5 Ways to Be a Responsible Writer

5 Ways to Be a Responsible Writer

Responsibilities.

Ech. That’s a loaded word, isn’t it? It feels heavy and foreboding. It sounds nearly ominous, like shackles waiting to chain you down.

We shun responsibilities. We avoid them when we can. And yet as freelance writers, our very career choice means we have many responsibilities we need to fulfill. Each time a client agrees to exchange hard-earned money for fine prose, a bunch of responsibilities lands on your plate – and clients will hold you to them.

So like them or not, you’d best be aware of the responsibilities you take on each time you’re hired to write. Shirk your duties on any of them, and you’ve just taken a hit to your reputation. You’ve probably also just lost yourself a client.

Nail them, and you’ve just created a huge win-win – for you, and for your client, because you’ll demonstrate just how upstanding a writer you can be.

Writer Responsibility #1: Honesty

If you can’t be honest, you don’t deserve the business. Clients expect you to be honest – they deserve it, in fact.

Honesty, in this case, doesn’t mean avoiding lies. And it doesn’t mean taking down your verbal filter to tell your client that his website’s so ugly, it’s total crap.

Being honest means telling your client the truth about what he needs to know.

For example, perhaps the type of content he’s requested won’t bring him good value. Or maybe he’s asked for a new sales page, but after you take a look at the one he has right now, you realize there’s nothing horrible about; all it needs is a few tweaks.

Or maybe he has more pressing priorities than having you write a series of blog posts… like redesigning that super-ugly website with a blog no one would ever subscribe to in the first place.

Be an responsible writer and tell your client. Don’t let him throw money out the window. Show him that you’re a professional who cares enough about his business to look out for his best interests. His money would be better spent elsewhere, and you know it… why hide that from him?

Your client will respond with one of three reactions:

  • He’ll tell you to continue with the first project, which is always his prerogative.
  • He’ll switch gears and have you write what you’ve recommended.
  • He’ll cancel the content project and invest where you’ve suggested instead.

You might temporarily lose the gig if he choses option 3, but more than likely, he’ll come back to you later on when it’s time to have that content written.

In all three cases, you can’t lose – it’s always going to be a win, and your integrity stays intact.

Writer Responsibility #2: Education

When you land a new client, how well do you educate yourself on his business?

Most freelancers stick to gathering basic specs about the project itself – word count, number of texts, tone and style… and that’s about it. They jump into “go mode” and dive right into the writing work.

After all, the client hired them to write – so write they will!

But there’s more to writing content than what meets the eye. Content has a purpose, a goal to achieve, both short term and long term. No one hires a writer just to own some fine prose.

Clients hire writers to create content that helps their business succeed.

That’s why educating yourself is important. It’s your responsibility to ask questions of the client and determine the intention behind creating the content. What’s the hoped-for goal? What does the client seek to accomplish with this content long term? In 6 months or a year, what should this content still be doing for him?

Go beyond the basic specs of the job. Ask questions about the greater goal.

Believe me, your client will love your questions. They convey interest and show that you care about doing a good job. They demonstrate that you’re listening, that you’re taking the time to make sure your words matter.

And sometimes, your questions might actually stump a client – which is a good thing. You might just have discovered a hole that needs filling or an issue no one noticed… and thanks to you, now it can be fixed!

Writer Responsibility #3: Solutions

When you begin educating yourself about a client’s business, something interesting starts to happen: you spot better solutions – and it’s your responsibility to share them with your client.

Maybe your client asks you for an ebook. On closer examination, you realize that better website copy or an auto-responder series would bring greater value to his business. Wouldn’t you want your client to invest in his business in the best possible ways?

I sure would.

Now, he may not take your advice – some clients are convinced that what they’ve asked for is the right choice. They hear about a new strategy, and the next thing you know, they’ve hired a writer without thinking things through.

But what we want isn’t always what we need. And if you point that out to your client, you’ve at least fulfilled your duties. You’ve advised him that another tactic might be worth considering.

To be honest, I’ve yet to hear someone say, “Thanks, but I’m not interested in a better idea.”

So before you take on a new project, think about it. Visit your client’s website. Look around. Take stock, and ask yourself if what your client has requested would best serve his needs.

And if you do spot a better solution, be proactive. Mention it to your client before you begin the work. He’ll probably thank you for steering him in the right direction.

Writer Responsibility #4: Compromise

In every successful relationship, a certain degree of compromise is required. In fact, healthy relationships can’t exist without it.

But far too often, freelance writers receive advice that throws compromise out the window. They’re told to stick to their guns. Hold their ground. Stand firm, and don’t bend in the face of browbeating bullies.

That’s good advice to follow when you’re actually facing a browbeating bully… but it’s rarely good advice when you’re talking to a potential client.

No client wakes up in the morning wondering how many writers they can screw over today. They don’t maliciously set out to take advantage of weaklings. For the most part, clients are good people with good businesses looking for a good deal.

Just like you are, every single time you want to buy something your business needs.

So when a new client comes to you and wants to negotiate, think positively. Find the compromise that works for both of you. For example, if you’ve decided to never negotiate on your rates, perhaps you can compromise on turnaround or author credit.

It could make all the difference between landing the gig and losing the deal. Find the middle ground that pleases both parties, and you’ll soon be working on that new project with your new client.

Writer Responsibility #5: Reliability

I hate to break the news, but word on the street is that most freelance writers are completely unreliable.

It’s true. For all the claims writers make about on-time delivery and utmost professionalism, there are just as many claims from clients about blown deadlines, erratic communication and projects that fall apart.

Usually at the last minute, when it’s too late to recover.

Break the stereotype. Own the responsibility for being reliable. Other people’s businesses depend on it, and one tiny slip can create a huge ripple effect of issues for your client.

Human beings are terrible at estimating time. We over-inflate and under-estimate like pros, which means that more often than not, we get it wrong. We think we spent 5 hours, when it was actually just three, or we assume it’ll take 8 hours, when it might take 15.

Analyze the work you’ve been asked to do. Note which areas might give you trouble or slow you down. Do your best to be accurate with your time estimates – and that means adding padding in case you got it wrong.

I’ve never seen a client complain about an early delivery. But you can be sure your client will be raising hell about one that’s late.

Once you’ve decided how long you need to do the work, make sure you actually show up to do it – not at the last minute, either. Begin sooner, rather than later, or spread the work out over a few days instead of trying to do it all in one shot.

You’ll thank yourself for it, believe me – and you’ll become the reliable writer your client can depend on.

Want even more great advice on how to be a professional writer - the kind that soars above the amateurs? Check out Write for the Web, the most popular ebook for starting freelancers that we've ever written yet!

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. Read this book a while ago. It is a practical read as is this post. warm regards Carole

  2. Sabita Saleem says:

    That’s a great refresher, James. Thanks.

    I agree that freelance writers should bear all these responsibilities. Might I say, they’re inherent in the project description whenever you work as a freelancer. Compromise may come as striking to some, particularly in terms of quoting your rates. I believe, it’s more about how you price the service package factoring in the comprise angle. I mean, the overall value you bring to the table.

    What would you advice?

    • Well, compromise isn’t just about rates – but it’s often the easiest place to compromise, for many people. You’d be surprised in how many ways you can create compromise without ever touching rates at all!

  3. Good stuff! All of these things could definitely apply to designers too. I spend quite a bit of time when getting new clients to help them feel safe after past bad experiences. It’s ok because I want to make sure they feel good about working with us. But, it shouldn’t have to be that way.

    • Yeah, it’s *crazy* how many people come to us after bad experiences, and it’s really a shame. I think a lot of the horror stories could’ve been avoided, too – but often, people just don’t know how to handle certain situations, or they don’t have the experience or diplomacy to turn it around in a positive way, so I like to think articles like this might help change things for the better.

  4. Joss Rowlands says:

    James, great reading… and appropriate for other freelancers, not just writers!

    Value isn’t only the work done for the money exchanged, it’s about what else you are willing to bring to the table for a client – and you named it.

    I’m off to download that e-book!

    • I definitely agree that it’s transferable advice, and all sorts of industries could put it to good use. You’re quite right that it’s all about providing value… and that value isn’t always about the work. Good point!

  5. Great points. I think #2 is the crux of it all. I spend most of my time here. And it impacts all of the other points about taking responsibility. Knowing and understanding your client, and how they fit in the bigger picture of their industry, is so important. It can not only be the difference between great and bad copy, it can mean the difference between building a long term relationship or just getting a one-off project. I like to keep my clients for years and years and making “knowing” them my priority is I think the main reason I have been able to do so.

    Thanks!

  6. Amen to that!

    I genuinely feel like I have all of that down except for the time estimates. I am truly terrible at estimating time, especially when I’m doing something I’ve never done before. I just started my writing career three years ago. I have a focus on journalism and I was asked last year to write a memoir for someone (not famous) and I am struggling with keeping everyone involved (including myself) on a realist time schedule! Any advice on how to handle that?

  7. Oh, being a responsible writer can be hard, very hard… But it’s totally worth it! I think that reliability often plays the most important role. I have some experience as a freelance writer and must admit that all you wrote is so true.

  8. Hi James! I fully agree with you that compliance with all these rules will help all the writers to be really responsible. In this case it is very important ot have a clear desire and strive to achieve goals. Thanks for sharing this clearly written article.
    Hope to read more interesting post on this topic.

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