In the life of a freelance writer, working with several clients at a time isn’t just normal—it’s usually necessary for job security. Constantly learning new things also makes the work more fun and less monotonous.
But even if variety is the spice of life, writing for many clients at once presents some challenges. After all, it’s hard to keep all of those KPIs and stylistic intricacies straight—especially if you’re storing them in your head.
A consistent reference system makes it much easier to go back and forth between clients—and here’s where client intake forms come in handy. Below, we explore how to add intake forms into your freelance workflow.
First things first: What’s a client intake form?
A client intake form is a set of questions that freelancers (and more commonly, agencies) use when onboarding a new client. In addition to contact information, the questionnaire might ask for information like pain points, goals, and preferences. Often, these forms are completed before the onset of a project or new partnership so both parties can gauge if the collaboration makes sense.
On top of helping clients get all the project details in one place, intake forms can help you determine if a potential client is a good fit. By understanding their needs, wants, and styles, you can better decide whether or not you’re the right freelancer for the job.
Maddy Osman, founder of The Blogsmith, noted that a new client intake form can help you make a good first impression. “It demonstrates that you’re serious about getting to know them and that you want to do a good job from the beginning,” she said.
How can client intake forms help freelancers?
Freelance writer and editor Stephanie Walden also explained that intake forms encourage clients to outline a clear scope of work. “The way I’ve designed my form forces clients to be more deliverables-focused, which is my preferred type of project—something with a set scope/deadline/word count, etc., versus those dreaded, open-ended projects that can drag on for months without a clear brief.”
There’s an added bonus: Once you’ve sealed the deal and moved through the client intake process, the form becomes a cheat sheet. According to Elna Cain’s freelance writing stats, 78 percent of freelance writers have at least three clients. That’s a minimum of three different brand style guides, image formatting rules, and business goals. Intake forms that double as reference guides can help you craft first drafts that match each client’s style, therefore cutting down on revision time.
Finally, intake forms can help you look more professional. If you have an intake form saved for each client, you don’t have to repeatedly ask questions they’ve already answered.
What information should a client intake form gather?
An intake form should provide basic information about a prospective client. It should also include insights to help you develop a strategy for working with them. The form should ask questions about their needs, pain points, goals, and brand style.
Here’s what I recommend including in your intake questionnaire:
- Client’s name
- Contact methods (e.g., email address, designated point person)
- Target audience/customer personas
- Pain points with content
- Content goals (e.g., lead generation, brand building, etc.)
- Brand voice/tone descriptions
- List of competitors
- Rules for cited sources/statistics (e.g., don’t use statistics older than three years)
- Formatting/grammar rules or style guides they follow
- Logo, brand colors, and other visual guidelines, if relevant to your work
- Target launch/publish date
- Preference for draft delivery (Google or Word doc, etc.)
Walden also suggested offering a “brain dump” section at the end of the form so clients can add anything else you might need to know. “I’ll often phrase this like, ‘What else should I know that might help us work together more smoothly?'” she said.
Using intake forms can help streamline your client onboarding workflow. But your form is only helpful if clients take the time to provide relevant information.
Here are some pro tips for creating a client intake form template that gets great responses.
Give your clients multiple-choice options. Multiple-choice questions offer two main benefits: They’re quick for your client to fill out, and they make the intake form review process easier by laying out the information consistently.
For instance, Osman uses Nielsen’s Four Tone of Voice Dimensions. Her clients choose voice options such as funny vs. serious and formal vs. casual. Other areas that can benefit from multiple-choice options include pain points and content goals.
Make it easy to complete. Giving your client “homework” at the beginning of a relationship might seem counterintuitive. After all, it’s your job to make their life easier. You need to achieve balance between getting enough information and making the form simple to fill out.
In addition to using multiple-choice questions, give clients space to link to existing style guides and documents so they don’t have to re-enter all their information. You can also improve the user experience by using online forms created on a form builder: Google Forms, MightyForms, and Paperform are a few options.
Tailor your intake forms. Walden noted that it can be helpful to have a few different versions of your client intake form. For example, she has different forms for different types of content like blog posts, website copy, ebooks, or whitepapers.
Walden also creates intake forms with different tones of voice. She has versions that are more formal and straightforward (for, say, a financial services firm) and others that are casual and even cheeky (for a quirky startup selling a niche product). “For an edgier client, when asking how wordy they want their website, I might ask, ‘Should we be going for Vonnegut or Tolstoy here?'” she said.
Show appreciation. There’s nothing like a little positive reinforcement to build a pleasant working relationship. Be sure to thank your clients for filling out the form, or even offer an incentive like a small discount on your first project together.
Osman also noted that you can show appreciation by sending clients a copy of their completed form. This lets them know you respect their time and want to provide them with value—even if the two of you don’t end up working together. They may be able to use the form with other vendors or even as their very own internal cheat sheet for new hires.
Client intake forms are just one way to start each relationship off on the right foot—and ensure a strong, happy partnership that’s built to last.