We spend our days translating complex ideas into clear sentences, helping our clients communicate in their voice, and helping them achieve content goals. We are creative entrepreneurs building our business on the premise of thoughtful communication.
But as I’ve quickly found out, smart business communication doesn’t come as naturally for writers (at least not for me) as one might assume. After months of scrutiny and hard conversations with myself, I realized my communication skills — or a lack thereof — were sabotaging my business growth efforts. With focus and attention on this subject, I identified four areas that were hindering my success.
1. Not marketing on a consistent basis
Marketing my freelance writing business is a necessary form of communication, but it’s not something I had done regularly, especially during busy periods. My need for comfort and complacency cost me dearly when an inevitable dry spell arrived. I knew I had to make a change.
Now I’m working on marketing as a top priority no matter how much — or little — work I have each month. I’ve created a tracker where I keep notes on all of my pitches and communications, so I can document how much I’m reaching out. Plus, it makes it easier to follow up with potential clients when they respond. I set clear outreach goals at the beginning of each month and track my progress against them. For example: Send a pitch to three new clients each week. As you might suspect, the more I’ve pitched, the more consistent work I’ve had — it truly is a numbers game.
2. Avoiding clear discussions around rates and deliverables
One area I consistently avoided was discussing rates and turnaround times early on in the prospecting phase. What happens when our poor communication skills mean we don’t talk about rates and realistic expectations up front? In my case, I end up agreeing to work for far less than my going rates and resenting the work.
A perfect example of this is when I had a client offer me a flat rate per article. The rate seemed reasonable, and the article seemed similar to others I’d written. What I didn’t do was ask questions about the estimated word count, and I realized the topics needed lengthier explanations — in some cases, the word count was triple what I had estimated. The end result of not discussing this up front meant I wrote several articles well below my target rates, and it made it more difficult to discuss the rate with the next batch of assignments. Although I eventually received a rate increase, I realized how much easier it would have been to have the hard conversation upfront.
3. Using unprofessional communication with clients
Occasionally, we all receive a curt email from a client asking us for a revision or telling us to re-submit an invoice in their preferred template. As tempting as it is to react in equal measure, the more professional approach is to wait until you’ve cooled off a bit and respond in an even-mannered way. By being intentional in your response, you can set a boundary about your time or process without creating further conflict.
Another area where many of us can improve is in our response times. Sure, you might be focused on a deadline all afternoon, but it’s worth your time to check in on email every few hours. Responding to emails and assignment requests in a timely manner not only communicates your availability to clients but also your professionalism. A fast response conveys high engagement, enthusiasm, and reliability; it’s the basis of good customer service, and it applies to your freelance business as much as any other.
If you’re looking for other ways to improve your communication with clients, you can:
- Set an Out of Office response on your emails so your clients know when to anticipate a slower response time if necessary.
- Reach out to your editors and let them know when you have availability.
- Add LinkedIn connection prompts to your email signature, making it easier to connect with editors and share recent projects or bylines.
- Make it easy for clients to set up appointments with you with an app like Calendly.
4. Not communicating within a network of peers
Communicating with clients is fundamental to building a business, but we can’t undervalue the importance of networking and opening up communications with our peers.
I made this mistake early on by not reaching out to other writers who were also building their businesses from scratch. Once I started doing this more, not only did I find people I genuinely support and can regularly reach out to, but it’s even resulted in new clients from referrals.
Simple steps for better communication
The good news is our poor communication habits are reversible. Having made a number of mistakes in communicating and ultimately sabotaging my own business, I realize now how easy it is to forget basic practices. But like so many other aspects of running a business, focus and attention to improving communication skills can make a significant difference to client relationships and, ultimately, your bottom line.