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Soft Skills of a Professional Writer

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I’m not going to split hairs about what makes a professional writer different from a full-time writer or different from a freelance writer or blogger or any other industry distinction. When I talk about being a professional writer, I could care less what you write – I’m referring to how you treat your clients and your business.

There are two elements to being a successful writer. The first is that you can deliver what you promise. If you promise a well-written feature article, then you should be able to produce an excellent article. If you promise some short descriptions using keywords, you should be able to give the client exactly what you promised. There is a place for all types of writers in this industry, and so long as you’re producing material at the level you’re promising, I’m not going to jump on quality.

But one thing that does strike me as a sticky point is the second aspect of being successful. You have to act professionally. As anyone who has gotten burned at the office Christmas party can tell you, there are many unwritten “soft” rules of business. These are the ones that could stand a bit of polish from time to time. Here are a few that we sometimes forget:

Communication is a good thing.

Communicate clearly and often. Since you’re not working with a client in the office (in most cases), he or she must rely on you to send updates and status reports, even if he doesn't respond to them. That doesn't mean you have to send a daily update, but do send along messages regularly, especially on long projects or ongoing tasks to keep your client in the loop.

Respond promptly.

I recently had a situation where a project that should have been straightforward became complicated due to some software issues. My client understood that I couldn't make his company’s deadline without help so he reached out to his other writer. Who never got back to him. At all. As you can imagine, that writer was crossed off my client’s list for future projects and fortunately we were able to put in some extra time and salvage things for the company’s new site launch without him.

Meet deadlines.

Live by your calendar and be honest with yourself and the client. It might sting to tell a client that you can’t take on a project for another few weeks, knowing that the client may take that project elsewhere. But you’re not doing either one of you a favor if you’re simply not going to have time to do the job you’re promising to do. If you need extra time, as I did on that software issue, let the client know immediately that there may be a problem. Sure, it’s not a fun email to send, but it’s the professional thing to do regardless.

Keep personal problems personal.

If your client starts your Skype chat with some small talk, don’t unload on him. It’s appropriate to say that you've been working hard or that you enjoyed some time away with family over the weekend, but most clients aren't really interested to hear about your baby’s teething routines or the drama of your runaway dog that kept you from getting the project finished. Keep it light and professional – communicate the facts first and if the client is chatty, go ahead and enjoy a slightly more personal conversation, but always remember that the client is a client – not your best friend.

1 thought on “Soft Skills of a Professional Writer”

  1. This is a GREAT post, Rebecca. Too often I see writers expect clients to be professional but have no problem acting like they’re having a tiff with a friend. You can be upset with a client — damn upset even — but you should never go off on a tirade on them. Yet I’ve seen it time and again. I don’t care if they tell you you’re a talentless hack — never exchange words with a client. It drags you down to that same level.

    Agreed 100 percent on all, especially keeping personal aside. I remember a writer for the magazine I worked for telling us that he was having medication problems — hence the reason he’d missed his deadline by a day. Uh, not exactly wanting to hire you again after that!

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