R is for Research

Illustration by Ramiro Roman.

Illustration by Ramiro Roman.

Research and writing go hand-in-hand.

When you’re a freelance writer–rather than an employee–the need to research becomes even greater.

Traditionally employed writers tend to focus on researching their news/article sources: Their statistics, quotes, images, and other facts all need to be checked and re-checked.

Freelance writers have THREE forms of research they need to perform:

  1. Writing Research
  2. Client Research
  3. Self Research.

If you’re a writer, I’m going to assume you already know how to do #1. So I’m going to focus on #2 and #3.

Client Research

I’m not talking about the research you do when you seek out clients on your own. I’m talking about the research you’ll need to perform when a client comes to you.

When a potential client comes a-knockin’ on your door, you’ll need to do a quick assessment–a background check, if you will–to make sure they’re not a shyster out to con you.

As a naive beginner I was suckered a couple of times. Had I done more thorough research, I would have turned down those so-called “opportunities” from the get-go.

You won’t be able to avoid getting the occasional crummy client, but if someone is REALLY bad, their terrible reputation will shine through. Scam artists, pyramid schemers, non-payers, and general ne’er do wells almost always come into the light once they’ve crossed enough people who are willing to speak out.

Research helps protect you from getting wrapped up in shady dealings.

But, even if the client is a good person–someone you really want to do business with–you’ll still need to do your research.

Ask questions!

I once wrote that One of the earmarks of a pro is they ask a lot of questions. But I didn’t share what kind of questions.

You’ll need to ask…

Easy Questions:

  • When doyou need this by?
  • How many words/pages do you need?
  • Do you need me to go into the backend of your website to upload this article, or will you be doing that yourself?
  • What’s the best way to contact you?
  • Will I have a by-line or is this aghostwriting assignment?
  • Do you have a budget set aside for this project?
  • Have you worked with a freelance writer before?

Harder Questions:

  • Why do you feel you need a freelance writer?
  • What is your ultimate goal for this assignment?/What are their expectations? (Are they trying to inject personality into an overly dry brand? Are they attempting to drive more traffic to their website? Sell a product?)
  • How do you envision the final product?
  • How often will you need to be updated? (Every day? Every week? At the end of each phase? When the project is completed?)
  • Who will own the intellectual rights to the finished product? (Can you use the finished project as a portfolio piece, even if the rights ultimately belong to the client?)
  • What do you dislike–or like–about what you have now? (If they already have something written).

Those questions are just examples. Adjust them as needed.

Self Research AKA Getting Feedback

I call this “Self Research” because you’re essentially researching yourself–your performance–through client feedback. That’s right: The research process goes BOTH ways.

The most pressing reason to request client feedback is to prevent negative reactions/criticism later on.

Simply asking your client what they think can not only prevent future problems, but give you the chance to correct any that have already occurred.

What’s that? You want more reasons?

Okay. Here ya go:

  • Some clients/customers will simply disappear.Rather than tell you why they’re leaving you or what’s wrong with your product/business/personality, some people will just…go. That is, unless you give them an easy outlet to do otherwise.
  • Enhance!…or discontinue.When you gather feedback, you gain the ability to correct what doesn’t work or–on a more positive note!–enhance what does. You’ll also be able to get rid of old products that just aren’t cutting it anymore. Or create wonderful new ones!
  • Get to know your target market.As copywriter extraordinaire Amy Harrison once said, “Comments let you stay in tune with your target market. You can test new ideas, find popular problems or questions to solve with products and attract new customers.”

  • It makes them feel important.And they most certainly are important! But think about how you feel when a business makes you feel good about yourself. Makes you want to stick around, huh? Yep. Improving relations: Just another reason gathering feedback is awesome.

Being a freelancer is all about constantly trying to better yourself. You won’t be able to do that from within a vacuum. Get an outsider’s perspective, always.

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