• Advice

Build lifelong relationships with the people you interview

In the worlds of journalism and content marketing, interviews are commonplace. Freelance writers, editors, content strategists, and more often work with sources to build out various types of storytelling, from audio to podcasts to longform writing and articles. Interviews and interviewees can provide expert feedback, thought leadership and personal narratives that can be applied to creating compelling content.

While conducting interviews undoubtedly adds value to numerous forms of content by taking your storytelling to the next level, it can also lay the groundwork for lifelong relationships to blossom. People you interview can become go-to sources, refer your services, and even turn into creative collaborators for future projects. In the case of journalism, specifically, they might even think of you first for tips or breaking news.

On top of providing important facts, data, and opinion to back up your writing or content work, interviewees, even one-offs, all have potential to help develop your career. Therefore, it’s important to establish, nurture and grow those relationships with time.

Here are five ways to build lifelong relationships with people you interview.

Set a good example from the start

First impressions are everything. They can make or break opinions in minutes. Therefore, it’s important to start a conversation on the right note. Show up on time for your interview. Rather than jumping into your questions, let the person you’re interviewing know what you’ll be discussing and how their responses will be used before you begin. Take a few moments to get to know the person you’re interviewing, too. Keep in mind these are real people, with real hesitations, and their level of comfort matters.

While some people are pros at speaking to the media or in thought leadership contexts, others may be less experienced or reluctant to open up. By establishing that line of trust at the beginning of an interview, not only will you receive better content for your storytelling, but you’ll create a strong foundation for a relationship to begin to grow.

Leave time for questions

It’s easy to end an interview after your own questions have been answered. However, more often than not, people you interview may have questions of their own. Lend a voice to their side. At the end of an interview, ask your source if there is anything you didn’t cover that they feel is important for you to know for the story. This will help ensure their thoughts are heard and that they don’t leave the conversation wondering what’s next.

In journalism, stories can be sensitive, and it’s essential for interviewees to feel that their experiences will be told correctly. In content marketing, brand image is everything, so you’ll want to make sure subject matter experts and thought leaders get a chance to fully flesh out the business or expertise they represent. In ghostwriting, especially, it’s vital to make sure that all bases are covered so you can capture someone else’s voice.

Don’t forget to say thank you

One of the simplest (and often forgotten) ways to build good connections with people you interview is offering a simple thank-you note. A quick email after an interview thanking people for the time they’ve spent talking to you can go a long way.

It’s important to remember that while you carve out time for interviews, sources in most cases aren’t paid for their involvement and give up time from their personal lives to help you with your content. Be sure to reach out with links to the published work as well so sources know you value the effort they’ve put into being a part of the process. This also shows them that their time hasn’t just gone into the void.

Fact-check everything

Whether you’re being interviewed or the one conducting the interview, the last thing anyone wants is for a story to be told incorrectly. One of the quickest ways to burn a relationship with sources is to put out content that’s flat-out wrong. While errors do happen, many can be avoided simply by old-fashioned fact-checking. Double-check numbers, dates, names, and more with your sources. If there’s anything you’re unsure of, it’s better to err on the side of caution and confirm it before it goes live.

While some publishers and businesses have editors who will do this work for you, others don’t, especially nowadays, as budgets and staff are reduced. This is especially prevalent in journalism, where newsrooms are often shrinking. Either way, double checking facts with your sources will help them trust you both now and in the long term.

Keep an open line of communication

By letting people you interview know that they’re welcome to reach out to you in the future, you establish a line of communication where more opportunities can develop. For example, you may want to interview someone again (or regularly) for similar content if they provide good material. Verbalize those thoughts and ask your sources if you can contact them for other projects down the line.

Opening that door also helps people remember you for future opportunities. Some of the top freelance gigs come from recommendations, even from sources. This can help you land career-building jobs, meet new clients, and form lasting connections in your industry. Networking is the heart of any successful business, including a freelance business, and interviews are one of the best ways to create and maintain relationships.

Ashley Zlatopolsky Ashley is a Detroit-based writer, editor and content strategist. Her work has been featured in Rolling Stone, National Geographic, the Guardian, USA TODAY and more.

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