Listening. It sounds so obvious, and I’m definitely not here to patronise. We all know it’s important, and I’m sure lots of us have been on courses in the past about active listening and how to ask good questions.
I wanted to take a closer look, though.
I’m a big believer that listening is a core skill for any successful freelancer. We often hear about the importance of setting yourself goals and working towards them, but I think that can be a risky route if you don’t balance it up with some really good listening along the way, to make sure your goals are still relevant.
Listening is perhaps even more useful to copywriters than (at least some) other professions. That’ll become clear if you read right to the end, but if you’re a non-copywriter freelancer (hello!), I’ve put the more universal tips, tricks and thoughts towards the top of what follows.
So, you know HOW to listen. But WHAT should you listen to, aside from your favourite business podcasts?
First up, listen to your gut.
Nine times out of ten your gut will tell you whether something’s amazing or not quite right. It might be a client who is (or isn’t) a great fit for you, or a piece of work you’ve done that just doesn’t feel right yet.
This comes with a health warning, though. The one time you shouldn’t listen to your gut is when you’re in the grasp of imposter syndrome. The rest of the time, tune in and listen to the good stuff.
Listen to the wider industry.
What language do they use? What gaps can you see? Are there opportunities just sitting there waiting to be taken?
Are there parts of your business where you want to sound similar to competitors, so you can build familiarity and foster trust? Are there other areas where you can really stand out? Standing out is good.
Listen to feedback from your customers.
I’s natural for us to skim over a great review and bask in its glow, but not to really dissect what the client appreciated about our work. Take a closer look at the last good review you received and pick out what the feedback focused on. Do you make enough of that on your website, your flyers and your social media?
Equally a negative review might hurt, but once that initial bite has passed, you need to understand exactly what it was that went wrong and see if there’s anything you need to fix for the future.
Listen to your potential clients. Duh.
Yeah OK, this might seem a bit obvious but stick with me.
Instead of just writing down what they say, actively listen to what they’re telling you and decide how knowledgeable they really are about their business.
Of course, they’ll know stuff about the business (I hope). But what you’re looking for is how much objective knowledge they have about their market, their competitors and their wider industry in general.
Some clients come armed with all that knowledge and research in place. Others come with a very personal passion for their business. Some come with both. Occasionally you’ll find clients who are so passionate about their own business that they find it hard to take advice or see other points of view. There are all sorts, and I’m sure we’ve all met plenty of each along the way.
The important thing is to understand where each particular client falls on this spectrum. I’d absolutely still work with the ones who don’t know about their business, but you’ll need to listen to them differently to those who do.
If your client really knows their business, listen to what they tell you and to the language they use.
The chances are they’re using words they know work when they’re talking to their customers and other industry experts. They probably know the key selling points to bring out, what makes an impact with customers, and what customers are after. That’s all really valuable.
If your client doesn’t know their market and industry inside out, listen hard to what they want, what they think they need, and what their frustrations are.
They might not know what to ask for, or how you could help. They might miss opportunities that you, with your professional and more objective perspective, could help them to grasp. Listening means you can frame the project they need from you in the best possible way. And it also lets you capture that enthusiasm they have for what they do, which can be so powerful when it’s channelled into their marketing.
Listen to your client’s customers.
Their feedback is invaluable. It’ll let you identify and address their main concerns or issues, and it’ll show you where your client delivers above and beyond.
As with reviews from your own customers, your client might have read a negative review in detail (over and over, in misery), but not done the same with their positive ones. It’s easy to miss the specifics – after all, if someone’s happy, you’re happy, reassured and you move on. But the specifics of a positive review can tell you where your client excels AND which elements of a product or service the customer is particularly invested in.
So, in short:
- It’s good to talk.
- But it’s important to listen, too.
Here endeth the lesson.