Want to sound like every other copywriter the next time you talk to a prospective client? Ask the same questions every other copywriter asks.

“Who’s your target audience?”

“What’s your USP (Unique Selling Proposition)?”

“Who’s your competition? What do you do better than them? What do they do better than you?”

“What’s worked for you before? What hasn’t?”

“What’s your budget for this project?”

Those are all good questions, and it’s okay to ask them (even though I said you should never ask two of them in this blog post). I’m just saying that you might not want to lead with those questions, and there are probably some even better questions.

Your interviewing skills leave a lasting impression

So let’s back up a bit. This is not so much about asking good questions as it is about positioning.

Do you want to be perceived as a freelance copywriter who “takes assignments,” waiting for direction from your client? Not the best for ultimately getting the fees you deserve.

If you sit back, let the client take the lead, and maybe ask a few standard questions like the ones mentioned above, you’ll come across as a typical copywriter. The client will sense this immediately, and mentally figure a fee they’re willing to pay, if they haven’t already pre-determined it.

A better approach? Take charge from the beginning by framing the conversation in a whole new way. You’ll sound different than every other copywriter (well, except the few hundred reading this blog post – and implementing it).

You’ll stand out. You’ll make a great first impression. You’ll get hired.

clientsStretch your thinking before you try this

If you’ve been accustomed to asking only the normal questions above, this may take some practice. Reading this blog post alone isn’t going to transform your interviewing skills with clients overnight. It won’t instantly improve your business. It may take a while to get comfortable with this new style.

Before you do anything, you’re going to have to change how you perceive yourself. That starts with seeing yourself on the same level as the client, no matter who they are. You have unique skills, ideas, and your own personal take on things that can help them.

Okay, ready for the good part? Want to increase your odds of getting more business?

5 questions to ask your next prospective client

These aren’t necessarily in order. Every client interview is different. And there’s warm-up conversation first, of course (a topic for another blog post). These have worked well for me, though:

1. “Why do you do things the way you do?”

Does that sound kind of bold? It’s a logical question after you’ve asked them a bit about their business. Whether they have a good answer to it or not, it gets them thinking, “Hmm…maybe there’s a better way.” You have ideas and answers. A better way. After all, you’re more than “just” a copywriter. You’re an Idea Generator, a marketing advisor, a copywriting consultant.

2. “What exactly do you want to result from this project?”

What I mean here is get them to dimensionalize the value of what this could be worth to them. If you’re writing a 5-email conversion series for new subscribers? Get them to tell you how much revenue it would generate if you got x response. A landing page for their core offer? Same thing. If they won’t tell you, calculate a very modest response rate and do the numbers for them.

This absolutely needs to get out on the table. They need to know what it could be worth, and they need to know that you know how much it could be worth. Way before you start talking project fees.

3. “If I could do that for you, would this be a successful project?”

This question comes after you paint a vivid picture for them of what following through with you and having a successful campaign could do for their business. This one requires forethought, imagination, and quick thinking on the fly.

It’s not easy because there’s no cookie-cutter script. Each situation is different.

Let me give you a quick example, though. I recently wrote 13 pages of a new website for an accounting firm in the UK whose audience is entrepreneurs and freelancers, people like us.

After an hour-long Skype call with the two partners, I said something like, “What you’re saying is that you want to dominate this niche. You want your audience to immediately ‘get’ who you are and what you do when they land on your site. You want them to stay on the site, and pick up the phone and call you for a consultation, right? I can’t guarantee traffic, or results, but imagine that over the next few years your business becomes a household name with your audience. They see you as recognized experts in your niche, business starts booming, you open three more satellite offices outside of London, and life gets really comfortable. If I could help you get started down that path by positioning you in the right way on your website from the beginning, would you be happy? Would you call that a successful website project?”

That’s roughly what I said, they said, “Most definitely,” we worked together on phase one, and they just contacted me for phase two.

You’re helping them dream, extrapolating out a bit from your initial project, getting them to think big, and planting seeds for future work together.

4. “Why did you start this business (or get involved in this business) in the first place?”

Take them back to the beginning, and get them to tell you about the company origins. It gets them thinking nostalgically, helps them remember the early days, reminds them of how far they’ve come, and in a way gets them thinking ahead to what’s possible with more big thinking. It’s slightly offbeat, and can often get into emotional territory, never a bad thing when you’re trying to get someone to do business with you.

5. “Besides the money, why do you do what you do?”

This is a different question than #1 above, “Why do you do things the way you do?” That’s about methods and systems. This is about their emotional reasons for doing what they do. Trust me, everyone has motives besides money. Dig deep, and you’ll be amazed how people will open up and tell you things. Again, if you can lead the conversation into emotional topics and not just rational ones, your odds of landing a new client go way up.

What next?

Like I said, asking these type of questions is not easy. It takes practice. Lots of it.

Have I given you everything you need to pull off a flawless client interview? Nope. Not enough space. Watch for a Special Report soon in which I’ll give you a sample script for an entire client interview from top to bottom. I’ve never seen anyone do this before, and I think it’s something that will help a lot of aspiring copywriting rock stars like you.

Two bonus tips

1. Give away ideas! 

Even if you don’t land a new client, give them something of value for their time. Throw out some Big Ideas! Suggest a unique marketing method. They’ll remember you, and may come back to you down the road. Plus, it’s good practice to always be brainstorming off the cuff.

2. Record your phone interviews with clients

Ask their permission, of course, and tell them you like to keep good records. It’s professional, and they’ll respect it. Two reasons for doing this. If they become your client, you’ll get a ton of good copy ideas from the interview. And by listening to yourself with a critical ear, you’ll become a better interviewer over time.

I challenge you to incorporate these questions into your interviews, and I’d love to hear what kind of results you generate by doing so.

Do you have any good questions you’d recommend? Our Copywriter Café readers would benefit, and so would I. Leave a quick note here. Thanks.



steve roller pic

About the author: Steve Roller

Steve Roller is a direct response copywriter, world traveler, marketing strategist, and professional speaker. He is a personal trainer to aspiring copywriting rock stars.

4 replies
  1. Corrie Ann Gray
    Corrie Ann Gray says:

    Nice article. It is always important to position yourself as the expert and the person who “gets it.”

  2. Jerry Bures
    Jerry Bures says:

    Great points for working on doing better interviews with my clients, Steve. Plus, I love the idea of recording client calls with permission. Thanks!

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