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Freelance Writers: Here’s a Step-by-Step Plan to Follow with New Clients to Ensure Long-Term Success

The following is a guest post by Laura Pennington.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in more than four years of freelancing as a writer for clients, and hiring digital help for others, it’s the power of directions. Directions can make or break your relationship with a client and it’s so powerful to start off on the right foot for a few reasons:

  • It shows the client you’re a true professional, concerned about getting things right the first time around
  • It gives you a chance to get on the same page regarding expectations and what’s included
  • It minimizes arguments, edits, or total rewrites down the road

Client Onboarding: What It Is & Why You Need to Know about It

And this, in a nutshell is called “client onboarding.”

It lets clients know what they can expect from you, and what you need from them in order to be successful as an outsourced member of their content-providing team.

Why the Details Matter with Your New Freelance Writing Client

The excitement of bringing on a new client should not overpower the need to get all the facts straight. This might even require a quick 20-minute phone call if there are unclear points.

It’s much better to hop on the phone sometimes than it is to send five emails back and forth to clarClient Onboarding Explainedify something. There’s a big difference between a crystal clear client and someone who doesn’t know what they want.

Consider these two requests you might receive from different clients:

  • “I’m looking for four 500-word blog posts, each featuring some variation of Charlotte car mechanic as the keyword.

    We’re looking for titles like ‘five sounds you should never ignore in your car’ with strong calls to action that prompt them to call us directly at 800-555-5555. Please use sub-headers and bullet points, and list the keyword at the top of the document.”

  • “I need some blogs about car repair.”

The first client has given you nearly everything you need to deliver. The second client, though, has left far too much room for error. The odds of submitting exactly what they’re looking for are not high. There’s a chance that this second client truly doesn’t know what they want, but it’s still in your best interests to check and make sure.

How to Use an Intake Form to Gather Information Quickly

I recommend using a client intake form to gather necessary info if you don’t receive it immediately. Google Forms allows you to capture this seamlessly if you create a form once and simply direct your clients to it.

It gives you a written record of what was submitted so there’s no confusion down the line- i.e. the client saying “I thought I told you we wanted 700 words, not 500.”

Questions Every Freelance Writer Should Ask Newly Onboarded Clients

Here are some things I recommend finding out from the client in written form before you get started writing:

  • Chosen keywords, if any
  • How often are keywords to be used?
  • Are there any secondary keywords the client wants to see sprinkled in there as well?
  • Do you need to include links to other blog posts on that client’s site? If so, how many?
  • Rules on titles (i.e. some clients want only the first word capitalized and others might ask for titles 50 characters or less)
  • How many research links are to be included?
  • Rules on spacing the text (some clients request text that is no longer than 3-4 lines per paragraph, as an example)
  • Whether the client wants research links included as hyperlinks or footnotes
  • What is the call to action? A phone call? Starting a chat with the company online? Sending an email? Completing a survey?

Now, your client might be totally overwhelmed by all these questions if they know nothing about SEO. You can usually tell this in your initial conversation with the client. In this situation, I usually respond in this way:

“I’m going to use SEO industry best practices to write your piece.”

That way you don’t have to ask the client questions about keyword density or other confusing concepts if they truly have no idea. If you ask the keywords question and they don’t know much more than that, trust your gut. You knowing what you’re doing can take some of the pressure off your client and give them the peace of mind that they’re working with a pro.

Clarify expectations upfront so you don’t spend time rewriting a piece and going back and forth over stylistic details. Many clients don’t drill down this far into the nitty-gritty, but it’s better to know this ahead of time.

If you have more than a few clients like this, I recommend using a spreadsheet or instructions document where you explain what’s required. I keep all login details, client instructions, and past topics on file so I can ensure that I follow the rules each time and so that I don’t duplicate topics.

Feel the Need to Clone Yourself as a Freelance Writer?

If you’re noticing too much back and forth with your new clients, use this process to help save time. In short, an effective client onboarding process will allow you to “clone yourself,” as discussed in the video below. And isn’t that the dream of practically every freelance writer! 🙂

Up Next: Next time I’ll be talking about finding your freelance sweet spot with your client load so you can avoid burnout. Stay tuned!

About the Author: Laura Pennington is a former inner city teacher and corporate employee who fled the grind in 2012 to work at home. Since then, she’s focused on SEO content for law firms and insurance agencies, writing everything from ebooks to blogs to video scripts. She now blogs at www.sixfigurewritingsecrets.com.

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    1. That’s why client onboarding is always a part of interviewing process with my clients.. I always let them know what they should expect…
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