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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Writers Worth: The Prepared Writer

What's on the iPod: Moondance by Van Morrison

Don't forget: leave your comment on any of this month's posts and you could win one of three prizes! Just comment using your real name (no anonymous comments or spam-laced comments will be eligible).

What a great month of advice this has been! Thanks to all the guest posters who have contributed to helping you improve your awareness and your business savvy.

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?

8 comments:

Cathy Miller said...

When you think about it, we have been preparing our whole lives for those talks. Even a newbie has had life experiences that he or she can pull from. Meeting someone for the first time, learning a new subject, doing something you've never done before.

If we put ourselves in the shoes of our clients, we'll find we share common ground. If we're having a tough time at the thought of discussing rates, think back to when you tried that something new. Maybe you shined the first time. Perhaps it took some practice to succeed. Use that. Practice scenarios that include giving your rate.

Learn from the past and explore your future. Enough pontificating. ;-)

Lori said...

Great insight, Cathy. We have been preparing all along. :)

Eileen said...

Perfect timing on this post, with a reminder to know their business. I'm making phone calls today to follow up on LOI's -- something I have never done. I would have forgotten to look at their websites one last time before placing the call.

A good prospect or client call is one in which you ask questions with the goal of 1) seeing if they have a problem you can solve and 2) learning how you might solve it for them. Then you shut up and listen. It will very quickly become apparent as to whether or not you're the right fit. And if you're not, that's okay; better to find it out now.

Paula said...

Not surprisingly, I'm better at communicating with clients via email. I'm not the most eloquent of speakers.

Eileen, thanks for the reminder. I have some LOIs to follow up on. But I've got a three things due by the end of the week, so I might not be able to get to it until the weekend since I'll be using regular mail.

Lori said...

"Shut up and listen..." GREAT advice, Eileen!

Good luck on the follow-up calls! Let me know how it goes.

Nor am I, Paula. Worse, I share office space with my husband on occasion. It's NOT easy to interview someone or have a client call when you have a second audience!

Ashley said...

I'm better at email too, Paula, mainly, I think, because I'm a writer and not a public speaker! Though if I have advance notice (I'll talk to you at 10 tomorrow), I'm better off than getting a call out of the blue. Not that I do badly, it's just that I feel less prepared. I suppose it's our job to ALWAYS be prepared with statements about our own business, at the very least. But if I've sent an LOI in the past month, I try to remember at least a little something about that potential client.

Lori said...

Ashley, so am I. Oddly, the times I do talk to clients on the phone, I'm finding myself more relaxed. I put the onus on fulfilling a need they have, not on impressing them. Makes a huge difference in how I behave. :)

Paula said...

Exactly, Ashley. I use the time to make a list of talking points...not that I ever stick to them.

Thankfully I've never felt a burning need to impress anyone, or I'm sure my tongue-tied-ness would be worse.

(I always laugh when a friend critiques things and people with, "....didn't impress me at all." Um, maybe because they weren't trying to impress her?)

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