Understanding Your Customer’s Style Guide: What Questions Should You Ask?

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You might consider yourself a “stylish” writer or designer, but you don’t want to clash with your clients. That means knowing your customer’s style inside and out.

As a freelancer, you quickly discover that every client follows a certain style guide they want you to abide by. This applies to visual designers, coders and writers alike. A style guide establishes and standardizes the rules, not just for writing, but for visual elements and brand presentation. Mastering a client’s style guide and preferences not only makes them want to hire you for more work, but also saves them time on revisions and editing so you can get paid faster.

Here are a few questions you need to ask to understand your customer’s style guide and get the job done right: 

Which Style Manual Do You Follow?

When it comes to the written word, many organizations may ask you to follow one of the two most common style guides: the Associated Press Style Guide or the Chicago Manual of Style. They may follow an alternative style guide, such as the in-house style of the New York Times or other publication. Knowing which style they follow first can save you a lot of time on the editing side later.

What Are Your In-House Rules?

While they may use one of the common style manuals, many organizations have some small tweaks or variations to the standard rules. For example, some organizations use postal abbreviations for state names instead of AP Style abbreviations. House style could also include formatting rules, such as which size sub-headings to use when composing a blog post. Find out about these preferences and exceptions in advance so you can avoid correcting them in the future.  Ideally, the organization you work for will provide you with a written list of house style rules.

What Is the Linking Policy?

Some people you write web content for may want you to link out to other relevant pages, and some do not want you to link to anything at all. Find out before you start working what their expectations are. If they need you to include relevant links, you can bookmark them as you research your assignment. Find out if there is a blacklist of sites that you should never link to as well.

Is There a Brand Style Guide?

A brand style guide is an essential tool for designers, graphic artists, writers, marketers, and more. 

This visual guide provides you with everything you need to know to meet your client’s goals. Most brand style guides feature a color palette, logo variations, fonts and other assets acceptable for use. Some include a written description of the brand and any additional guidelines for how the materials should come across.  

Having the brand’s style guide at your disposal saves you a lot of time in production and from too much back and forth with the client over your font and color choices.

What Should I Avoid At All Costs?

Rather than learn the hard way later on, find out which rules are the most important. 

Are there certain subjects or competitors you shouldn’t mention when writing an article? Are there certain colors and layouts that your client hates?  You’ll find that some clients might be stricter about some rules than others.

Mastering Your Client’s Style

By asking a few key questions, you can master your client’s style guide with speed and grace. Knowing the rules of the game up front will save you considerable time and effort, enabling you to be more productive in the long run.

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