This week's reader question comes from Mariella on the writing forums, regarding a request she recently received for copywriting services through a forum private message system:
"I'm guessing someone referred him to me, I just can't get it out of him because he barely speaks English. If I'd ever ask a question for your blog Jenn, it would be how to deal with such clients."
Note: In Mariella's case, she did eventually improve communication with the client to a point where they could discuss the project.
Working with non-English-speaking clients is fairly common, especially for Web writers. Many of these clients want to create content-rich English language sites, but they don't have the language skills to write the content themselves. They outsource to English-speaking writers instead when they want their content to appear natural.
Sometimes the client - contractor communication can be difficult in these cases, where clients have a difficult time articulating what they want or need. There are a few solutions:
- Turn down the project. If you really can't figure out what the client wants, and they're not able to tell you in a way that you can understand, just politely refuse the work and refer them to someone else if you can.
- Exercise patience. More often than not, you can work it out. It may be a little frustrating at times, and may take longer than other negotiations / discussions, but it can be done. Be sure to repeat yourself regarding what you believe the project entails, and get everything in writing. This way if the client doesn't get what they want, you'll have something in writing to point them to (often the difference between you being stuck doing the work again for free - if it's your mistake, versus getting paid for the edits - if it's their fault for not articulating what they wanted).
Whatever you do, don't make assumptions, and don't move forward with projects that you're unclear about. Ask for clarification. Try rewording things. Show examples (sometimes visualizing the work based on something similar will help when they can't put what they want into words). Just be patient, and try to work with them if you'd like to take on the job.
Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She began writing for clients in 1999 and started her first blog in 2004.
She owns 3 Beat Media - a publishing and client services company which operates All Indie Writers as well as several other websites and blogs including The Busy Author's Guide and BizAmmo. Jenn comes from a background in online PR and social media consulting, having owned a small PR firm for several years before choosing to pursue a full-time writing and publishing career.
Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names in the areas of children's fiction, mysteries, and horror fiction. Jenn is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and currently serves as the organization's Assistant Coordinator of Promotions and Social Media.
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