Dear WordCount: I used to do corporate writing work for client I’ll call Company A. That work slowed down and then stopped. This week, I was approached about a project by agency I’ll call Company B. After signing their non-disclosure agreement, Company B told me that if I’m hired, I would be doing work for Company A. Should I tell Company B that I’ve worked for Company A before? When I worked for Company A before I also signed a non-disclosure agreement. — Puzzled
This isn’t as tough as it sounds. I’m a big believer in writers laying their cards on the table when it comes to sharing what freelance clients they work with or have worked with in the past.
There are a number of reasons why this is a good thing. The biggest is the edge if gives you. Since you’ve worked with Company A before, you’re more familiar with how they operate, and what their expectations are for the writers they work with. That gives you an advantage over other freelancers Company B might be considering for this work.
You should be able to share this information without violating the non-disclosure agreements you signed – if you stick to discussing the type of work you did without getting into the details of the projects. For example, you could say that you were responsible for copywriting and collaborating with a graphic designer, without going into detail about the content of those ads, brochures or newsletters that you wrote, or the layout that you helped the graphic designer create.
Why It Pays to Lay Your Client Cards on the Table
There are other reasons to tell a new client about your other past or present clients:
1. Experience. If you’ve written for a particular type of client – whether it’a newspaper, magazine, website, custom publisher or advertising agency – your experience makes you a more valuable team member for a similar operation.
2. A beat. If you regularly cover a subject, you can carry that knowledge into the other work you do. Publishers might not like the fact that you work with a direct competitors – and some include clauses in their freelance contracts barring writers from writing for certain top-level competitors. But they might not object – and may even encourage – you to write on the same topic for clients outside of their field. For example, if you cover health care for a nursing journal, it could help the writing you do for a website on consumer health care news or a newsletter for medical groups.
3. Work scope. If you do editing, social media management or website design for one client, you have more skills to sell to a new client, or a client who you’ve only been writing for.
Read more on this subject: Do you tell editors what you’re writing when you’re not working for them?
[Flickr photo by Ben Alford]