4 tips to prepare you to write for a new client
Written by Christopher Gillespie, Find A Way Media
Make a fresh impression
So you’ve landed a new writing client, the contract is signed and you’re ready to embark. Problem is, where do you start?
The pressure is now certifiably on. First projects are first impressions and it’s critical to knock this one out of the park. It will set the tone for all future interactions and if highly successful, it will lead to more work.
In preparation, do as Abraham Lincoln advised: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I’ll spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Sharpen your pen by conducting deep, thoughtful research on your client.
4 things to do when preparing to write for a new client:
1. Shut up and listen
I was once hired on as the manager for a restaurant in downtown San Francisco. As the youngest manager on the team, I felt I had a lot to prove and was a consequent whirlwind of activity. I was the new sheriff in town and was determined to make change. On my second week, the head chef, an agreeable woman named Patty, quietly gifted me a book called The First 90 Days. Its advice? For the first ninety days in any new role, don’t say anything. Not a word more than you have to. Just observe, take it all in, and try to relax. It couldn’t have been a more prescient recommendation.
For each fault I had initially found with the restaurant, there existed a good reason. The cabal of tight-knit servers, the dingy atmosphere, the surly line cooks, everything that seemed non-standard—they weren’t actually problems. In fact, they were the beating heart of what made patrons love this place. They gave it character. It was I who had to learn to adjust, and this prevented me from tearing it all down before I truly understood it.
When starting with a new writing client, I always have this in mind. You may not have ninety days to give, but take the time to truly understand what preceded you. Interview whoever you can, read what has been written, sit through their webinars, and fight the urge to shout ‘that’s now how I’d do things!’ Instead, ask yourself why they might have have done it this way. Any changes you make following this are more likely to be the right ones.
2. Ask the client to paint the target
Before you go about trying to exceed any expectations, make sure that there are any. I have found that many clients do not know what they want, and only know that their content doesn’t perform well or are simply unsatisfied with their current style. They're hoping that as a professional writer, you'll have a magic-bullet solution, and they’ll likely give you free reign to implement it.
Unfortunately, this is a trap because they’re putting you in charge of hitting an invisible target. You’ll work hard to develop samples for them to which they can simply say, ‘that’s not what I meant,’ or ‘that’s not really what I was looking for.’
Now you’re asking yourself: 'But if you knew what you wanted, why didn’t you just tell me?’ It’s because they only developed a clearer idea after seeing your work which forced them to think it through more deeply. Save yourself the effort and ask them to do this up-front. Ask them to annotate their current content and highlight things they like and don’t like, and to make notes of why. See if they can locate examples of other people’s websites or articles that they think do a great job, whether for tone, style, or sources. Some may even be more comfortable making a mood board with visuals, video, or sounds that they feel embody what they desire.
In having to put their thoughts on proverbial paper, they’ll paint the target so you can get it right the first time.
3. Get to know your client as a person
With an understanding of what your client wants, you should get to know them as an individual. We’re all influenced by our surroundings and people, for example, who have grown up in the tech industry will think very differently about writing than do people who come from, say, shipping or fashion. They’ll have different expectations and styles. An academic might want tighter, fact-based prose, while someone with less of a writing foundation might lean on you for expertise and leave it up to you.
You can get a lot of information from the company’s LinkedIn or their mission statement, but the fastest and easiest place to go is right to the source: ask them yourself. Who would have guessed, right? Take the time during your introductory call to really meet them and learn what’s important to them.
4. Shop the competition
Finally, immerse yourself in your client’s industry. I find that I prefer to do this rather blindly—I’ve learned that I don’t know what I don’t know, or even what questions to ask—so I simply find articles after Googling the client’s search terms. I intentionally read both high and low quality: I read articles on Fast Company, Inc, Entrepreneur for more authoritative advice and I read opinion pieces, blog posts, and Business2Community for more unfiltered thoughts. This exposes me to a random smattering of the industry insiders' terminology, thought patterns, hopes, needs, and wants. This is how I’ve learned to call the customers of healthcare companies ‘patients,’ that security software companies think redundancy is a good thing, and that credit unions dislike being associated with (or mistaken for) banks. Take notes on the best of what you find, develop some questions, and further your education from here.
Putting it all together
Simply by virtue of having taken the time to immerse yourself in your client’s way of doing things—walking in their shoes, so to speak—you’ll stand out from the competition. By having the background you need to write from your client’s perspective as an industry insider, your writing should come much more naturally than if you go into it blindly. Do this thoughtfully and you’ll cement a powerful first impression.