To Impress Any Copywriting Client, Ask These 5 Surefire Questions

Five colorful question marks on Post-it notes

Over the years, I’ve talked to hundreds of potential clients about their content projects.

During those conversations, I’ve found a few questions I can ask that never fail to impress. And today, I’m going to share the most powerful ones with you.

When you ask these questions, you stand out from the crowd. You prove you know what it takes to create good content. And you show that you’re adaptable and that you will deliver what the client needs.

Who wouldn’t be impressed by a writer with that approach?

Next time you’re talking with a prospect, here are five surefire questions to ask. (Keep them handy and make them a part of your copywriting client intake interview.)

1. Do you have any personas?

A persona is an archetype that represents a segment of the client’s audience.

A well-developed persona can include:

  • Demographics — age, education, location, and work background
  • Psychographics — values, attitudes, interests, and challenges
  • Technographics — how and where the content will likely be viewed: desktop, tablet, phone, at work, in transit, at home

A good persona doesn’t have to be long. For example, one could be “a middle-aged executive struggling to redo the website of a health insurance firm keen to sign up more consumers in the Midwest.” Even one sentence tells you a lot.

Everyone in marketing knows they should develop personas. But it’s remarkable how few companies actually have them.

If they do, great! Seeing their personas gives you a target reader to write for.

If not, say you’ll need to talk some more about their audience before you start writing. After they hire you, interview your client for 20 or 30 minutes about their audience, and come up with some short sentences they can use as a start for their personas.

2. What style guide do you use?

A style guide defines how a company handles common issues in grammar, spelling, and punctuation, such as:

  • Whether to use a serial comma in a list (“red, white, and blue” or “red, white and blue”)
  • How to spell certain terms (American style like “color” or British style like “colour”)
  • How to express numbers, dates, times, weights and measures (9PM or 9 p.m. or 21:00)

There’s no right or wrong on these issues. It doesn’t matter what your Grade 3 teacher taught you. The client is always right. And a truly professional writer can vary their style to match any guide.

Why does this matter?

For one, the closer you match a client’s house style, the less time they spend cleaning up your text, and the easier you are to work with.

Two, a good style guide is a third-party to settle silly arguments. If a reviewer insists on putting two spaces after a period because they learned that in college, you can ignore that suggestion because “that’s not our style.” Case closed.

The most popular style guides are:

  • The Elements of Style, an indispensable little book for all writers
  • AP Stylebook, used by most American newspapers and magazines
  • The Chicago Manual of Style, used by most book publishers

Some industries have glossaries or published style guides of their own. For software, there’s The IBM Style Guide, The Microsoft Manual of Style, Read Me First from Sun, and the Yahoo! Style Guide.

Some companies develop their own style guide, anything from a couple of pages of notes to a 20-page document. If they have one, get it and follow it. If they don’t, stick to AP Style.

3. What’s your workflow?

In B2B (Business-to-Business) content, workflow means who will look at your work after you send it in.

Do they have an editor, a designer, or a web developer? Are they in-house or freelance like you? Do they use a blog system like WordPress or a marketing platform like Hubspot or Oracle?

Here’s the follow-up: Can you format your text to save others time?

One way to do this is to get a sample document and follow these elements:

  • Standard font, header, and footer
  • Different levels of headings
  • Standard boilerplate like About the company or copyright

Wouldn’t you sooner work with a writer who hands in complete text formatted the way you need it, rather than drafts missing all sorts of bits and pieces that need a lot of work?

4. How will we measure success?

These days, every marketing campaign — and every piece of content — is measured and evaluated.

In the old days, every copywriter dreamed of writing a control-busting sales letter: a piece that generates more money than anything else the company ever mailed. Today’s equivalent in B2B content is the piece that earns more clicks, more engagement, and better SEO than anything else the company ever published.

Every marketer uses certain metrics to measure success, anything from clicks to downloads to time on the web page.

By asking about this, you show you know more than most writers. And it tells your client that you care about her success.

5. How will you repurpose my piece?

Repurposing means recycling the same content in a different medium to help reach more prospects.

For example, one piece can be turned into another, like making a case study into a press release. A longer piece can be broken up into shorter pieces, like making a white paper into three or four blog posts. Or shorter pieces can be combined into something bigger, like putting together half a dozen blog posts to make a speech.

To find out if a client can use that, just ask.

I often say something like, “You can get a much better ROI on this white paper by repurposing it as a set of blog posts, a slide deck, a press release, or a placed article. Do you have anyone in-house to do that for you?”

If they answer “No,” or “Yes, but we’re already slammed with work,” that’s your opportunity to offer your help. Who better to repurpose a piece of content than the writer who created it in the first place?

Your questions matter more than their answers …

Here are the answers I usually get, even from fairly big companies:

  1. No, but we’ve been meaning to develop some personas.
    (You say, “Maybe I can help you get started.”)
  2. We don’t have any standard style guide.
    (You say, “Okay. I use AP Style.”)
  3. Your drafts will be reviewed by our team, and then sent to our designer.
    (You say, “Is there anything I can do to make it easier for your designer?”)
  4. We look at the number of downloads and the number of leads.
    (You say, “Okay” and realize that you’ll need a snappy title to encourage downloads.)
  5. No, nobody in-house has any time for that.
    (You say, “Can I help you with that?”)

In some ways, simply asking these questions will matter more than how your prospect answers.

Each question helps you stand out from the crowd as a professional. Best of all, they will get your client talking about themselves, their policies, their workflow, their team … and how you can help them.

Once they start picturing working with you, you’re getting close to signing the deal.

Keep these five surefire questions handy and add them to your copywriting client intake interview. Use their answers to provide better service and create more effective and engaging copy. You’ll become their “go-to” copywriter for future projects. Good luck!

Do you have any questions about these five questions? Please share with us in the comments.

Crash Course in B2B Content

Crash Course in B2B Content

Dive into the lucrative world of B2B content writing. Expert Gordon Graham will show you the top 12 content types in high demand by B2B firms and how to complete each one like a pro. Learn More »

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Published: June 28, 2019

6 Responses to “To Impress Any Copywriting Client, Ask These 5 Surefire Questions”

  1. I found this article very interesting and helpful. Thank you for this important information.


  2. Copying this article for my permanent notes folder!

    Guest (peggy0900)

  3. It sounds like you're saying,
    1. Know your client
    2. Understand their needs
    3. Guide them to 'yes'.
    4. Do what I say I'm going to do The 5 questions are beautiful. Based on this article, it seems many writers know how to write but not how to sell.
    Thanks for this.

    Guest (Joe I)

  4. Extremely helpful and useful - thanks Gordon!

    Guest (Ryan)

  5. This little tidbit of information really helped me with the landing first client jitters. Taking to heart and mind the beauty of being able to sound more professional as I continue on this journey. Thank you Gordon!

    Jillian Rae

  6. I want to thank you for this information.
    it will be very helpful to me as I reach out to my clients.

    Rose Pushruk

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