As a freelance writer, my experience is fortified with nearly 20 years in corporate and agency settings. Today, I am fortunate to fill a niche within companies that need writing assistance outside their normal walls due to downsizing or a preference for outsourcing. Regardless of the “why,” the need for good solid writing remains. So, take heart if you recently lost a job as a corporate writer or you’ve chosen to pursue a freelance career, now is the perfect time to seize opportunities. While every project is different and has its own inherent challenges, I’ve jotted down a few “how to” notes for creating successful experiences once you’ve been presented with an opportunity.
Make sure you have a clear picture of the scope of the project, including a well defined budget, before quoting your price. If your assignment includes editing, ask the client for detailed expectations. Are you strictly editing for word count or are you expected to correct grammar, punctuation, and clarity? (Naturally, if you wrote the original, you shouldn’t have any issues with grammar, punctuation, or clarity!) If you see early on that the project will require more time than first estimated, discuss your concerns with the client immediately and make the necessary adjustments at the start…..instead of at the end when you invoice them for an amount over their budget. Having been on the client side, if a contractor submitted an invoice to me that was over budget without having discussed any issues with me along the way, they were usually placed in my “don’t call again” box. Always be up front with the client, especially where their budget is concerned.
If it’s a multi-faceted project, agree to an initial “test run” to ensure that you’ve estimated your time for each layer accurately. Once upon a time, I worked with an architectural firm that needed assistance with a series of articles highlighting its Top 25 architectural projects for the previous year. The firm designed everything from hospitals to water treatment plants. Since I had no previous experience in the industry, I knew it would take a little extra time to get up to speed with the language and culture. The client and I agreed on a tentative average of five hours per project, at a fixed hourly rate, with the understanding that more complex projects might require more time for research and comprehension. In the end, we discovered that our estimate was pretty accurate. The articles for the “easier” design concepts flowed quickly and could be completed within a couple of hours, while more complex projects required 6 or more hours. In the end, it all evened out and the client was happy, and I was satisfied that I had given each article the appropriate attention and was paid a fair wage.
Discuss with the client their preferred process for submitting finished material. Make sure you are comfortable with the process. Discuss any areas of concern and amend the process if necessary so that it works for both of you. Have a clear understanding of the client’s preferred file format and method of delivery. Do they work on a Mac or PC? Do you need to save files to an older version for compatibility? Does the client want you to submit a rough draft to ensure that you’re on the right track, or do they want a polished piece? (With intricate projects, for your first couple of assignments, it might be helpful to forward a rough draft just to ensure you’re both on the same page.)
Keep a detailed time sheet so that the client knows exactly how you’ve dedicated your time, and how many dollars remain in the budget. If it’s a long term project, you may want to forward your time sheet on a weekly basis, which helps you and the client stay on track. The more complex the project, the more you will appreciate a spreadsheet that keeps a running tally of both hours and budgeted dollars. Excel offers many great templates that allow you to input your start and stop time (in military time) so that you have an accurate record of every minute and penny for each element of your project. The architectural articles involved several steps including formulating interview questions, conducting interviews, refining transcribed notes, and editing for length. In the beginning, it was helpful to enter start/stop times for each aspect to offer a good perspective on proper time allotment. In the end, it was extraordinarily helpful to have a detailed analysis of my time and the client’s money.
Respect your client’s time and always make it a point to thank them for the opportunity. If you want the client to call you again for future projects, tell them … and thank them often throughout the current project. Remember, they called you because they couldn’t fulfill the need within their own organization. Your project is one of many items on the client’s plate. Respect their time, get your work in on time or ahead of schedule, and be true to the budget.
While I enjoyed my time in the corporate world and garnered valuable experience, my career as a freelance writer has been more rewarding than I ever imagined. Though it can be unsettling to negotiate the terms of a new project (especially if it’s a new client), remember that you have a skill that many companies cannot afford to keep in house. Therefore, you have quantifiable value! From the very first day, commit to open and ongoing communication with the client and you will sow the seeds for a successful project and a long term relationship.
Always look for ways to enhance your value in the marketplace; fine tune your inherent strengths and established skills; and be confident in your worth as a freelance professional. Good luck!