My daughter was interviewing to hire an assistant recently, and her experience was eye-opening. She had two resumes in front of her — one was a young man whose college credentials were a match for the kind of job he’d be doing. On paper, he looked amazing.
The other resume was that of a young man who had a degree in theater. His resume wasn’t related to the job, but he had volunteer work, activities, and things in his background that she said might suggest he’s someone who can organize and stick to task. So she called both men in.
The first interview went like so — the man (let’s call him Jake) came to the interview well dressed, but didn’t seem engaged. Jake answered questions, knew nothing about the company, and asked one question: “What’s the job pay?” Sadly, Jake was my daughter’s top pick based on his resume alone. She was disappointed.
The second interview was different – the man (we’ll call him Paul) was equally well-dressed for the interview. He engaged with a smile, and handshake, and an eager demeanor. Paul answered questions, asked plenty of his own, and showed that he’d done his homework. His questions were prefaced with things like “I’ve seen that the company has acquired four different divisions over the last two years, and that in the past, their strategy seemed to be heading in the direction of…” My daughter said Paul seemed nervous at first, but he never stopped engaging and, once the nervousness disappeared, he impressed her with how he responded to her questions.
She hired Paul.
Every time we freelance writers are in front of a new client, it’s our interview. It’s our time to impress our clients and learn what we need to about them at the same time. Paul did that with my daughter’s company, and she was so pleased with his preparation that she had no choice but to hire him.
That, my writer friends, is what we should be doing. We should be taking a lesson from Paul, a young man who had never interviewed with any company before this one, and treating it like a test as well as a fact-finding mission.
So how can freelancers be more like Paul?
Study the client. Before you ever have a conversation with a client (and that includes an email conversation), know what they do. Know enough about their company to send them an introductory email or letter. Then, when they respond, get busy. Get to know their company through what’s been written about them and what they’re writing about themselves. Watch them on social media. Listen. Take notes.
Write our elevator pitch. You know they’re going to ask it. They all ask it. “Tell me about you. What do you do?” You can give them the same spiel you give all your clients, one you’ve written down and rehearsed….or you can give them a customized response, one that starts with things that would matter to them. For example, you’re talking with a company that needs white papers on technology as it applies to medical billing. Your pitch could start, “Well, I’ve been writing in the medical billing area for about six years, and I’ve written seven white papers for various clients, and have ghostwritten articles for clients in that field.” Instead of telling them you’ve been working for ten years and you’ve written for Vanity Fair or Saturday Evening Post, you’ve started with the relevant-to-them info.
Vet strategically. I hesitated to put this third on the list because I think we freelance writers should be vetting clients before we contact them. Still, vetting is an ongoing process (to me, anyway). You’re talking with your prospective client. Ask smart questions that will determine a few things — their commitment to the project and your relationship; their ability to pay your rate; their internal culture (speaks volumes about whether your project will sail through revisions or get bogged down for months on end), and; their previous efforts and how many freelancers they’ve worked with over the years.
Take the conversation seriously. I don’t mean be stiff and all business. I mean prepare for it. Have a list of at least seven smart questions written. You may not get to them, and you may find your client answers a few before you ask. What’s an example of a smart question? “What do you hope to gain from our working together? How do you see my skills best helping you?” Something that shows you’re paying attention, and a question that shifts the focus onto their satisfaction, not your getting the job.
Writers, what’s your process for making it easy for clients to hire you?
How do you use the client interactions to both impress the clients and gather info?