What do I need to discuss with my freelance writer?
This is a good question to consider, especially if you’ve never hired a writer before.
After a few years of conversations with clients, I have learned which questions are really crucial to creating a clear, valuable brief. It is simply more efficient to ask them all at the beginning of a job and establish defined expectations.
I sometimes tailor questions for different types of writing, if I know a little bit about your requirements before we chat. And it is best to have a quick chat, 20 minutes is usually enough, although I set aside half an hour to account for potential conversational tangents. If it’s easier for the client, usually for time difference reasons, this can be done by email. But a quick conversation tends to achieve clarity with more efficiency.
Including the basic framework on my website is for those people who like to think things through before a meeting. It is not intended to suggest that clients generate a written response.
My subdivisions make sense to me. They may not be how every freelance writer structures the information, but we all need to know the same thing to do a good job.
Genre: The ‘what’
This is the easiest question to answer because it is simply ‘what do you need me to write?’ Is it a series of blogs? Website content revamp? Company brochure? As I stated in Part One, there is no need to worry if you are calling it by its known name. The plainer the explanation, the less chance there is for confusion on either side.
Audience: Who will be reading it?
This can be trickier than it sounds. Maybe it’s simply the existing target market for your service or product – but who are they exactly? Maybe it’s an internal training manual for your staff, or an email luring new customers to your site. Perhaps it’s a blog for other people in your trade. It is very important that I know who I am writing to, it impacts all the other elements.
Purpose: What do you want the reader to do? How do you want them to feel?
In most cases, the answer to ‘what do you want the reader to do?’ is ‘buy this product’, ‘sign up for this newsletter’, or ‘like and share my post’. You want your writing to provoke a practical action in your reader.
How we get them to do that depends on the second question, ‘how do you want them to feel?’ This can be a bit harder to identify…and do! For example, if you are in the financial services sector, you want your customers to feel informed and to trust in your expert knowledge. Your blog needs a serious but approachable tone that encourages people to click on your blog for high quality, jargon free information that is useful to their situation.
This would be totally different if you were a new British gin company that wanted to emphasise their quirky flavours. Then you would be looking for taste and smell descriptions, the personal character of the makers to come through and some new cocktail recipes to spread the gin-based fun!
Tone: How do you want it to sound?
At first glance, this is easy to define. You want to sound knowledgeable and serious, or fun-loving and light hearted, or informative but friendly. We all have an understanding of what we mean by these words. What I have discovered is that these personal definitions are not universal; they are very much in the eye of the beholder.
Your idea of ‘light-hearted and fun’ could be quite different to mine and quite different to others in your field. I will look around at other people who do the same as you to get a feel for industry norms and lingo. Maybe you want to be similar, maybe you want to be deliberately different. But I can’t know that unless we get very explicit when we lay out the brief.
This is where having examples of what you mean can really speed up the whole process. When it comes to tone, it doesn’t matter if your examples are in your field or not. Even having just one website for me to look at is incredibly helpful communication-wise, saves time and, therefore, saves you money.
You might be selling paper, but your reference is your favourite fashion outlet because you really like their written style. It’s just so important that whatever I write for you sounds, well, like you. No-one else can decide how you want your written voice to sound except you and examples are the easiest way I have found to understand precisely what clients mean.
Obviously, you will already know what you want your content to include. But this is a good place to highlight any of the finer details. Key words or phrases that you need in there to play the Google game are pretty standard. I also want to know if there are particular words or phrases that you definitely want to be included and, just as importantly, not included in your writing.
For example, I had a very immediate and long-lasting reaction to the word ‘wordsmith’ to describe what I do. It is used by many writers in the US and that is absolutely fine for them. I hate it and, if I’d been hiring someone to do my website’s content, it would have definitely been in the DO NOT USE category.
You may want all of your industry’s jargon in your text, you may want to leave out certain phrases, you may want certain adjectives (and their synonyms) included throughout as brand reinforcement. It doesn’t matter why you feel passionately about certain words or phrases, it just matters that you tell me what they are before I start working.
Context: All about your business
I am happy to spend hours researching industry sectors and discovering all about what you do on my own. Please feel free to hire me to do this! It’s one of the things I love about this job, delving into others’ worlds and getting to know a little bit about them – I am endlessly curious. But if you’re not one of those fictional clients with an open-ended budget, it’s quickest (and cheapest) to gather enough information to give me the necessary overview of your sector… you are the expert here.
Basically, imagine I know nothing about what you do (because that’s probably the case!) and consider things like:
Which other companies do you consider to be examples of ‘best practice’, either in their goods, services or how they present themselves?
How are you unique in your field? Why do clients pick you over others?
What are you proudest of? Are you shouting about it enough?
What is your key message? Even if you are just hiring me to write one email campaign, it is very important that everything about your business promotes your key message (even if it is not explicit).
Who are your main competitors? This is just useful for comparison purposes.
Clients have occasionally expressed surprise that I am asking such detailed questions about their business. But anything that helps me understand you and your business enables me to create a more authentic written voice to represent you.
I haven’t mentioned that the briefing meeting is also the place where you should also feel free to ask any questions.
I hope this short explanation of the thinking behind these questions is helpful. Did you find any of them unexpected? Are there any other questions that you think would also be valuable?
By the way, if you don’t know the answer to any of them, that’s OK too. We can work it out between us. I look forward to discussing your next project, just fill in the form or drop me an email and well get chatting.