5 Questions Freelance Writers Should Ask At Briefing Stage

Briefing is the most important stage of any freelance writing job. If a project goes wrong or a client is not happy, more often than not, the problem can be traced back to the brief. Whether you’re offering blogging services or website copywriting, spending time upfront getting the brief right can save you hours of rewriting, and reduce the risk you’ll have unhappy clients and negative feedback.

The purpose of the copywriting brief

The brief is a simple set of questions that you ask the client before starting a new project. As well as giving you the instructions for the copywriting project, the brief is an agreed upon point of reference in the event of a dispute or if the client is not happy with the end result. Ask the right questions and you’ll have a much better chance of nailing it first time and avoiding endless rewrites and frustration on both sides.

So how much should you ask? A good brief is not too long, while still covering everything you need to know to complete the job to your client’s specifications.

Before you get in depth it’s a good idea to cover off the basics, like:

  • Type of content (webpage, blog, social post etc)
  • Number of pages
  • Length of content (usually this is given as number of words)
  • What the content is about.

Once you’ve got the basics covered, you’ll want to ask a few more in depth questions so you can really understand what the client is looking for in terms of style, tone and what they want the content to achieve.

Here are five questions you should always ask as part of the briefing process:

  1. Who is your target audience? This is the cardinal rule of copywriting. If you don’t know who you’re writing for, it’s next to impossible to write effectively. Relatively new clients can be unsure about their ideal target market. Larger companies are more likely to supply you with buyer persona information and detailed instructions.
  2. What’s your brand style? While not all clients will have an official style guide, they should at least be able to give you an idea of whether they’re generally formal, informal, fun, serious, relaxing etc.
  3. What’s your key messaging? What are the main points they want to get across in their content? They may want to address certain customer pain points or obstacles to buying, or perhaps they want to communicate a certain set of benefits for the reader.Smaller businesses will need your help to develop the messaging. Larger ones might send you a messaging framework, or provide very detailed instructions.
  4. What’s the objective of the content? It’s always a good idea to find out what the client wants the piece of writing to achieve. Once you know the overall objective, it’s a lot easier to frame your copy so it gently guides the reader in that direction.
  5. Are there any SEO requirements? If the content is for a blog or website, the client may have SEO related instructions and keyword data for you. Or, they might be expecting you to undertake the keyword research – so it will pay you to clarify this before you quote, and to ensure any SEO instructions are included in the brief.

What if the client doesn’t want to fill out a brief?

All freelance writers at one time or another will come across a client who doesn’t want to fill out a brief. This might be because they’re pressed for time, or because they don’t really know what it is they want (early stage start-ups are frequent offenders!). They might even feel that they ‘shouldn’t have to tell you how to do it’. They might suggest that you ‘just write something,’ or ‘see what you can come up with.’ It’s often a sign that they need you to develop a strategy or plan before you begin writing – so it comes down to whether a client understands that this is needed, and takes up time.

Refusal to fill out a brief or engage with you on a briefing or strategy related call is typically a giant red flag. Writing without a clear direction will often result in the client suddenly (after you’ve completed the first draft) supplying a long list of specific things they wanted to include in the copy but didn’t think to mention. Stand firm and insist on a brief or a strategy session – if a client is really resistant, you might want to consider walking away.

To a writer, the strategic planning of content and the writing are two completely different activities. To a client who isn’t an experienced marketer, the planning layer can be invisible. It’s up to you to educate clients on the value that you can provide.

There are other reasons someone might be reluctant to fill out your brief. Some people have excellent verbal communication, but struggle to write. For a huge number of people in Australia, English isn’t their first language; and writing in English isn’t something they do on a daily basis. For these potential clients, it’s a great idea to offer an alternative method of providing their brief, such as speaking with them by phone, completing the brief for them, and having them review and approve it.

Asking the right questions at briefing stage is the key to success as a freelance copywriter. With a good brief you’ll have a much better chance of nailing every job, every time.

“Succinct, engaging
and accurate”

I’ve worked with the team at Article Writers Australia for over 2 years now. They’ve been instrumental in ensuring our articles and case studies are succinct, engaging, and accurate.

They do feel like they are part of my team – they know us so well I think I could write a brief on a Post-It note.

Fi Arnold, Digital Marketing Manager, Kennards Hire

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