What's on the iPod: Moondance by Van Morrison
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I'm still sitting in my kitchen, still surrounded by big furniture, still smelling the polyurethane on the floors, still working from my MS Surface (which I will shamelessly plug without Microsoft's prompting because I just love the damn thing). As we prepare for weddings and parties, it occurs to me that the preparations make us feel a lot more confident in how we welcome guests.
It can work that way for writers, too. We writers are generally quite happy to remain behind the scenes, do the work, and collect the checks. However, the freelance writing career demands a little more of us. We have to know how to market ourselves. That's where we run into trouble. Are we taking too little money, presenting ourselves appropriately, making sure we convey our value through our words and actions even before we're hired?
That's where preparation can help. Here's what I do to prepare for a client call:
Research. Know their business. Even more, know what subsidiaries they have, who their customers are, and what they've done to reach those customers. You may not find out all this, but that just means you have something to ask them.
Prepare questions. Your research will lead you to a good starting point, but make sure you're asking smart questions -- who is your ideal customer; what message do you want to convey/want customers to walk away with; what is your intended goal; what marketing have you done previously and what has been the result; how can I best help you, in your opinion? These are just a few questions, but they put the emphasis on your clients, not on your resume. Your background only matters insofar as it shows you can handle the job.
Keep the focus on the client. It really isn't about you -- it's about their project. Yes, they'll ask you questions. Yes, you should answer them. But you should remember that their goal isn't to see how educated or special you are -- only if you're a good fit. Knowing their business ahead of time can help you locate those samples or the words that will tell them what they want to hear.
Write your story. There are some questions almost every client will ask you. Instead of once again bumbling through the answer, write it down and recite it (naturally as possible, of course). For example, when the client says "Tell me a little about your background" (and they will), you can say "Well, I've been a small business owner now for about 15 years, and I specialize in communications pieces targeting insurance and finance" or whatever your story is.
Say your price without apology. I can't say that stating my rate to a client doesn't give me a little bit of anxiety. But I've learned, as you should, that not every client can afford that rate. That doesn't make the rate wrong--- just wrong for that client. State your rate --"I charge $125 per hour" and clam up. Don't be tempted to throw in "But it's negotiable" because then it will be. If you've done your homework and chosen a good client, they'll pay your rate without question. And it will be fair for both of you.
Let go and move on. You won't win over every client. In fact, you'll probably have one buyer out of every 20 inquiries. That's fine. You'll check in again to make sure it's not a sale, and you'll keep them on your recurring marketing list, but if they say no, you'll not blame yourself.
Writers, how do you prepare to talk with clients? How has that preparation helped you in boosting your confidence or improving your professional demeanor?