By Jo Johnston
1. What services do you need?
Hands up who’s had a potential client asking for proofreading when they meant rewriting, or editing which later turned into needing a project manager to liaise with stakeholders?
Phew … glad it’s not just me.
Most of us editors can share funnies or horror stories about how a client has misunderstood something key during the briefing stage, or how we, as the supplier, may have failed to clarify something that later is glaringly obvious.
So if you offer more than one type of editorial service, double-check that your potential client understands the differences between them.
The definitions of copyediting and proofreading can vary from company to company, so don’t assume that just because the client is a communications professional, the definitions they use are identical to yours. And make sure you have the brief in writing in email or confirmed in a phone call, so that you can iron out any creases in understanding.
Takeaway: Include an outline of service definitions on your website or create a PDF handout to share at the briefing stage.
2. What’s the deadline and delivery method?
Some clients assume that you’re sitting around twiddling your thumbs waiting for their work to land; others understand that you may be juggling a range of projects.
So a vital first question is, ‘when’s the delivery date?’ Even if your client doesn’t have a date in mind, set one yourself. This gives you a goal to work towards and you can schedule in other work around the project – just as you would if you were working in-house.
Everyone has working preferences. So what format do they want to work in – Google Docs, Word, or PDFs? How do they want any amendments shown – as tracked changes and comments or edited directly in the document?
‘Assume nothing, question everything’ is the mindset you need when starting a new project.
Takeaway: Make sure that details such as the deadline or preferred way of working are listed in your project proposal.
3. Will you accept my rate and working terms?
Some freelancers say that they lack confidence when talking about the bees and honey, and let’s not even mention working terms.
It may be tempting to leave this bit until last, after you’ve established a good client relationship first, but don’t leave it so late that you’ve spent bags of time discussing the brief or even visited head office, only to find out that they won’t budge on your price and won’t sign your contract.
Being clear about prices upfront on your website could lead to an increase in higher quality clients. It may help to get rid of time-wasters or those trying to ‘pick your brains’.
Takeaway: State your rates and terms clearly and in writing, either on your website or project proposal.
4. Can you tell me about your target audience or how you will use the resource?
Most of the time, a copyeditor or proofreader is part of a much wider project team. You may have been drafted in at the last hurdle to make sure everything’s tickety-boo, or right from the beginning – as is often the case with developmental or substantive editing.
Whatever stage the project is at, you need to be brought up to speed. Find out who the project is aimed at and how it will be used. It will help you to do a much better job if you know why you’re doing it.
And don’t forget to include research within your project proposal – it’s perfectly OK to charge for background reading and familiarisation.
Takeaway: Ask to see a project brief, terms of reference or target audience research.
5. Can you give me feedback once the job is complete?
The job’s done and dusted. A week, a fortnight … darn it … a few months go by, and you’ve heard diddly-squat from your client.
One way to avoid this state of paralysis is by saying at the briefing stage that you’d like feedback once the work is complete. You may not feel you need this kind of reassurance, but you do need to make sure that the project is finished and won’t bounce back in six months.
Some clients are up against print deadlines and may not have time to respond – you’re not an employee after all. So it’s worth keeping all this in mind and not taking silence personally.
Takeaway: Get client feedback on the radar. It paves the way for you to ask for a testimonial in the future.
What are your key questions when liaising with a potential client? Let us know how you go about starting a project.
CIEP Professional Member Jo Johnston has been working as a copywriter and editor for 20 years. She started off in the public and non-profit sectors, but now helps to finesse the marketing work of all business types from ambitious start-ups to global giants. As part of its social media team, Jo posts professionally as the CIEP on LinkedIn. Elsewhere on social media, she unashamedly shares countless photos of her beloved Labrador.
Photo credits: Trees – Evan Dennis, Laptop – Markus Spiske, both on Unsplash; Mabel the Labrador – Jo Johnston.
Proofread by Alice McBrearty, Entry-Level Member.
Posted by Abi Saffrey, CIEP blog coordinator.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.