How to Screen New Freelance Writing Clients

Woman with a question mark above her head
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A client questionnaire is a set of questions that a freelance writer can use for communicating with potential freelance clients (whether those clients are international, ones you've found at conferences or other kinds of clients). Your question set can be in the form of a shared formal document that you make available to potential clients, or it can simply be a tool that you store on your desktop and use in your phone conversations.

Why Should a Freelance Writer Use a Client Questionnaire?

Using a client questionnaire to ask the right questions of your potential freelance clients has many advantages. It can help you to be purposeful in the first few communications, making sure that you're not wasting your time talking in circles or writing/reading without a point. It will make you appear well-prepared and professional, in that it often asks questions which come from experience and expertise. It may help you to avoid future client problems, because it clarifies expectations, roles and wants for both the freelance writer and the client. Lastly, having a client questionnaire prepped and ready-to-go might also help you to alleviate any shyness, which is a top complaint when it comes to phone and face-to-face work for new freelance writers.

How to Use the Client Questions

First, the questions can be used as a screening tool, to help the freelance writer to choose and sort clients who are actually ready to buy services. These clients will be receptive to your questions and will have already considered many of the answers. Those who are not ready to commit will be hesitant, unclear, and may even realize that your business is not here for tire-kicking, time-wasting, and "feeling out." Or, if a working relationship is already established or on the way to becoming established, it may be used to focus it and to solidify the new team. Use the client questions on the phone informally, or send them in an email for a more formal experience. 

How Freelance Writers Can Establish Their Client Screening Tool

Over the years, writers develop and perfect questionnaires that they can keep for any moment, which makes it easy to refer to when they get calls or to individualize and send out to clients who contact them virtually.

In addition to this sample client screening tool, one of the best ones out there is Laura Spencer's over at Freelance Folder.

In order to establish your screening questions, start with a skeleton/outline, perhaps based on these examples. Do a "brain dump" of all the questions that come to mind when you are first approached by a client looking to secure your freelance writing services, or first see a freelance writing job posted. Brainstorm what you need to/want to know, and pop it into a long list.

Then, sort your questions into categories (which will help you to pinpoint the info you need for each individual client, and will help the client not to be scared by the excessive length and text!). After that, think of it as a soft document. You'll find reasons to play with it and perfect it, especially if you run into troubles.

For example, if you have a particularly hard time with a project, and think "I never want a client like THAT again," consider some ways that you could have headed off the problems you encountered, and tailor your new questionnaire to include those issues. Tailoring this document to your needs in this way is your best bet.

How to Present the Client Questionnaire

Your questionnaire could conceivably live on your freelance writer website. One downfall is that it may appear daunting to your clients upon first sight. Never give your clients "homework!" It's your job to make their job easier, and you should stress that.

Another way to deal with this issue is by sorting the questions. In these sample client questions, you'll notice that we've included separate focus questions for each of the three main services (freelance writing, editing, and translation). You should only give your client the questions that pertain to them. In addition, you should always stress that the document should not be taken as "required." Again, the main goal is to make their lives easier, not harder. Even if your tool is available/shown to the client via your freelance writing website, most clients will prefer to have the ensuing discussions in person or over the phone. Use it as a script, takes notes and then knock their socks off!

Hopefully this article and the associated sample client screening questions give you yet another tool to keep in your freelance writing arsenal.