Tuesday Take: 2 Simple Ways to Deliver Freelance Fabulousness

What I’m reading: On Writing by Stephen King
What I’m listening to: A Part of It by We Were Promised Jetpacks

As I was preparing a project draft the other day, I was thinking about something the client had said a while back. “You get me. I don’t know how you do it, but you seem to know what I want to say.”

While I want to rejoice at that, I don’t. Why?

Writers, it's our job to know what our clients want to say. Click To Tweet

So yes, I’m pleased that I pleased my client. But that’s the job, isn’t it?

Still, it’s a part of the job that could come easily, but doesn’t. After years of working toward “getting” my clients, I think I’ve landed on the reason why. We as freelance writers often don’t do those two little things that signal to the client that we’re in this fully. Those two things?



It’s that simple. Yet it’s a step freelance writers miss in too many communication opportunities. That missing step could mean the difference between struggling to meet earnings and surpassing them.

Here’s what I mean when I say freelance writers should be listening and repeating:

Hear your client’s words. Record conversations. Take copious notes. Jot down key phrases that your clients repeat or emphasize. Do you really hear your client when she says she wants to convey a friendly, yet authoritative tone in that newsletter? Did you really listen when she said “I want clients to think of us as the only source for premium equine accessories”? Did you hear her when she said “Just keep the language simple — I don’t like overstatements or buzz words.”

Repeat it back to them. This part is the one a lot of freelance writers miss. If a client is telling you exactly what they want, give it to them. If your client is saying in that initial conversation “We want to send the message that our baskets are sourced from sustainable materials and are the strongest baskets on the market today” you damn well should be giving them that thought — and maybe those very words — right back to them somewhere in that draft.

So where should you be listening and repeating? Here are some places where I do this:

  • In that first conversation: a great way to alleviate any trepidation or concern they may have about hiring you
  • Proposals: especially important here: it shows you’ve been listening and are understanding
  • Emails: that follow-up email to the conversation is a great place to say “Here’s what we discussed” and then go into it
  • Drafts: definitely here as this is the moneymaker for you

Other factors do go into pleasing clients — attention to every detail, thoroughness, reliability — and for the most part, we do that. But if we pay attention — really pay attention — to what our clients are saying and we work from that perspective, they’re satisfied. And they’re going to hire you next time, too.

Writers, how have your clients responded when you’ve shown you listened?
Have you used their words verbatim in any situation? How have they reacted to that?
What other ways have you used that illustrate you’re listening?

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  • Paula Hendrickson April 6, 2017 at 10:32 am

    A year or two ago when I had THAT new-to-me client (the one who kept changing her mind and suggesting sources she later deemed not suitable), I should have though to recap the assignment when I turned in the initial copy. “You said you wanted XYZ, here it is. And I used the three sources you suggested.” Maybe then she wouldn’t have wanted it totally rewritten with three new sources!

    Funny how when people realize something was their idea they tend to like it more than when they forgot it was theirs and assume it was yours.

    • lwidmer April 6, 2017 at 11:13 am

      Paula, that isn’t a bad idea!

      I had a writer friend who did just what you suggested. He sent the client the entire email string, highlighting the parts where the client asked for exactly what he’d delivered. She still denied it and told him to rewrite it.

      That’s when you cut bait. Right there. And you expect payment for delivering per the original assignment.