Handling the “Do You Write This?” Question

What I’m listening to: The Loneliness and the Scream by Frightened Rabbit

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After a short lull in the workload, the projects are beginning to come in again. I have two in front of me and a third about to appear. It’s a bit slower than it was in March and April, but that’s okay. Those months more than made up for any slow periods.

I was going back over my marketing spreadsheet when I came across some hot prospects from last year’s conference. One in particular was eager to talk with me, insistent that we speak on the first day, and wanted to talk about specific projects.

Until we met. Maybe it was the show itself and the insane atmosphere, but she had to postpone our chat (as I sat there waiting) for 15 minutes because of another meeting she couldn’t get out of. Then she was rushed through our brief meeting (forget that 15 minutes she’d originally scheduled).

I went through my usual process — I told her a little about me, and I asked about her needs, what problem she was looking for a writer to solve, what her timeline was…. Then she said it.

“Have you written about _____?”

As she sat leafing through my samples, which clearly showed that yes, I did.

I did the usual follow-up email, and I invited her to a phone conversation. The response: Thank you for your time. At this time, I don’t believe we have any work for potential partnership…”

This from a prospect who’d named six things minimum she wanted to get accomplished.

I can’t really say what had her pull away. Maybe she assumed a budget she didn’t have. Maybe she didn’t know what questions to ask and was unsure I could handle the job based on her questions/my answers. Maybe she didn’t like what I was wearing. Maybe it was my answer to the “have you written this” question.

While I can’t do much about the other reasons, the “do you write this” one I can. And I do.

We freelance writers, no matter how many years we’ve been working, will always get this question. You can be sitting there with a ten-inch-thick portfolio of samples and that client is still going to ask if you write X or Y. Why?

Because clients can’t always see how freelance writing skills transfer.

So here are some ways I’ve handled the question:

Answer it before it’s asked. I work this into my first client conversation. Not the initial email/LOI, but the first phone or face-to-face conversation. “My background in writing about workers’ compensation and managed care topics has given me plenty of insight into the health care management area, particularly from an employer perspective.” Find that one nugget that transfers, and work it into the conversation.

Show the correlation in your presentation materials. If you’re approaching a client through a letter of introduction, why not show the crossover right then? “I’ve written numerous software reviews, which gives me a deep understanding of how technology can impact the bottom line.” Or “The articles I’ve written about shoe manufacturing and distribution have given me insight into supply chain, logistics, and tracking technology.”

Pump up your samples on your website. If you must, create a new section that holds samples pertaining to the clients you’re about to approach. Really look at your samples and make sure to categorize your strongest examples of crossover talent first.

Offer a one-time project. For three of my current clients, I was able to secure the gig by doing one project for each of them. The “tryout” projects  were contracted work, but with no expectations of future work. They’re taking a chance, but so are you. It’s a great way for you both to see how good a fit it is (or not).

Offer on-spec work. Sometimes, you’re just not going to have the background they need. In some cases, it’s okay to say “Look, how about I handled one small 500-word piece? If you like it, you agree to pay my usual fee for that and we go from there.” What if they don’t like it? Well, they’re not allowed to use it (and you’ve put that to them in writing), and you now have a sample in that area. Not an ideal way to handle the situation, and it should be used only as a last resort. Don’t lead with this one. Always try to get the paid work before offering a “maybe paid” arrangement.

Writers, how do you handle the “Do you write this?” question?
How do you convince clients that your skills are transferable?
Has that ever backfired?

About the author




  • Anne Wayman April 28, 2016 at 3:01 pm

    I work to remember that most of the folks who hire writers really have no idea how writing gets done. Nor, generally, do they know what it costs. I've done it all, written on spec (sometimes I still write short pieces on spec as a way I can be assured I can actually work with the client), shown them past stuff – everything you say… just part of what we do I think.

  • Lori Widmer April 28, 2016 at 3:17 pm

    You're so right, Anne. A lot of times, the client has never worked with a contract writer before. Yet we miss the chance to help them understand from the start.

  • Paula Hendrickson April 28, 2016 at 4:29 pm

    My running joke is, "I can write anything as long as it's in English."

    But I've been able to use my business clips to move into entertainment writing by starting with advertising and marketing angles. I also landed several assignments covering medical topics by showing the editor an article I wrote about helping active dogs recover from injuries or surgery. (That one I landed thanks to two different "pets in the workplace" articles I wrote, one of which included a dog-friendly TV production office I learned about from the entertainment writing.)

    I also combined my writing skills with my love of food and cooking to land some copywriting assignments for a custom publisher.

    When you've been writing for a while, it really does come full circle.

  • Lori Widmer April 28, 2016 at 5:03 pm

    A perfect example of how to transition to another area — thanks Paula!

  • Julie Cook Ramirez April 29, 2016 at 1:34 am

    I refuse to do work on spec. I have far too many paying jobs to work for free.

  • Lori Widmer April 29, 2016 at 12:55 pm

    Good for you, Julie! I don't do it anymore, though waaaay back when I was starting out, I did two jobs for magazines on spec. Thankfully, both worked out.