So you have a new client. Depending on where you work, you’ve most likely read through their onboarding material, possibly met with or spoken with them and researched them and their product. You should be good to go, right? Sure. Assuming their onboarding responses were thorough; you were lucky enough to speak with them, they were super forthcoming, enlightening and not pressed for time; and the web was chock-full of great pertinent info.
And it’s positively dreamy when that’s the way it goes down, but all content writers have to be prepared to occasionally make due with less. Or much less.
Assuming you have an excellent onboarding document and the client poured forth generously, this is where you’re getting the grist for everything you ever write about this company. We’re talking mission, goals, target audience, avatar, value proposition, pain points, competition, etc. (If you have a lousy onboarding doc, well, that’s a whole nother blog.)
What you learn here should be mulled over, cogitated upon and pondered. Now you know how the client sees themselves, what they would like potential customers to see, how they plan to win and what might stand in their way. As you write, these elements should be ever-present in your mind and command the tenor of what you say.
Remember, a client who has given detailed answers to onboarding questions has a very clear idea of how they’d like to be represented. Pay close attention and be sure to follow the path they’ve laid. Although they’ll be sure to appreciate skilled, thoughtful writing, they may be less enamored of creative flourishes or seeing things from a “writer’s perspective”.
If you’re the type who has a lot of perspectives and suffers at times from feeling like just a hired gun, you might actually enjoy a client whose onboarding answers are terse at best. Not every successful business owner is a master communicator, and they may be in need of some real assistance in that area. If they’re amenable to your ideas and style, you might be able to get creative and have some fun.
Much more than onboarding, this process can be a real crapshoot. Written answers to onboarding questions require a client to sit down and give real thought to what they’re saying. Not everyone (me included) communicates as effectively in person or on the phone.
Some clients are naturally loquacious and have a real gift for verbal expression and clarity. It’s not only a pleasure, but a necessity, to listen more than you talk in these cases. Whether in person or on the phone, let them know through nods or brief verbal cues that you’re taking everything in. Take copious notes, ask questions when necessary, but keep interruptions to a minimum.
Middle-of-the-road clients, in terms of meeting, are more conversational. While they are pretty good at giving you an overview of what they’re about, you might need to lead them a bit and ask more questions. Also, they might have questions for you, especially if they’re new to the process. Once they have a clear idea of what you need, they are usually great at filling in the blanks.
Occasionally, you’ll get a client who is always extremely busy or just isn’t fond of discourse. Right away, it’s always a good idea to mentally give these people a break. Depending on the client’s workload or where they’re at in terms of business building, they could be under a tremendous amount of pressure. Or maybe they’re shy, having a bad day, distracted, etc. Try to assign a non-offensive rationale to behavior that might seem off-putting and never take anything personally. Just have a good list of comprehensive, concise questions at the ready and challenge yourself to get as much as you can.
Getting to speak with a client should afford you a deeper understanding of what you’ve already gleaned from the onboarding process. It’s not only a great time for clarification, but it gives you a sharper sense of who they are and how that should be reflected when you speak for them. One goal I have when meeting new clients is to find three things: something to like, something to admire and something to respect. It’s usually not hard and, once you’ve defined what those things are in your mind, it shows in your writing.
Whether you get lucky with web research really depends on the topic. There is almost too much information regarding some industries and barely any on others. Of course, the client should always be your core source and anything you find online should only reinforce what they’ve said.
When looking for facts, always stick to reputable, accredited or industry-affiliated websites. However, it doesn’t hurt to look at all the info out there, even if it’s negative or false. Once you’ve gathered up the criticisms and misconceptions, you can begin to knock them down, point-by-point, before you even start to write.
If there just isn’t much out there regarding your topic, or if what you found is confusing, you’re going to have to rely more heavily on your client. Most clients are more than OK with follow-up questions or clarifications, but in the case of busy or reluctant clients, it’s good to approach them somewhat apologetically and let them know your predicament. More often than not, they’ll feel for you and be glad to help out.
Overall, meeting and learning about new clients is a pleasant, interesting experience. At its best, it can be fun and at its worst, it’s up to you to shrug off any feelings of injury and turn it into a personal challenge. The thing to take away is that every client has something to teach and each new encounter will make you a smarter, better, more intuitive content writer.