Writing Professionalism: Improving Communication Skills

Improving your professional communication skills is not only essential for building a successful business, it is integral to developing strong client relations.

Tips for Improving Professional Communication Skills

Avoid fowl language. Never use profanity when speaking with a client, particularly new clients, even in a joking manner. The use of profanity can affect how a client perceives you and your suitability for their project. In reality, there may be specific clients you break this practice with, but the general rule should be avoidance of fowl or crude language.

Expand your vocabulary. Use correct grammar and know key industry words important in communicating literary, editing, or design concepts. Don’t dumb down your language to a condescending level. Clients often have a strong working knowledge of the task they are hiring out and simply do not have the time, resources, or skill to complete it on their own.

Avoid gossip. Do not discuss other clients or projects and do not disparage popular authors or books, or other service providers. This sends the message to the client that you may also talk about them to other clients or industry members. Use market research or data when suggesting changes or differing trends.

Keep it positive. Keep communication upbeat and positive, especially during difficult situations where you might be at odds with the client. Discuss problems by asking for the client’s feedback and suggestions on dealing with the situation so the client feels like he or she is working with you to solve an issue rather than being attacked.

Leave your personal life at home. Do not discuss your personal life or problems with the client. If you have a situation affecting your ability to work, it may be necessary to give a general explanation that there is a personal situation requiring your attention which may cause a delay or necessitate changes. Be sincere and apologetic without getting too personal.

Communicating with Potential and New Clients

When meeting with a potential client, prepare your pitch ahead of time, including information about yourself, your services, and your prices.

Introduce yourself to potential clients and detail your qualifications briefly. Do not go overboard touting your skills or awards. Give enough information to instill confidence and move on.

With a new client, review all the provided documents at the start of the project and assure nothing is missing. Make sure you know what products you will be providing and whether you have all the necessary materials. If anything is missing, politely contact the client and let him or her know there are additional documents or information needed from them before you can get started.

Once you have assured that you have all the basic materials, review all the provided information and make a list of questions you need answered in order to get begin working, such as setting location, names, steam level, etc. for a fiction project. Politely ask for more information as needed. Never blame the client for forgetting something or not having all the answers. If he or she is unsure of certain aspects, work with them to determine the needed answers as a partner rather than as a demanding parent.

Let the client know when you will get started, if you need to conduct additional research first, and what order you will work on the requested products if more than one is purchased. Clearly communicating timelines helps avoids frustration or instills confidence in your abilities and professionalism.

Any time you are unsure how to handle an interaction with a client, remember the golden rule and ask how you would like the situation to be handle if you were the client. Kindness and respect will help every project flow more smoothly.

Writing Professionalism: Avoiding Miscommunication

Much of client work happens virtually, increases the chances of miscommunication due to a lack of verbal cues, delays in communicating, differences in communication styles, and more. Consider these tactics for avoiding miscommunication when working with clients.

Asking Questions

Missing information, assuming understanding, and differences in connotation are just some of the ways misunderstandings can occur when working with clients. Asking clarifying questions is an important method of avoiding these pitfalls.

Never guess at what your client wants if the original project proposal or material is unclear. Clients may not have a full picture of what they want out of a project or what type of editing they might need. In order to fill in any gaps, ask specific questions about anything you feel is unclear. Moving forward on faulty assumptions leads to rewrites/redos and delays.

With a book cover design project, you may need to discuss the tone and genre and what current trends are to flesh out what the client wants. With editing, discuss what the client feels are the main weaknesses or what they need the most help with. If character development of improving storytelling is needed, that is more of a developmental edit while cleaning up typos and misplaced commas is more in line with a proofread.

If information is missing from a project plan, politely ask for clarification or for the client to provide the information that is lacking. If the information is missing because the client is unsure of the answer, discuss elements of the missing information by asking specific questions, such as where a book might be located in a physical bookstore if the genre or subgenre is unclear.

If a client wants you to fill in any gaps on your own, first suggest ideas or propose a specific path before moving forward. A client may be unsure of what they want, but they are often quite sure of what they don’t want when it is presented.

Paraphrase and Summarize

After a clarifying discussion, it is important to paraphrase and summarize the information discussed in order to make sure both parties understand what was discussed and what the conclusions are.

If you discussed project details or story elements, take a moment at the end of the conversation to summarize the topics discussed and what decisions were made in your own words. This makes sure you and the client are on the same page about what was discussed and how you will move forward.

Summarizing and paraphrasing the information helps prevent communication errors due to lack of nonverbal language, misunderstood humor, differences in connotations, etc. This tactic also shows the client that you were making a solid effort to understand what he or she wants and that you are truly listening. Making a client feel heard and understood helps build a stronger relationship.

Following Up

Miscommunication can also arise from lack of timely follow up. Not hearing back from a provider can cause a client to doubt that he or she understood the plan and create a sense of anxiety and overthinking or frustration.

Do not leave clients waiting for a response or a follow up on decisions made. Respond quickly with a thorough response or an update on your progress. Of course, delays do happen at times, but it is still important to communicate any delays to the client. If you are unable to fully respond in the moment, acknowledge that you received their message or email and give a specific time when you will be able to follow up.

When a client asks questions, be sure to answer each one fully. Answering some questions but not others or only partially answering a question makes a client feel they are not valued and creates confusion. If there are multiple questions to respond to, it can be helpful to reply by copy/pasting the questions into your reply and addressing them one by one.

After answering all questions, ask the client if everything is clear and invite him or her to follow up with any additional questions or clarification on any of the answers. Including the client in the process of clarification not only improves communication, but also shows that you value their input and insights, improving the overall relationship.

The process of clarifying a client’s needs can be a lengthy process, but it will improve the overall chances of success on the project and the relationship with the client.

Writing Professionalism: Effective Client Communication

Communicating with clients effectively takes many of the same skills as in other important relationships.

Active Listening

Active listening is more than hearing, it’s fully concentrating on words, body language, and subtext, and internalizing the message without judgment or offering of advice. Active listening is the first step in understand what a client needs or what a problem entails. Fully take in what the client is saying with an open mind rather than planning a response of considering other options while the client is speaking.

After listening actively to the initial conversation, take the time to ask questions about anything you don’t fully understand or on issues you aren’t sure you are seeing in the same way as the client. Reflect back to the client what they said in your own words so you can check your understanding and so the client can clarify anything that isn’t being understood in the way he or she would like it to be understood.

Ask for clarification when needed rather than assume or guess. Lastly, summarize the message or problem for both yourself and the client. This process help ensure there are no misunderstandings or missing information.

Active listening shows respect, improves the chances of full understanding, and limits misunderstandings or missed information. To learn more about active listening, visit Very Well Mind.

Consistent Communication

Communicating with a client in a consistent manner is an important aspect of effective communication.

All attempts at communication with clients should be conducted in a professional manner. Even if you know the person personally prior to them becoming a client, adjust the client/provider interactions to reflect that new aspect of the relationship.

Avoid casual chatting, asking personal questions, or sharing personal information when engaged in business discussions. It is important to stay focused on the project and so you can ensure the client is satisfied. Use professional language, avoiding slang, excessive emojis, or profanity.

It’s also important to use a similar communication style in all interactions, so the client knows what to expect when they engage in a conversation with you. This helps clients become more familiar with your style as a service provider and allow them to anticipate how interactions will occur. Consistency improves chances of open communication and honesty.

Adapting your communication style to the client’s (in a reasonable manner) can help the client feel more accepted and heard. This doesn’t mean mimicking a client’s style of communication. Instead, adapt to what the client needs to feel comfortable during an interaction. This may mean detailed explanations or brief overviews, providing written notes or audio messages, scheduling chat sessions or dropping impromptu updates as you complete tasks.

Ask your client specifically about their communication style in order to know and meet their expectations.

Adapting Language

Another important adaptation to consider is that of adapting your language to the individual client. This includes word choice, determine what does or doesn’t need to be explained, or the level of technicality.

Few clients will be as well-versed in literary or marketing terms as the writer providing the service is. Simplify language when needed to fully explain a concept without over-simplifying it to the point of condescension. Explain issues or problems in plain language to avoid confusion.

Ask yourself how you learned a term or idea and if a lay person would have the same knowledge. Writers who are working with an editor for the first time may need grammatical or style changes explained, or a discussion on why a particular aspect goes against industry standards or retailer terms of service.

Don’t assume your client knows everything you do, but don’t speak to them like a they know nothing at all, either. Assess the client’s level of knowledge and adapt accordingly. Explain a concept as you would to a coworker who has asked for your expertise on a subject, not as a teacher would explain something to a child.

Clarity and Concision

Be clear and concise when speaking with clients in order to avoid unnecessary problems. When asking clients for feedback or to respond to a question, be clear in what information you need and concise in your wording so the client does not have to attempt to interpret your request or guess at what you want.

List specific details you need if you are requesting answers or information. Provide the list in whatever manner your client is most receptive too, such as a bulleted list, audio file, graphic, etc.

When requesting opinions or feedback, ask about specific items, not general concepts. “What do you think about this version?” is much less helpful than “Does this color palette inspire the emotional response you’re looking for?” If a client doesn’t like something, they often have trouble pinpointing exactly what they don’t like. Asking specific questions makes giving feedback easier for the client and avoids lengthy back and forth conversations guessing at the main problem.

Provide timely updates on your progress. Don’t leave the client wondering what you are working on or when they will next hear from you. Clearly communicate any delays and the reasons for the delay, without crossing a line of professional boundaries.

Focusing on your client’s needs and giving full effort to communicating effectively will help avoid confusion, disappointment, and frustration.

Writing Professionalism: Getting Started Working with Clients

Building relationships with clients and having effective interactions is key to success in growing a service-oriented business.

Many authors don’t just write, they also provide services to other authors and to various writing clients. Learning how to interact with clients on a professional level can help you develop strong relationships with clients and grow your writing business.

The Importance of Working with Clients

As an editor, copywriter, ghostwriter, freelancer writer, etc., you will interact with clients on a regular basis during a project. The better those interactions go, the better the overall project will go as well.

It is critical that writers understand the importance of working with clients and the level of professionalism expected by clients. Clients who feel they are not valued or respected are unlikely to come back for another project with you.

An inability to interact with clients professionally will likely result in being awarded fewer projects. The writing community is small and reputations matter a great deal. If clients are unwilling to work with a service provider, other writers will hear about it fairly quickly.

Providing the client with excellent customer service, no matter the situation, is key a successful service-oriented business.

The Importance of Great Communication with Clients

Working with clients is all about building relationships. Like any relationship, effective communication improves the chances of building a strong relationship with your clients. Developing great relationships with clients helps to ensure repeat business. Repeat customers help the overall business and helps individual writers have more consistent work.

Poor communication leads to confusion, hurt feelings, dissatisfaction, and unfulfilled needs. Expectations should be communicated clearly at the beginning of the project to ensure you can meet them and that the client knows what product or service you will be providing and how and when it will be provided. This should include updates and progress reports.

Effective Communication when Getting to Know Clients

Monitoring tone is important in both verbal and written communication. It’s easier to interpret tone when a message is spoken, but if a new client is not familiar with you personally, jokes or sarcasm might not be taken in the right way.

In written communication, tone is even more easily be misconstrued. Be aware of how your words might be taken by someone who is still not yet familiar with you and your style of communication.

Connotation is the non-definition meaning people attach to words or ideas. Everyone has different connotations, making word choice extremely important in written messages where body language or vocal tone is absent. If you tend to use humor or sarcasm, these are especially in danger of being misinterpreted. Be cautious of using too much of this type of language when first getting to know a client.

Choose words that are universal and harder to misinterpret when explaining what services you will provide and the process you will use to complete the project.

It is also important to use concise language to communicate an issue or problem so the client knows exactly what is going on and how you intend to fix it. The more clearly the problem is defined, the more easily the client will be able to offer useful information to address it as well.

Working Through Problems with Clients

Be friendly and polite in all situations, even if a client is being difficult to work with or manage. Any message, including and especially problems, that communicated in a friendly, upbeat, and personable way are more likely to be received favorably. This will make finding solutions and working through the problem much less challenging.

Never use language that places blame or attacks the client. If information or materials are missing from what the client was supposed to provide, politely remind him or her that they are needed and ask when you can expect them. Make suggestions in a manner that offers a solution rather than simply stating a problem.

Ask for feedback on suggestions when problems are encountered. Show genuine interest in the client’s thoughts and reasoning, even if they are difference from your own ideas or plans for addressing an issue. Because clients are most familiar with a projects, they will have unique insights.

If a client disagrees with your plan of action or proposed solutions, acknowledge their input and accept their final decision graciously. You are providing a service, but the ultimate outcome of the project is his or her decision.

Always use basic manner, such as please and thank you, in your communications. Not getting along with a client doesn’t mean it’s okay to be disrespectful or rude.

Telling Clients “No”

Saying no to a client is always challenging, but it will almost always go better if you can find a way to reject an idea in a positive way.

There may be times when a client wants something that go against a retailer’s policies, client or genre expectations, or will be detrimental to a projects success. It is an important skill to be able to explain why an idea won’t work in a positive and respectful way.

Avoid actually saying the word “no” when possible. A better approach is to fully explain the problem. For instance, explicit sex scenes int eh first chapter, rape or incest as a main storyline, and similar taboos will go against many retailer’s terms of service and block a book from being published or prevent it from being found by customers.

Once you fully explain the problem, back up your reasoning with facts and data when possible. Amazon categorizes books with explicit sex in the first 25% of the book as erotica and will bury it, and most retailers will remove books containing incest or rape as a main storyline. Explaining this policies can help a client understand why a project element will harm its overall success.

Offer a solution to the problem after presenting it. The client may need to add more character development in early chapter to push explicit sex further back, and alter a storyline to remove unacceptable or banned taboo topics.

If a client is unwilling to change or alter a project element that you know will hurt the project’s success, it may be necessary to end the relationship. Do so politely and with explicit reasons of why you have reached an impasse. Not every partnership is a good fit, and it is better to end what isn’t working than let it devolve into unprofessionalism.

Remember that your reputation in the writing community will greatly affect your overall success in growing a service-oriented writing business.