Monday, October 13, 2008

Are You the Right Writer For That Project?

When you're a freelancer, it can be tough to say no to any work that comes along. But sometimes money isn't the issue--there are legitimate reasons why you should turn a certain project down. Sometimes you can spot these signs a mile away--and other times you need to get your hands dirty before you find out.

The industry requires specialized knowledge. For many industries, the principles are the same for good copy. Know your audience. Emphasize benefits. Prove your claims. Paint a picture. But for some, specialized technical knowledge is required. I tend to avoid all but the most superficial copy in the tech and medical industries, and the legal industry is a whole 'nother ball of wax--it's extra sensitive to any possible misunderstanding, and sometimes you need to be a lawyer to know where to put the disclaimers. Even if you work for a wide variety of different industries, you need to know where to draw the line.

You're not comfortable in that format. I'm a strong believer in the idea that you should try new things, especially when you're first starting your business. But sometimes you know enough to know that you don't like writing a certain type of project. When I first started, I was uncomfortable with sales. I quickly learned that if I wanted to have a thriving business, I'd better get comfortable--and I took steps to become a strong sales writer. But I believe that the clarity and organization skills I learned writing primarily educational copy still serve me well. Some people aren't crazy about writing press releases or prefer writing for print than online. As freelancers, we have the freedom to follow our joy--so follow it.

This is a job for...not you. Some clients want you to be more than a writer. They want you to be a business adviser, a marketing strategist, sometimes a graphic designer or SEO or administrator. I stick to work that requires just the writing--I especially don't like technical troubleshooting, so I stay away from anything requiring uploading or maintenance of a site. Occasionally I'm willing to do basic formatting, but I always let people know up front I'm not a designer.

You and the client work very differently. This is tough to spot, but sometimes the client lets you know off the bat how they work. I've seen gigs advertised on bidding sites where you have to have your computer camera enabled so the client can see that you're working a certain number of hours. Even if the pay was good I'd avoid those gigs; they're a little too Big Brother for me, and I got into this business in the first place so I wouldn't have to put in face time. Sometimes the client won't go for your non-negotiable business terms, or is a micro-manager while you're a free spirit. To keep yourself happy, weigh the level of hassle with the level of pay--and get out if you're miserable.

You're not the right writer for every project. As a freelancer, it's key to know thyself--and what you'll put up with for a certain amount of money. Sometimes these guidelines are worth bending if the price is right.


Anonymous said...

Nice points. I've definitely had situations where a prospect is looking for something that I won't be able to provide with the skill and expertise necessary. That's when it's nice to have people to recommend.

An additional situation where you might not be the right writer is in cases of personal beliefs. I had a prospect seek me out hoping for a religious-themed project. I knew I was not the right writer for her as I am not religious, so offered to find someone else to talk with. She was surprised, but very flattered that I would go to that effort.

Unknown said...

Every point - absolutely true. The most important is having the same work ethic. No way should you accept 24/7 IM accessibility or webcam oversight if it makes you feel uncomfortable. Your business, your parameters to determine. I think way too many writers accept unacceptable conditions just to work.

Great post!

Jennifer Williamson said...

@QuietRebel: They say your design skills might be at 8, but people will only pay for a perfect 10. I try not to market myself in any area I don't feel 100% competent in, and in good conscience I can't sell certain services. That said, sometimes you're better at something than you realize.

@Lori: Those 24/7 accessibility deals are usually no good for me. I do have a client who does a lot of trade shows and sometimes needs super fast turnaround, and I've sometimes done an hourly "on call" rate with them. But this is a client I know and trust pretty well, and even she knows where the lines are. It's all about setting boundaries.