No Thanks: Two Words Every Writer Needs

This isn’t a story about good guys and bad guys; it’s not even a story about right and wrong. It’s a story about values, being honest with yourself, and the willingness to admit when something just doesn’t feel right.

If you’re a ghostwriter, copywriter, or editor, you’ve probably taken on more than one client who wasn’t the greatest fit for you—and if you’re just getting into the business, the in-the-moment, omg-I-have-to-pay-the-rent temptation to do so will be compelling.

This isn’t a business with steady paychecks. There’s no predictable income. And so, when someone contacts you to take on a project, you’re default answer is, “Yes. When can I start?”

Slow down there, cowboy. Before you accept that offer, I implore you to have a conversation that may sting in the present, but that will push you toward a future graced with a steady flow of [quality] earning potential. You see, when the clients you choose are great fits for the type of business you’re choosing to run, communications are clear, your work is appreciated, you get quality referrals, you feel fulfilled every night and motivated to get to work every morning.

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Here is the checklist that I use when opening conversation with a potential client, to determine if I can be of maximum benefit to him or her (and likewise, of course):

  • Take a close look at the initial contact message or email. If it’s filled with grammatical and punctuation errors, this person will not be a great fit for you. I know, this seems counter-intuitive. Isn’t this the type of person who needs you the most? And who will rely on you to keep them on the right path? NO. This is a person who has no regard for language, and will therefore have no regard for the quality of your work. In my experience, the people who have the lowest appreciation levels for language correctness (even if through no fault of their own) are the quickest to criticize without foundation. So if you’re a writer—especially one with a militant respect for literary precision—avoid clients with bad grammar.
  • Ask for a link to his or her website. This will be a technical exercise, as well as a gut-feel one. Does the content appeal to your sensibilities? Does it align with your areas of expertise, past writing experiences, or with an area you’d like to break into? It the content well-written? And if not, has the potential client expressed dissatisfaction with its quality. If the person contacting you takes pride in a poorly written website, steer clear. Likewise, if the material does not appeal to you, do both of you a favor and graciously decline.
  • Know your values, and draw parallels. You have a set of personal and/or corporate values upon which you’ve built your business (or on which you plan to build your business). These are the credentials you should be using to hand-pick clients. If your top values include precision, humor, timeliness, or honesty, then I recommend choosing clients with those same values. Not only will they recognize their values in you, and feel drawn to and vested in your work, you will enjoy working with someone who shares your worldview—or at least part of it. Look for key words that hint at values in their communications with you. Include hints at your values, and see how they respond. Use early interactions like a first date, in order to decide if you can “live” with this person for what could be an extended period of time.
  • Note response times. Are you the kind of writer who lives and moves by deadlines? Or are you in favor of a world that includes more lenience? Note how quickly the potential client returns phone calls and emails, and how he or she responds to your timeliness (or lack thereof). This will be an indicator to how well timelines will flow when projects are in full motion.
  • Consider past interactions and trust your instincts. This is a business that’s highly reliant upon networking; and quite often, we know (or have worked alongside) the people who are contacting us. If you were not impressed by this person’s work ethic or work quality through past projects, politely decline and move on. Remember, the best indicator of future circumstances are past events. To believe that someone will work differently because you’re playing a bigger role in their day is just folly.

Not every potential client is sold on YOU. Some are simply contacting you to ascertain your capabilities—to see if you’re a good fit for their project. Keep this in mind as you interact. And no matter your impression, always demonstrate professionalism that befits your business. Accept projects with gratitude, and show that same gratitude when politely declining due to lack of expertise, a maxed-out workload, or a conflict of views. You may also wish to offer access to your network by recommending a writer who may be better suited to the project. Goodwill never goes out of style, and will always open doors for referrals and the best kind of chatter about you.

Have you found other methods useful in hand-picking clients? Do have a story about a client interaction to share? Or a question about choosing clients? If so, please comment below.

Looking for more advice on how to get started (or to improve) your ghostwriting, copywriting, or editing career? Need more tips for saying “No Thanks”? Subscribe to this blog, like my Facebook page, or contact me for more on how you can make a living with a few of our favorite things: WORDS.

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