New client? How to make a good first impression

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Queries from prospective new clients are encouraging. But they can also be a little scary because of all the unknowns involved. Safrean Penny Haw provides some tips on what to do to help turn a new client into ongoing business.    

It's exciting to receive unexpected queries about your freelancing services from new clients, but it’s a good idea to pause and consider several things before you take the plunge. For one thing, if you want the new client to become a long-term client, it’s important to make a good first impression.

Step 1. Learn about the client and product

The internet makes it easy to educate yourself about new clients. Take a look at their websites and, if you’ve been asked to contribute to a publication, scrutinise recent back copies. If possible, take a look at the publication’s advertising rate card. These documents often provide useful synopses of the publication, and describe things like target audiences (for example, whether it is a consumer publication, trade journal or a specialist magazine), distribution and the like. If you are dealing with an editor, read a couple of things he or she might have written. This can give you a glimpse into who they are and how they do things. The more you learn about the client, the product and team behind it, the more likely you are to deliver what is required.

Step 2. Examine the brief closely

Do not accept a commission before you have read the brief carefully. I am regularly shocked by contributors who enthusiastically take on work I commission and, a day or less before deadline, contact me with queries they should have addressed before agreeing to do the job. Read the brief thoroughly before you take the job on. If you have any reservations or queries, ask the questions within a few days of receiving the brief, not a day before deadline. There are few things worse for editors than being confronted with problems at the last minute that could have been solved earlier. For example, if you can’t get a comment or interview with a key source, tell the editor early in the process and recommend an alternative. The best freelancers are the ones who do not bother their clients/editors with their problems, but offer solutions instead.

Step 3. Clarify administrative issues

Don’t be afraid to ask about practical issues when you receive new enquiries about your services. For example, clarify where your invoice should be sent, whether a purchase order number is required and when you will be paid. Freelancers are business people; act business-like.

Step 4. Deliver exactly what is required

I am frequently asked how I’ve managed to operate as a freelancer for as long as I have. (Nearly 30 years, that is. Yikes!) My answer? I deliver according to specification and I do my utmost to make the life of my clients and editors as easy as possible. Before you submit your work (it goes without saying, on deadline), check it against the brief. Imagine your client/editor has the brief open alongside your submission, checking that it complies in every aspect. Do exactly that before you submit it. Most importantly, don’t send sloppy copy. Edit and proof it until you’re proud. Delivering clean, word-perfect copy that meets the brief is the best way to ensure a client puts you at the top of list of preferred freelancers.

Step 5. Be supportive

Be as helpful as possible when clients require additional information once you’ve delivered work. For example, editors sometimes require contact details of sources for photography and the like. I am not suggesting you do additional work for free, but, where feasible, help your clients produce the best possible product. It’ll work out in everyone’s favour.

About the author 

Penny Haw has worked as freelance writer, editor and publisher for almost 30 years. Her first book, written for animal lovers of all ages, is entitled, Nicko – The Tale of a Vervet Monkey and was published by Penguin Random House South Africa last year. She has two more books in the pipeline. You can see samples of Penny’s articles here and connect with her on Twitter.

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