Should you offer discovery calls to potential freelance writing clients?

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July 15, 2021
5 minute read

Whether or not to offer discovery calls to potential freelance writing clients is a difficult question to answer definitively. An upfront call can be valuable in the right circumstances, but there’s a cost to investing time in clients who haven’t paid anything yet. You may also find your opinion changing dramatically over your career, even if your butterflies at the prospect never disappear entirely.

We go over in more detail what a discovery call is and its benefits and drawbacks. That way, you can decide if these types of business conversations make sense for where you are in your business today. 

What is a discovery call?

In the context of this article, a discovery call is a video or phone conversation between a freelance writer and a prospective client to help each party confirm whether or not the relationship is worth pursuing.

Discovery calls are usually a couple of steps along in the sales process. They might arise after something like the following:

  • The client comes across the writer through their inbound marketing strategy, likes their work, and requests more information.
  • The writer pitches the client through a cold email or a job posting, generating enough interest to warrant more discussion.

Clients like discovery calls because they can get more assurance that they’re working with someone trustworthy. Freelance writers may use them to vet their clients and establish expectations early.

The advantages of discovery calls

Many freelancers writers like discovery calls for the following reasons:

1. You can charge higher prices more easily

In the current market, there’s a wide range of freelance writing prices. Some writers charge as little as $0.001 per word, while others may charge over $1,000 for a single article.

At the lower end of the scale, discovery calls are rarely necessary. Clients that shop in that price range don’t need to trust their writer all that much to commit. They’re just not making a significant enough investment to feel like the extra step is necessary.

However, sales get harder to make as your prices increase and the client’s would-be investment gets bigger. At premium rates, you have to work harder to convince clients that they’re getting a great deal.

Jacob McMillen, a well-established freelance copywriter, asserts that “very few purchases over $5,000 are made without a live discussion.”

Source: https://jacobmcmillen.com/sales-call/

Think of it this way. Would you give $5,000 to someone you’d never talked to before? Probably not. Discovery calls are predominately a trust-building exercise, and they can be the key to unlocking sales at premium prices.

2. You can catch red flags early

Most experienced freelance writers have at least one nightmare client story, such as:

  • Endless requests for more revisions
  • Unresponsiveness for anywhere from days to weeks at a time
  • Abrasiveness, rudeness, or some other personality flaw

Clients see discovery calls as a way to decide whether they can trust you as a freelance writer, but that assessment goes both ways. They're also an opportunity for you to gauge prospective clients and see whether you want to work with them.

3. Both parties can set clear expectations

As cliché as it may be, the key to every successful relationship is clear communication. Having an open and intentional discussion with a client as early as possible pays dividends throughout the time you work together.

Jamie Johnson, another experienced freelance writer, says: “Discovery calls are a great way to start building a relationship with clients in a way that you just can’t do over email.” Despite her anxiety about the process, they’re well worth it for her business.

Discovery calls allow the writer to quickly and clearly define their pricing, revision policy, and turnaround times. Clients can likewise clearly explain their business needs and rest assured that they’re going to be met. If it’s not a good fit, they’ll know after the call to take their business elsewhere.

The disadvantages of discovery calls

The main reasons freelance writers forego discovery calls are usually because:

1. Discovery calls consume resources

In an ideal world, you’d have plenty of time to sit down and have a discussion with each client before onboarding them. Unfortunately, your time and energy are limited, and there’s an opportunity cost to everything you do.

If you commit to offering discovery calls, you’re taking away time that could be spent doing work for existing clients, managing their needs, or otherwise generating paying business.

You can mitigate that issue somewhat by automating or outsourcing some of your client vetting processes. For example, you could have each potential client fill out a questionnaire and train a virtual assistant to weed out poor fits based on their responses.

Of course, while that might save you time, it still costs you money. But depending on how many more clients you take on, it could be worth the expense.

2. There’s no guarantee that discovery calls will create paying clients

The risk of offering discovery calls is that you can invest a lot into clients only to lose their business in the end. Your opportunity cost is a given for each call, but there’s no guarantee any of them will generate income.

If you’re too generous with your time, some prospects may end up trying to take advantage of you. Some freelance writers have found that potential clients attempt to use discovery calls for free advice without any intention of ever paying.

When to offer discovery calls

At the beginning of your freelance writing career, discovery calls might not be necessary. Your prices are likely to be relatively low, and you’ll want to accept most paying work. Neither you nor your client will need much as much convincing upfront to commit.

Once your business is more established, though, discovery calls may make more sense. Your rates are higher, you can afford to be pickier, and you may be able to outsource some of the processes.

If you would like to offer discovery calls to potential freelance writing clients, there’s plenty of guidance out there to help you. Study the advice from established freelancers on their best practices, and don’t hesitate to copy their scripts and questions!

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