Ask A Contractor

Ask a Contractor: Communicating with Clients

Dear Selena: What questions should I ask when I get my first web writing contract and what questions will out me as a newbie? I asked my first fixed price client about what file format he wanted and his expected timeline, but I have no idea how we wants me to deliver the final project. I assume I should send it through the site we’re using’s message system, since he didn’t give me an email address, but I was afraid that that was something glaringly obvious that I just ought to know. Do you have any tips on not going overboard as a first-timer? 


Excited Freelancing Nugget

Dear Nugget,

First, congratulations on landing your first job! That’s very exciting, and it should make it lots easier to find your next one.

I understand your concerns, you want to sound like a pro, so your client is comfortable and confident in your abilities. Here’s the good news: Asking questions will almost universally endear you to a client. The more details you have about exactly what they want, the easier it will be to turn this job around quickly and successfully.

When I’m working with a new writing client, I have a series of questions I ask to make sure we’re on the same page.

1. How and when do you want this project delivered? Do you prefer email or using the contracting site’s message system? Is there a particular time you’d like it? What time zone are you in?

2. What format would you like it delivered? (For blog posts/web articles I’ve submitted in raw HTML, Word, plain text, and PDF. Some site owners will give posting rights on their site directly.)

3. Do you need me to include images? What size images will be needed?

4. Do you want external or internal links included? If you’d like external links, are there particular sources you’d prefer I do or don’t use?

5. How often would you like me to check in? Do you need to see an outline or a rough draft?

I usually try to gather all this information before I accept a contract, so I can give an accurate time/budget estimate. This usually endears me to potential clients, who get lots of obviously copy/pasted cover letters. Asking questions shows you’re not only paying attention, you’re dedicated to providing the client exactly what they need.

Another thing I like to establish up front is how many edits/revisions I’ll provide without creating a change order. (Change orders are for charging extra for work not initially spelled out in your contract.) Be reasonable, obviously, but don’t leave a window open to be exploited by an impossible-to-please client, especially on a fixed rate job. Two or three edits/revisions should be more than sufficient to meet the client’s needs, even if your communication isn’t ideal. Being wary doesn’t make you a jerk, it makes you savvy.

I don’t think you’re in much danger of frightening your client of with your newbieness. Stay professional, be prompt, communicate well, and do things when you say you will.  You’ll look like an old pro.




By [E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

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