How an Inquisitive Mindset Can Make Your Work Better

Part of your success as a freelancer depends on how pushy you can be. No, really — it does.

What I mean by that is you may get clients who are mum on what they want out of a project. Instead of wrapping up an unproductive meeting with such a client and going off the top of your head when creating the material they’ve requested, it’s vital to learn how to ask the right questions and probe them for the information you need.

Not only will you get more specifics to help you design more in tune with what they want, which will save you the grief of their dissatisfaction, but getting client specifications out in the open will save you time–and them money. (Especially if you work on a project-based fee.)

Here are some tips to help you get exactly what you need from your clients to produce work they’ll like.

Make it easy. Some of my clients tend to get a little nervous when I ask them what they want out of their messaging. I get a lot of, “Well, you’re the writer…” statements. Time and time again, I have to reassure them that this is a collaborative process and I can’t get things right unless they give me their input. This is why I tell my clients to “Give it to me in bullet points and then I’ll make it look pretty,” if they’re not sure what they want to say exactly. In other words, I ask them to give me the overall gist of what they want. For example, if they want a press release about their business, do they want to announce an event at their store or publicize a new service they offer? They have to be specific. Many don’t know how to put things into words, but I remind them that an overall message helps me do just that.

Get it in writing. Sometimes you’ll notice that clients are talkative and others are quiet. You have to use your judgment to extract information for them in a way that’s as simple as possible. I recommend jotting down your ideas before the meeting–or better yet, having a questionnaire handy–to make sure you cover all the points that you need to. The following may be some items on your questionnaire:

  • When does the client need the first draft by?
  • Will I need to contact anyone else from the company to get information? Get contact information.
  • Will I need to research information about their industry or products?
  • Who is the audience?
  • How many words are they looking for on this collateral? Is that the same per page?
  • What color schemes do they absolutely detest?


Take their input. Even though you may be a copywriter extraordinaire or a design whiz, no one knows your clients’ businesses better than they do. Even though they’ve hired you to do a job, they need to be made aware that gathering information is vital to help tailor the project to their needs–even if they don’t know what they are. You need to get a sense of their vibe and an understanding of their tone to translate that into effective deliverables. Let them know that you are aware they know their business best, and even if they don’t know what they specifically want, that you’ll need to ask them some questions to give you some direction. Tell them this is a normal part of the creative process; they may not get it since they aren’t in the biz!

Tell them about the benefits. If the client says, for example, that they want you to create a page of content about their company, don’t leave it at that. Ask more questions, and tell them you need details in order to leverage their business. Tell them what specific messaging concepts will do for them. Do they want to compete with Company A? Then they may need to offer staff bios. Do they need to promote awards they’ve received? This may help them boost their image. Let them know that there are benefits to giving details, and give them time to go back to their office and do homework.

When you get the details, it helps you get closer to what a client wants. Even if they tell you to “work your magic,” you can never know exactly what they want–especially since they probably don’t, either.

You don’t have to be a journalism expert to dig for information, just approach the project with a fresh perspective and the end-result audience members in mind. What would they want to know or see? These are all great ways to get into the inquisitive mindset.


Kristen Fischer is a copywriter and author living in New Jersey. Her latest book, Ramen Noodles, Rent and Resumes: An After-College Guide to Life, is available in stores now. For more information on her latest book, Ramen Noodles, Rent and Resumes: An After-College Guide to Life, visit Reprinted with permission.

By Kristen Fischer
Published August 16, 2008
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