Ask any run of the mill writer, and they’ll give you a textbook tip: know your audience.
You do have to know your audience. Are you writing for a consumer? For the old school newspaper reader? Are you writing for a teenager battling depression? Knowing who your words will reach is certainly important.
But we’re getting paid for this.
The homeowner who’s considering installing a new HVAC system isn’t writing your paycheck. Your client is. With that said, the next step to creating quality content is obvious.
Know your client.
Don’t Be a Know It All
It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been writing for three days or three decades. There’s a good chance you’re a better writer than your client. After all, he hired you for a reason.
Clients hire freelance writers with the expectation that those writers will offer expertise. But it’s easy for a freelancer to get carried away.
Remember that no matter how much you think you know, your client knows more.
Let’s say you’ve just signed a contract with someone who manufactures quartz countertops. He wants a blog post about why it’s best to work with the manufacturer rather than a reseller.
You come up with ten dang good reasons why it’s better. Lower overhead, eliminate the middle man, you name it.
He responds back that no, that’s not right. The benefits he wants you to outline include things like knowing where the product is sourced.
You have no room to disagree.
You’ve got to listen.
Your client is telling you what he wants his customer base to know, and it’s your job as his writer to put those ideas into words. Which brings us to…
Read Your Client’s Mind
Anyone who can form a sentence can also bang out a blog post on the finer points of sungazing. But in order to know what your client wants you to impart, you’ve got to do a little mind-reading.
I’ve been fortunate to have worked with some of the most kind and, well, loquacious clients you could imagine. But there have been one or two who were challenging.
Just a few days ago, I was hired for a sample article for a skin care company. On Friday of last week, the owner and I spoke about her requirements for the job. She was very adamant that her writer know how to make an article rank in the search engines. I sent her four or five examples of articles I’ve written which have ranked first of second result in Google searches.
She hired me, then sent me an article brief. Of course, it was the weekend and while I was working, she was not. The brief did not specify what, exactly, she wanted to rank for. Nor did she specify the length of the article.
So I guessed.
Based on the conversation that she and I had held on Friday, I made assumptions about both the keyword and the length.
You’re going to have to do that from time to time as well. You’ll also need to read your clients’ minds about social media needs, business outreach, marketing strategies and a host of other requirements. It takes practice, but you’ll learn to get to know your client.
(If you’re wondering, I was right about the search term, but wrong about the length. I based the length on examples she’d sent, but she wanted something much, much shorter!)
The Freelancer/Client Slow Dance
Beginning work with a client is like a high school dance. The initial approach may be enthusiastic, but it’s more often awkward.
You’ll spend a few minutes getting to know each other, then one of you will ask the other to dance.
At first, you’ll sway awkwardly, barely touching and trying to determine where the lines are drawn. Should I put my hand on her back? Should I look him in the eye?
Oh gosh, I don’t know! This is high school and everything’s so confusing!
But as you stumble back and forth, you eventually stop tripping over each others’ feet. You’ll begin to feel more comfortable with each other, and before you know it, your dance card is full.
Don’t spend too much time tripping over your client. Learn to read his cues – is he terse and abrupt? You should probably keep it professional. Just do what the man asks.
Is he friendly, and sharing stories about his fishing trip last week? Let your guard down just a bit. Be professional, but feel free to relax a bit. These are the clients you want – they’ll be open to your suggestions, and you can always count on them for ongoing work.
What does that have to do with creating quality content? When you know your client, you’ll know what he wants. It will become easier and easier to become indispensable to your client, pleasing both him and, ultimately, your reader.