How to Ask Your Clients Questions Without Feeling Like an Idiot

Ask Clients Questions

Do you ever get briefs from your clients and not know exactly what’s expected of you? And do you then delve into the work headfirst without asking any questions, because you’re worried you’ll come across as an amateur otherwise?

There’s this underlying feeling many newbie freelancers have that they should just know what their clients want. They assume that, because they’re new to the game, they have a big gap in their knowledge, and that to admit they don’t understand would be akin to waving a flag, jumping up and down, and shouting ‘Hey! I’ve never done this before! You probably shouldn’t hire me because I might fuck it up!’

Ever been there? I have. But here’s the thing.

Your clients probably don’t know exactly what they want or how to achieve it. They’re hiring somebody to do this for a reason. They’ve asked you to do it for a reason — because you know more about it than they do. You don’t feel like you do, but you do. After all, you wouldn’t be selling your services if you didn’t think you could really do this, right?

Actually, that’s not the thing. The thing is that asking questions will make you appear more professional and give your clients more confidence that you know what you’re doing.

Would You Hire These Guys?

Think about it. How would you feel if you hired a graphic designer for your website and he didn’t ask you any questions about how you want it to look?

What if you hired a copywriter and she didn’t ask what message you wanted to get across?

Or a travel agent who didn’t ask you where you wanted to go or what you wanted to do there — and instead just hapzardly booked you a trip based on what she thought you might like?

Professionals don’t avoid asking questions because they’re worried they’ll look stupid. They go out of their way to ask a whole bunch of questions to make sure they deliver the best possible outcome to their clients.

Asking questions is a good thing. There’s no worse feeling than taking on a project, having no idea what you’re supposed to do, doing it anyway, and then timidly sending over what you’ve got while keeping your eyes fixed firmly on the ground.

Some Things I’ve Asked My Clients

I ask my clients questions all the frickin’ time. Here are just a few things that have left my inbox recently:

Could you send me a few of the more recent enquiry emails you’ve received?

Are there any particular questions or comments that seem to crop up a lot when people first email you?

How do you find your conversion rate is with this type of enquiry at the moment?

Could you give me a little more information?

Can you clarify what you mean about ‘those who haven’t been successful at all so far’?

Can I have your bulletpoint list of why you’re the man for the job please?

How much does a session cost? Are all the sessions the same price? Is a session an hour long? How much for the double bumper?

Presumably those are the keywords you need under each heading?

How long do you need each section to be?

Is it absolutely necessary to include every single one?

Do you have more information for me to reference for each heading, in order to help me fill it out better?

And that’s just a smattering of the random shit I ask my clients. Well, I say random — but it’s not actually random at all. I ask questions that will help me do a better job, and help me give my clients exactly what they want.

Tips for Getting the Info You Need from Your Clients

  • Tell them you’ll need a little more information before you’re able to give them a proper quote.
  • Actually think about the project — what do you need to know in order to do a good job of this? Jot down a list of all the things that spring to mind.
  • Ask specific questions if you have them! Do it do it do it!
  • Ask about something even if you’re worried you’ll sound like an idiot. You’ll look like an even bigger idiot if you deliver the wrong thing. And you’ll have to do everything over again.
  • Say things like, ‘I just want to confirm this is what you mean before getting started’.
  • Ask for examples of what they want.
  • Ask for examples of what they don’t want.
  • Tell them you just have a few questions because you want to make sure you get this absolutely perfect for them.

Just, whatever you do, promise me yourself this:

Never accept a project without fully understanding what’s expected of you. Your clients, your reputation, and your stress levels will thank you.

In other news: If you’ve been wondering how to set up a website for your new writing business, check out my guest post over at Location 180 today: How to Create a Website for Your Freelance Writing Business. In it, I walk you through the exact steps you need to take to get a functional, client-scoring website up and running. (The guide is aimed at freelance writers, but will be helpful for you no matter what sort of business you want to start.)

And if you got here today via Location 180, welcome! Glad to have ya, sexypants.

Oh, and one final announcement: registration is now open for the next session of Untamed Writing School, where I teach aspiring freelance writers how to prepare everything they need to start going after real live clients — including writing samples, preparing a prospecting email to send out, gathering a list of contacts and, yes — creating a website — with the added bonus of one-to-one feedback on everything my students create. The course will run from 4 April, and I’d love to have you on board, you beautiful thing.

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    1. Loved this post, Karen – this is my mantra as well. Never ever take on a project before you have all your questions answered.

      When i was starting as a freelancer some years ago, i was wondering how come freelancers avoid asking questions. And i was even more amazed at clients who ignored questions and/or refused to asnwer questions unless there is some kind of a contract signed off.

      I always (and i really man ALWAYS) have questions and i never work with clients who don;t bother addressing my questions. It quickly became a hallmark of mine… I have even had clients who hire me only to ask questions – they say it helps them clarify things in their own heads when working on a new business idea… I guess i have a talent for asking the right questions ;-)

      1. Any time I see my students struggle with a client issue, I KNOW it’s because they haven’t asked the right questions in the first place. Or any questions at all. Client issues arise from misunderstanding and misaligned expectations, almost always.

        Glad to see you around these parts, by the way! :D

        1. Hey Karen

          The 2 times I asked a prospective client a question I never heard from them again which was rather annoying. Guess just have to see it as a lucky escape, maybe they hard to work with……

          1. Hey Kate, definitely sounds like a lucky escape to me! Clients who don’t care about the specific value you bring to the table are pretty much guaranteed pains in the ass who only care about getting cheap rates.

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