Let’s be real about what it means to have a successful freelance writing career.
Aside from some excellent writing chops, pro-level customer service skills and a decent connection to the internet, you’re going to need at least a bit of luck and some well-defined hustle muscles. Work goes fast in the freelance world, and the early bird gets a better chance at landing the potential client.
But scooping up freelance writing jobs like you’re the Very Hungry Caterpillar out for a meal and chomping through them with equal haste is a good way to get kicked off content platforms and develop a rep for poor freelance work.
One of the most important freelance writing tips I can share is to slow down and ensure you understand what the client wants before you start writing.
Taking just a few extra minutes during the freelance shuffle can help you get more work from that client and land higher paying clients — both of which help increase your potential hourly rate and make it more likely you’ll transition from a hungry freelance caterpillar to a butterfly writer with a known brand and the ability to be choosier about what work you ingest.
Yes, understanding what your client wants isn’t always easy. Sometimes it seems they aren’t even sure about what they want. Other times, they’re not great at communicating it. But by ensuring you have the best possible answers to the ten questions below, you can wow more clients with on-point content.
Always read client instructions and briefs looking for these answers, and then reach out to the client or project manager for clarification on anything that’s missing.
1. What Is the Target Audience?
The target audience refers to the people the client wants to read the content.
Your client may not have a brand persona named and formalized, but they probably know who they are reaching out to. Look for demographic descriptors such as gender, age range, income level, geographic location, career, education level and interests. You may be able to figure this information out by looking at the client’s website and other content if it’s not in the instructions.
The target audience should inform you about how to write the piece. If you’re writing about a medical device for doctors, the information, terms and voice you use should be different than if you’re writing about a medical device for the patients likely to need it.
2. What Is the Client’s Value Proposition?
If you’re writing marketing copy, especially local or city pages, knowing who you’re talking to is important, but it’s equally important to know how you should position the client’s business, products or services.
Let’s say you’re writing product descriptions for a clothing store. It may position the business in one of many ways:
- Low price
- Extensive inventory
- High quality
- Special sizes (big and tall, petite, etc.)
- All-natural fabrics
Unless the client has chosen “low price” as its value proposition, you certainly wouldn’t try to sell the consumer on how cheap the clothing is.
3. What Is the Client’s Brand Voice?
Brand voice is the overall tone of content and the way the brand speaks to its audience. Voice can be funny, irreverent, serious, professional or conversational, among many other things. But it should not be the same for each brand.
Look for guidance about voice in the client’s instructions and read some content on the client’s website to get a feel for the right tone. If you’re still not sure what voice to use, ask the client to send you some links to content with voice and tone that they like — some clients are better at showing than telling.
CoSchedule does a great job exploring brand voice in their marketing strategy course.
4. Where Does the Piece Fit In the Sales Funnel?
If you’re writing any type of marketing or sales content, you need to know where it falls in the customer journey. Does the client want a blog post that answers questions for people who are just beginning to consider the topic, or are you writing a landing page meant to convert consumers who are ready to make a buying decision? The information you cover and the way you do it should be different depending on the answer to that question.
5. What Is the Objective of the Piece?
You also need to know what the client wants to accomplish with the content. Some reasons clients might publish content include:
- Search engine optimization (SEO), which means they want SEO content specifically for its performance in the SERPs
- Conversion, which means they want to convince consumers to take a specific action
- Positioning themselves as a leader, which means they want thought-leadership and authority content
- Creating a brand culture, which means they want content that encourages sharing and promotes the mission, vision and values of the brand
If you don’t know what the client wants to accomplish, you can’t help them do it.
6. Should You Include Calls to Action?
Whether you’re writing blog posts, product descriptions or landing pages, make sure you know whether the client wants a call to action included. It’s not always a sure bet: clients who are jockeying for authority or brand culture may not want to include anything that looks like a sales tactic in content.
If you’re asking about CTAs, go ahead and clarify these important details before you start writing:
- What is the offer?
- What does the client want consumers to do (buy something, call, click to another page, sign up for something, etc.)?
- Does the client have a specific page to link to in mind?
- Where should the CTA go?
7. What’s the Client’s Preference on Point of View?
This seems like a small matter, but if you get it wrong, the revision is a tedious headache. Make sure you know whether the client wants you to write in first person (I/we), second person (you) or third person (them/they).
It’s also a good idea to ensure you know how the client refers to itself, especially if there are several ways to write the company name.
8. What Searcher Intent Does the Client Want to Satisfy Most?
When people turn to the internet, they typically do so with a specific intent. Common intents include:
- Want to go. Searchers want to go somewhere and are looking for directions or ideas online. Example: “Mexican restaurants near me“
- Want to do. Searchers want to know how or where they can do something. Example: “Where can I get a massage?” or “How can I make a chocolate cake?“
- Want to know. Searchers are looking for specific information. Example: “What is diabetes?“
- Want to buy. Searchers are shopping online or preparing to shop online. Example: “Honda Civics,” “Best instant pot deals” or “Nike shoes near me“
Content that answers the right intent can boost a site in the search engines and increase conversion rates — all of which are good for your client.
9. Does the Client Have Style Preferences?
Take a moment to look at the details. Does the client prefer AP style? If the client doesn’t care a great deal about style, make sure you clarify some of the bigger points such as:
- Use of headers and bulleted lists
- Serial comma or no serial comma
- Spelling (American, British, Canadian, Australian English?)
You might also ask about the inclusion of links. Is the client okay with linking out to authority pages? Do they want internal links?
Outside of client guidance, go with best practices, which are:
- Pick a style and stick with it
- Do break up longer pieces with subheadings and bulleted lists
- Link to authority sources if you use a statistic or specific fact
- Internally link if it’s relevant
10. What Is the Scope and Timeline?
Finally, be professional and make sure you understand (and adhere to) client needs. Look for notes about deadlines to ensure you get pieces to clients on time. And if the piece is part of a bigger project that you’ll be working on, ensure you complete tasks in the right order if the client has specified a preference.
When working freelance writing jobs on Crowd Content’s marketplace, you can communicate with clients in each task. Similarly, if working on managed content projects, you can get in touch directly with the in-house project manager.
As with all writing project, be professional and courteous, but don’t be afraid to reach out for clarification. Doing so helps you provide the client exactly what they want, which can result in more work in the future.