How to Convince Prospects You’re a Pro Writer

Carol Tice

How to convince clients you're a professional freelance writer. Makealivingwriting.comDo you worry that you don’t come across as a professional writer — that prospects can smell you’re new here?

We’ve been talking about this lately on the Freelance Writers Den.

It seems that when writers are afraid of being revealed as a greenhorn, they tend to clam up.

But that’s exactly the wrong thing to do.

Seasoned pro writers ask loads of questions before they get started on a project. Here are a few questions that didn’t get asked by me and my writer friends recently that led to grief:

  • What’s the deadline?
  • What sort of sources would you like to see in this story?
  • What’s the most important message you want to communicate in this piece?
  • Who is the audience for this piece?
  • Were you wanting a light rewrite of this, or a complete overhaul?
  • How many Web pages will I need to write?
  • What’s your budget for this project?

If you hired a plumber, you wouldn’t expect him to start laying pipe around your house without some pretty detailed instructions about exactly what you wanted done, when you needed it done by, and what you could pay, right?

As a freelance writer, you’re a contractor, too.

So ask questions.

If you get halfway into the project and have more questions, ask them, too. Editors will not bite. They’ll actually respect you for being up-front with your concerns.

Professional writers learn to present themselves professionally by…you guessed it…asking lots of questions!

Questions prevent train wrecks, where you turn in something so far off the mark it gets killed, or the client never wants to work with you again.

One more key thing to know:

Pros make mistakes, too.

If you’ve had an assignment go south on you and end badly, know that it’s happened to every writer out there.

Not every client turns out to be a fit. Some turn out to be certifiable and impossible to please. Sometimes, it doesn’t work out, and it’s not your fault.

Sometimes, it is your fault.

Once, I committed an atrocious error in a story about a major retailer. I was totally devastated. Then my editor said, “You know, I think you’ve written 500 articles for this paper since you came here. One of them had a big problem. That’s a pretty good track record.”

We’re not doing brain surgery. Nobody died from your mistake (hopefully!). You will often be forgiven. And in any case, no one mistake is likely to spell the end of your freelance writing career.

I actually had a situation recently where the first article I wrote for one Fortune 500 client was thrown away, and we started over with a new topic. I was mortified.

But they kept working with me.

There’s nothing to do but your best. Forgive yourself when you screw up.

And ask more questions next time.

Ever gotten in trouble because you didn’t ask a question? Leave a comment and tell us what happened.

Join my freelance writer community.


  1. Cindi

    Thanks, Carol. This answers some questions and eases some jitters. I am a naturally curious person (big surprise, I know), but my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth in professional situations. The plumber example put professional questions in perspective for me. The comments about making a list in advance are a value-add.

  2. Gloria A

    I haven’t gotten in trouble for not asking questions (nurses are notorious for getting to the nitty gritty of things), but I have for not being able to get answers. A client has expected me to magically read their mind about what they want for their site: “we deal in XYZ and want to bring in more business….” That’s like saying “I write and want to bring in more business.”

    Can’t get them to cooperate and give me hints. They’ve rejected 50% of what I’ve written for them as “we don’t do that…..,” but they won’t help narrow down the focus. I get paid whether they accept or reject, but it’s like throwing darts to figure it out.

    • Ruth Terry

      Hi Gloria,

      I can completely relate to what you’re saying. I recently had a nonprofit client discontinue my grant writing services when grants management moved to another department. I had a great rapport with my initial contact, but she was always pretty scattered, disorganized and—bc the organization was in a constant state of change—unsure of what she needed.

      At the end of a year of “throwing darts”, I couldn’t really demonstrate an ROI for my services, because so much of my work ended up not being used. I’m really not sure what the answer is. So far all I’ve come up with is thinking of/presenting my work as a “product” more than a service. I have enough clips/samples now that I show clients my portfolio and have them pick the thing that’s closest to what they want. If nothing else, maybe they’ll get a better idea of what they *don’t* want.

      Good luck! I’m eager to hear other people’s thoughts on this…

  3. Ayo

    Great post Carol.

    I have always had doubts about asking too many questions. I have copied and saved your sample questions, they will help me.

    Warm regards.

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