapshot of who you are.

Your samples. I never know which ones they’ll ask for, so I usually send them to my website first with the offer of more specific samples as needed. If you know what they want and you have the luxury of a heads-up on their call, dig up some of your more impressive stuff and send it over before the call.

Your software. I don’t get the question a lot, but it does come up on occasion. Have a list of the applications you use or are familiar with in front of you should the question arise.

Your shortcomings. I was asked in a recent interview about a process I’ve not done yet. I’ve been part of it, have edited it, but haven’t put it together. Don’t fake experience you don’t have. Even if the skill they’re asking for is one you know you can knock out easily, be truthful. “I haven’t handled that yet” or “I haven’t done so directly, no.”

Your rate. You know it’s coming, yet you’re never quite ready to answer, are you? Practice responding to the question until you can say your rate with confidence without adding “but it’s negotiable.”

Your opinion. I’ve had clients ask my thoughts on their published stuff, their websites, or their marketing pieces on those calls. My advice — be honest, but be kind about it. Does it suck? Tell them, but find a nice way to do it. “I think you could rework that and get a lot more impact from it than you may be getting.” Don’t be shy — clients want you to help them. Some may even want you to lead them. If they don’t want your opinion and ask for it anyway, you’ll know by their reaction. Those clients are looking for cheerleaders. You have to decide if that’s a role you want to be taking on.

How do you approach a client interview?
What questions have you been asked that surprised you?

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  • Paula February 28, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    Who doesn't love Free Advice Friday?

    Another way to address a shortcoming is to say, "I haven't had much experience with that, but I'm eager to learn."

  • Lori Widmer February 28, 2014 at 6:29 pm

    Good one, Paula!

  • Anne Wayman February 28, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    I approach them about the same way… most of mine come out of the blue, without much warning… when I get the dreaded price question I say in my most serious voice, "I promise to charge you no more than a million dollars a day… plus expenses of course." Most laugh and it breaks the ice.. a couple have said they'll put the check in the mail right away… we laugh… then I tell them I don't yet know how much, that I'd like to work out a flat fee, if that's true, etc. etc. etc.

  • Devon Ellington February 28, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    I look at it as a conversation. I'm interviewing them as much as they're interviewing me.

    I research them, and have questions prepared.

    If I don't have much experience in something, but tell them I have a sharp learning curve (which I do).

  • Jennifer Mattern March 1, 2014 at 2:16 am

    I have a similar approach to Devon. It's very two-way. They need to see that I'm a good fit for them. And I need to see that they're a good fit for me. If either isn't true, I don't move forward. I like to find out a bit about their business and their goals. How they articulate those things tells me a lot about what the working relationship might be like.

  • Lori Widmer March 3, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    Amen to what both you ladies say. It very much is you interviewing the client. My favorite questions are "What are your expectations of our partnership?"; "Who is the point person and is that person the decision maker?"; "How quickly can you respond to drafts and edits?"

    That last one is a big one — it tells if they're committed to the project and it sets expectations on both sides.