One differentiator I see between copywriters at the top of the game versus those that never make it past average is:
The quality of the questions they ask before, during, and after a project.
The crazy part is, most copywriters know they should be doing strategic outreach, structured project management, and consistent reviews...but few actually do it.
Instead, they spend too much time in their own heads. They don’t ask anything of their potential clients, they just accept jobs. They don’t dig deep during projects and deliver work that’s hit-or-miss. And when they do manage to make their clients happy, they don’t consistently turn that satisfaction into value.
Don’t be like that.
You’re going to be hired as an active consultant, solving real problems, creating measurable value, and developing lasting relationships.
All those elements depend on you asking your clients the right questions.
Here’s a breakdown of what you should be looking for at various stages of a project, from qualifying clients and understanding their problems to delivering great value.
Ask the right questions and you’ll find great projects, develop lasting relationships, and deliver measurable value to real businesses.
If you don’t pre-qualify your clients, though, you’re opening yourself up to bad projects that create stress, animosity, and prevent you from doing good work.
Your goal here is to identify potential clients who:
- Have clear goals (and clear reasons for those goals)
- Demonstrate positive communication (friendly, open, and responsive)
- Have experience working with freelancers and copywriters.
Here are some questions you can use to separate great projects from nightmare gigs, while communicating your value and expertise:
“Tell me about your business”
"Tell me about who you serve and how you help them. What is your target customer profile?"
"Is your Monthly Recurring Revenue between $X and $Y?"
“Tell me about your problem”
"What’s your goal for this project? Why is hiring a copywriter the best way to accomplish this goal?"
"How is this issue affecting your business?"
"What’s it costing you? What will it cost you if you don’t address it?"
“Let’s create boundaries and set expectations”
"Ideally, what would the best solution look like? How are you measuring success?"
"What effect will it have on your users? How will they feel about your brand?"
"In order to do this, I’ll need X, Y, Z - sound good?" (ask for the tools you need to deliver, like access to analytics and chat logs, interviews with the sales team and buyers, etc)
"Have you budgeted at least $X for this project?"
(the answers to these questions will set you up for Value Based Pricing).
Great copywriting is all about getting inside a target audience’s head. You’ve got to understand their issues, sell the client’s value, and do all that in your client brand’s voice.
In order to do that, you’ve got to become a great interviewer, qualitative researcher, and overall psychological sleuth. In other words, you should develop your unstructured interview skills.
Your goal at this stage is to:
- Develop a deep understanding of your client’s target audience behavior.
- Deconstruct the psychological and emotional drivers behind that behavior.
- Connect your client’s value with its audience’s identity and issues.
Here are some questions you can use to get in buyers’ heads and create compelling copy:
Onboarding / “Let’s set clear goals, milestones, and roles”
"What are the key metrics we’re going to use to measure success? I suggest metrics A, B, and C."
"In order to keep things streamlined, I need one clear point of contact with your business. Who is my point person?"
"I like to deliver weekly updates and I prefer to communicate via ____. Is this comfortable for you? Let’s make sure our communication is rock solid before we get started."
Quantitative Research / “Let’s look at who your audience is and how they behave”
"What’s your Target Customer Profile? What is this based on?"
"Where do you rank vs your competition for specific keywords?"
"How is your marketing and content strategy performing? What are the strongest and weakest points (with numbers)?"
"What are your strongest and weakest social posts, by engagement?"
Qualitative Research / “Let’s get in your buyers’ heads”
Take each point from the Quantitative Research section and ask "WHY?"
"How do you use (client’s) product? How did you first come across it?"
"What’s the biggest effect this product has on your life / your business?"
"If this product disappeared tomorrow, how would it affect you?"
"Hi (point person), I just wanted to check in and give you an update. We’re X weeks in, and we’ve completed A, B, C. Next up is D. Any questions from your end so far?"
Gathering this information will make your project go much smoother, especially when working with a larger company.
Your relationship with a client shouldn’t end just because a project has been completed.
Great clients are just as hard to find as great freelancers. When a gig goes well, both sides have a vested interest in staying in touch and looking for future opportunities to work together.
Your goal after a project is to:
- Stay fresh in your clients’ minds, keeping yourself on the shortlist for future jobs.
- Actively suggest future jobs that will add even more value for your client.
- Get testimonials and specific referrals.
Here are some questions you can use to keep your relationships fresh, positive, and productive for a long time to come:
"Before starting, we outlined a few measures of success - how do they look?"
"How’s the solution working out for your customers / users / employees? What sort of feedback are you getting?"
"Hi ___, I’m glad we got the chance to work together and achieve (specific result). Would you be willing to write or record a brief testimonial for my site?"
"Hi ___. I’m glad to hear the project had such a positive impact and I’d love to use it as a case study for my audience. Could we set up a brief chat to dive a little deeper into what we did and what happened?"
Following up for future work
"Hi ___, it’s been a while! How’s the project holding up? Are you still seeing positive results? I was thinking about (the project) and I’ve got a few suggestions as to how you can leverage (the results) into even more value:" (You can suggest some logical "next steps" like a case study, an updated content strategy, an ad campaign, etc).
"Hi ___, it’s been X months since we wrapped up the last project. I’m just reaching out to see if you’d like to apply what we did to another part of your business or address an entirely separate issue."
Many people forget that the best source of new business, is your old business.
They already know you.
They already trust you.
They have already experienced your work.
So these post-project questions are a great way to get more business.
Great projects don’t just show up. You’ve got to find great clients and then, together, create a framework to translate deep research into excellent results. Then keep adding value!
In order to do all that, you’ve got to get out of your head and start dealing directly with real people. Ask the right questions and you’ll find clients who help you help them, understand the value you create, and will continue to support you for a long time.
Cheat sheet summary image of all questions:
Dan McDermott - Danmcd.me
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