Educating Clients on What You Do (Without Looking Like an Ass)

In the freelance writing industry, we as writers come across a unique challenge. It goes like this.

You go to a job board or to look at a request for a job, and the client is asking applicants (or you specifically) to tell them all about your experience in a given subject matter. The reason, ostensibly, is that they want you to write about that subject and assume that you can’t do it if you’re not a subject matter expert with years of personal experience.

This is a frustrating but common problem. If freelance writers only wrote about subjects in which they could obtain an advanced degree, we’d probably go broke. Our job is not to be a subject matter expert in anything except for how to research, write a kick-ass piece, and help our clients reach their content goals. Period.

The problem is that most clients don’t know this. For some reason, they think that if you’re going to write a legal article, you’d better be a legal expert – a lawyer, if possible.

I’m sure it’s a common misunderstanding about what we do as writers. Most clients I’ve talked to about this are happy to hire me once they understand what I actually do. (And it’s not training sloths to perform in the circus. But I’ll research that shit for you.)

Once you realize that your client has fallen prey to this misunderstanding, another challenge arises: how to tell them without sounding like an asshole.

I mean, if a client asks you to write law articles and wants you to produce a law degree, it would be understandable if your initial reaction was “Are you f—-ing kidding me?”

Sadly, you cannot say that to your client. I mean you can, but they probably won’t be your client anymore, and you’d better hope they don’t talk about you to other potential clients. But they probably will.

So, how do you solve this problem?

I usually take the opportunity to be a consultant to my clients. I’m not there to make them feel stupid, I’m there to explain to them what we do as freelancers. So, when a client asks me to describe, in detail, all of my personal experience in the area of natural cures for various, unfortunate fungal infections, I try to reply like this:

While I’m not a subject matter expert on the given topic, I am still confident in my ability to do this job for you. As a freelance writer, my specialty isn’t in a subject area, it’s in doing excellent research and creating compelling, effective content, regardless of the subject matter. It’s part of why I love my job so much; I get to learn about lots of different things and help my clients in the process! Which particular fungal infections should I start researching for you?

It’s a nice way of being honest (I’m not a subject matter expert), educating them (but I’m not supposed to be one), and trying to move towards a hire (how can I get started on this for you?).

Feel free to use this as a template response until you get comfortable replying in your own way. Just…maybe change the fungal infection part.

Hopefully, this helps you go from “I’m sorry, what?” to “Oh, you misunderstood, let me help you clear that up” without any awkwardness. It’s always going to feel a little weird correcting a client, but if you do it like I outlined above, you still look really professional and can clear the air without any ill feelings.

I’ve used this explanation, or some variation of it, many times, and I’ve never had a client get mad at me. Most of the time, they’re either neutrally accepting or they say “Oh, then I have these topics, too!” So, you never know. By putting your foot down gently and professionally, you’re establishing yourself as an authority in your field – writing about all the things – and potentially opening yourself up to even more work.

Have you ever had to correct a client’s misunderstanding of what you do? (Or what you should be expected to do?) If so, talk about it in the comments section!


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