One of the most frustrating aspects of being a writer, marketer or contractor, is not knowing what your client is thinking. I am not talking about being a mind-reader. I am talking about the most essential part of working with a client—getting to the root of what they want done.
We are called in to fix a problem or improve a situation for our client. As a business copywriter, it’s my job to express my client’s ideas in a way that boosts that business, sells a product or otherwise makes my client’s company stand out from the crowd. Too often the client has difficulty explaining exactly what he (or she) wants. He may have a vague idea or may want to imitate what another company is doing, but not realize that it doesn’t quite fit the needs of his own business. The result is a lot of back and forth, wasted time and frustration on both our parts.
The problem is that you need to, as they say, “get inside the head” of your client in order to fully comprehend his hopes for the project, his expectations of you, and for you to be able to explain what you can and cannot do for him.
As you may have guessed, hypnosis is out, as well as brain surgery. So, how DO you get inside your client’s head to understand his goals and objectives?
Here are some tried and true suggestions:
- Ask probing questions. Make up a list of questions that you will ask your client to help him clearly express what he is hoping to accomplish. You can do this with a brief written survey. After he (preferably with his team) fills it out, go through it with him to sharpen the focus of his ideas.
- Hold a brainstorming session with the client and his key decision-makers, complete with white board for writing ideas down. The goal is to start with words and phrases that describe what they want to accomplish with this project and then narrow it down by ranking or discarding the ideas that are too broad or distracting. Once your client has a clear picture of what this project is supposed to achieve for the company, you can start suggesting strategies from your perspective and expertise as to how you can help him get there.
- Do a Power Point presentation that shows different solutions and how well they work in specific situations. As the client watches, he will figure out for himself which models match his company best and will be ready to discuss exploring those routes.
- Case Studies are powerful tools for motivating clients to make the right decisions. If you know of any business owners who have made the types of errors that your client is about to make (or has made), see if you can bring them in to share their experiences in person. Hearing it from the horse’s mouth will prompt most business owners to want to avoid the mistakes they are hearing and seek a better solution. If no one is available, do a little research online and find businesses that were where your client is now. Join a business or marketing forum or chat room and post questions. Then use the responses that you get as mini-case studies with your client.
Once you have narrowed down the goals and expectations for the project, you can more easily see what you need to do next to get the project moving. By urging your client to verbalize both his objectives and his expectations of you, your job has become a lot easier: Now you can do what you were hired to do, your client will be able to envision where the project will take his company, and you will have a good shot at completing the job to his satisfaction.