“Thank you! You really were able to portray exactly what I was unable to, AH-MAZING!” — Happy Client
This email popped into my inbox recently, and I’ll bet you can feel my relief! Before her email arrived, I had two days of wondering.
- Did she receive the copy?
- Did she like/loathe it?
I was ignoring my inner dialogue — mostly. But it was a relief to get a happy message from her!
In case you’re wondering, it doesn’t always work out so well. In my decade as a freelance writer, I’ve had my share of vague feedback and revision requests that were helpful but required a lot more work.
Always focused on improvement, I’ve often asked myself how I can best deliver work the client loves the first time.
Fortunately, you can set yourself up for success when it comes to getting your client’s buy-in before you write. It’s all about asking the right questions up front and having a process you follow.
Because having a process is one of the essential parts of running a writing business.
Want to know how you can create the process that gets you on the same page with your client? It’s all about the planning.
How Do I Get Client Buy-In on the Message Direction Before I Start Writing?
If you’ve ever asked yourself this, you’re not alone. I’m pretty sure every single new freelance writer has asked it. Let’s take the example of the small business owner who sent me the lovely glowing email earlier. She called me because she’d tried to write her web copy and had gotten bogged down.
I walked her through my process, she said yes, and then I wrote her web copy.
But before I had a process?
Sheesh! I worked a lot harder. And while most of my clients were happy, not all.
So, how do you set yourself up for success?
I’m glad you asked.
1. Have a Process
Experienced writers gather the information they need and how they approach the writing itself. It’s a rare writer who sits down at a blank screen and writes perfect copy from beginning to end. (Actually, that only happens in the movies.)
When you have a process, you feel more relaxed, which sets your client at ease because you seem confident. Additionally, the process isn’t complicated at all. But it’s a total game-changer because you get everything confirmed in writing — before you write!
Allow me to explain.
Before you write a word, you want to have what’s called a project “brief.” I am not exaggerating when I say that using one with every new client has changed my life. Before making a client brief part of my process, I used the “hope” method. I’d get a client to agree to a topic and maybe an angle, and I’d write.
That was a hit-and-miss approach. Now, though, I have a brief which they see before I write.
2. The Client Brief
A staple in marketing agencies, it’s the document that literally gets everyone on the same page. It includes:
- working title
- keyword terms
- tone of voice
- key talking points
- who the target audience is
- a call-to-action
- any writing resources like links to background information
I think you’ll agree, that’s a lot to pack into one document. It’s also your writer’s guide. When you have a good brief, you can look at it and know exactly what you’re to write. You know who the ideal reader is, what they care about, and what the proposed outcome is for the piece you’re writing.
Agencies will give you a brief. Many direct clients will not. They may not know they exist or not have thought about it. You can create your own brief and use it as a template for every new project. Then, your client reviews and approves it before you write. It’s a great way to elicit any concerns at the outset.
3. Create an Outline
Not only does an outline help you organize your thoughts, but it shows your client where you’re going with the piece. I include an outline in my client brief with subheadings and any links or bits of information I may include. I invite them to share any examples or key points too. Even if they don’t share anything, it still shows a direction for the writing, so you have their approval.
4. Identify Preferred Sources
Some clients haven’t thought about sources. Others have a detailed list of who NOT to link to or reference. It’s helpful to find out if there are preferred industry sources before you write. I also ask if there are sites/competitors they DON’T want me to link to. That’s also important.
5. Define Revision
It’s common to offer two rounds of revisions. The tricky part is recognizing whether it’s a revision or really a change of direction. The two are not the same thing. I’ve heard of some writers identifying the difference in their contracts. For example, a 20% revision is a change of direction.
If you’re new and haven’t written for many clients yet, I probably wouldn’t make a big deal about revisions initially. Offer two because it makes you look professional. Still, if there is a significant shift in direction, it’s your decision how you want to approach it. If you have a detailed brief, you can always point to it and remind them they’d agreed to this at the outset.
Remember, you’re a writer, not a mind reader. It’s up to you to make sure you ask questions to get the information you need to write. Don’t expect the client to think about what you need. They may not know!
When you come equipped with a process, you’ll look like a professional (and they’ll probably sigh inwardly with relief!). You can take them by the hand and guide them through the process of planning a piece of writing.