While I’ve written previously about the two most important questions you should ask when given a new task or assignment, since I just picked up a new client recently, I thought I’d take a step back and address the sorts of questions you should ask a new customer on the front end before you start working with them.
I’ve been fortunate to build my business primarily through referrals or through people in my network seeking out my services specifically. That doesn’t mean I don’t ask the Big Questions. For me, a workplace encompasses some basic characteristics, which I’ve managed to consolidate into a nice, alliterative set of four P’s:
Note that I’ve numbered these criteria. That’s on purpose.
The product actually covers two areas: the types of products, services, or ideas you have to write about and the actual outputs you’re producing, such as proposals, white papers, marketing flyers, etc. If you’ve never worked with the company or industry before, you might need to get some background on that. You might learn through this early part of the discussion that the customer’s needs are a bad fit for you–the content, the products, or the deadlines. This would be worth knowing before you dig into some of the logistical questions.
Processes include working out how you will be writing–remotely or on site; interviews or editing of subject-matter-expert-written content; deadlines, number of review cycles, folders, naming conventions, email addresses–as well as how business will be conducted: how often do they invoice, do they require a Non-Disclosure Agreement, what rate are they willing to pay? When is your Red Team (or other) review, when is your deadline?
People are pretty straightforward: you want to know whom you’ll be working with, who your SMEs are, who will be responsible for what, etc. If you’ve never worked with the customer, you might want to take a few minutes to gauge their attitudes toward the work you’re doing, toward your role, or toward life in general. Yes, introverts, that can mean a little bit of “small talk,” but it’s all purpose-driven because you want to know how you’ll be interacting with this customer in the future.
Politics is a slight variant on people, but this is where you have to start poking at potential challenges: if there is a disagreement on content, for example, who is the “tie breaker?” Is there a historical challenge with the customer your client is writing a proposal to? Is there serious, well-known competition that needs to be challenged or “ghosted?”
Cover these items, and you’ll have a pretty solid idea of what you’ll be facing. If you hear the answers you want to the questions you ask, you can then ask the next-most important question: “When do we start?”