Editor’s note: This post was written by Lesa T., a contributing writer at Maker’s Aid with years of experience in copywriting and proofreading.
If you are considering working with a copywriter, you need to know how to do so effectively. Doing so will ensure that your project runs smoothly—and everyone involved is happy with the result.
As a copywriter myself, I have compiled a list of the essential things for me to complete my work to the expected standard and satisfaction of the client on the first take.
Preparing a Brief
Quite often in this job, any issues that may arise are simply down to a lack of clear communication between the client and the copywriter.
This is the number one key factor to a successful working relationship. The best thing you can do to set your project up for success is to prepare a brief for the copywriter.
Give your copywriter clarity about the topic and context for the piece of work.
Tell them what type of text you want them to write on it and who will be the reader. It’s no good just saying, “I want you to write about fish,” for example, if you are expecting an article related to home aquariums.
Your poor copywriter could go off on a complete tangent writing about whales, sharks, stingrays, etc. These are not the kind of creatures one would typically keep in a home aquarium!
Be as specific as you can. Do you want a home aquarium buyer’s guide? If yes, what products would you like to have included? Should they be ordered or described in a specific way? Any template to follow?
How about the reader? Are they someone who’s never owned an aquarium before (which will probably require your copywriter to give definitions for any terms they end up using)? Or are they expert owners looking for the best aquariums for a specific type of fish (which would require a very different approach to writing the guide).
So be specific with your instructions so that nobody’s time (and, as they say, time is money) is wasted. Remember, your copywriter doesn’t have the context and clarity that you do. So the better you become at communicating it, the greater the outcome of the work you get.
Be explicit about deadlines. As much as you can, try to keep urgent and last-minute work to an absolute minimum.
This one is super-important so that your copywriter will know when the work is to be completed. Especially if you’re working with a freelancer and not through a platform that asks you to determine the deadline before it allows you to post a job.
Be realistic with your requirements, and remember that it can take longer than many people think to compose a good piece of work. Especially if you’re looking for an in-depth article on a topic that your copywriter is not necessarily an expert on. In that case, it’s not going to be ready in a couple of hours (unless you’re fine publishing an outline or a rough draft)!
The Internet is littered with work that has been regurgitated from other websites and slightly reworded, which of course, would take far less time to do. My biggest dislike is articles that contain ridiculous amounts of repetition using loads of words in different sentences that all say the same thing!
So please remember when setting those deadlines that for quality original articles, it takes thought process, creativity, and lots of proofreading—which all equal time.
I’m a copywriter myself, and I’m probably biased when I say this, but, on any day, I’d go for content that took longer to produce but keeps your readers engaged over that written quickly and causes them to churn.
Determine your desired word count before asking for a time and cost estimate.
This is another crucial thing to remember as it will help the copywriter assess how long the work will take to complete.
With this information, they can then give you a realistic estimate for the turnaround time. Also, it is usually per word that copywriters charge for their work, so be clear from the outset to avoid misunderstandings.
A couple of things to share when it comes to the number of words for a job.
Sometimes, your copywriter will underdeliver on the word count because they couldn’t find as much to write about on the topic. When that happens, my two cents are to go to Answer the Public or Answer Socrates, put in the main topic of your article, and come up with a few other sub-topics that your copywriter can expand on.
Other times, they will overdeliver because the word count was too small for the amount of helpful information that had to be included in an article on the topic. That’s always a good thing when it happens, but please don’t expect them to deliver an extra 300-400 words for every subsequent order you make for free.
Tell your copywriter if and how you’d like to have references included.
Quite often, clients ask me to add a couple of references to the work. This can be by way of adding a hyperlink to some of the text which reverts to the original resource, or it may just mean citing these resources at the end of the document.
Make sure you are clear about which type of references you require. It’s the small things that cause the most rework, you know. When you get an article written by someone you’re working with for the first time—and you forgot to mention things like this—you’ll probably want the work revised before you consider it ready.
Fewer revisions mean more time spent on writing, especially when someone’s charging you by the hour 😉 .
Would you like to include any SEO keywords? How frequently and where?
You may want to think about adding in some keywords and standard search terms to help with SEO (Search Engine Optimization). This means that more people will find your article when they use these specific words or phrases. I quite often receive briefs that have a list of keywords the client would like included and how many times they would like them to occur throughout the article.
Suppose you’re using a tool that scores the content and suggests what keyword to include where like Surfer SEO. If that’s the case, consider buying a team account and sharing access to it with your copywriter.
I know these things cost money, but sometimes the per-month cost of another user is less than the time it takes you to run someone’s work through the tool and ask them for a revision.
Don’t forget to share any requirements for the meta title and description tags if you’re asking your copywriter to come up with them.
A meta description is often required in Internet articles. Your copywriter sees this as a brief synopsis of the whole article and is what you see on the search engine results page (SERP).
In my experience, some clients tend to see it as an opportunity to include a specific set of keywords or describe the article in a particular way that catches the searcher’s attention. Once again, be clear about any requirements, templates, or best practices.
The Things You’ll Probably Forget to Put in a Brief
Incorporating the following things into your brief will save a lot of time and possible irritation for both the busy copywriter and hurried client.
I often find these things missing—and it can be time-consuming pinging messages back and forth trying to establish these fundamental points.
What tone of voice are you looking for?
I can’t stress how important this one is for the copywriter. I could be asked to write an article about “Investment,” for example. One would assume that it would be a serious piece, maybe for business-to-business (B2B) purposes. But the client may have a completely different style in mind, like chatting to a 70-year-old grandma about where to stash her cash in language that she would understand—not exactly B2B style!
Can you imagine poor grandma’s face if you started talking about mutual funds, bull-runs and bear markets!? She would think you were offering to donate with her to an animal rights campaign!
So think about your target market and how you would like your written piece to sound. Be sure to make it crystal clear whether you want a lighthearted, conversational-type article with some humor injected or whether you want it to read in a more corporate, B2B way.
It’s also beneficial to indicate whether you want it written in first, second, or third person.
Again, this can make a big difference to how the overall piece sounds (and how cohesively it reads when you consider all of the other pieces of content on your website, blog, or store). It is a real pain to have to go and change an article this way after it has been composed.
For example, in Maker’s Aid, we give these very polite and specific instructions to all of our freelance writers and guest bloggers:
- Please write in American English;
- Use an informative, helpful, and friendly tone of voice;
- Please write in plain language, using simple sentences and short paragraphs;
- We encourage you to write in the first person and share stories and advice wherever it’s useful or entertaining for your reader.
What are your requirements for layout and style?
If you have a specific layout you would like the copywriter to follow, make it clear.
Provide written instructions such as these which again, came with this article request:
- Please use an Oxford comma when listing more than two items;
- Use Em dash (—) for emphasis, where appropriate;
- Please use subheadings in your content to increase readability;
- Please keep paragraphs shorter than 70 words to improve readability.
These are all so helpful for the humble copywriter to receive – and always extra nice to get a “please”!
You could also include a link to where it will ultimately be published to demonstrate the tone required. Or even a couple of sample links to other websites that you like the look and sound of.
All of these instructions are super-helpful for the copywriter to do a good job.
Giving Feedback as a Client
Any decent Copywriter should welcome a client’s feedback—even if it is criticism—as long as it is fair and constructive.
It’s a good idea not to write your feedback in an accusatory manner like “you should have done this” or “I don’t know why you didn’t do that.” No one responds particularly well to that tone of voice, and you could end up with your copywriter either feeling suicidal or making a voodoo doll of you and sticking pins where it hurts!
So put a little thought into your feedback and be sure to reread your instructions to see if they were ambiguous with room for misinterpretation. If you feel the subject hasn’t been researched thoroughly enough, you could respond with the suggestion of checking out another couple of links to websites that provide the information you would like to see.
If your copywriter did an overall lousy job and explained that they found that particular project tough-going, try to establish what aspect of it they struggled with.
If you are an agency dealing with various clients in different industries, it may just be that a particular niche did not inspire your copywriter’s creative flow. You will both now know that going forwards, that specific client or industry isn’t a good match for that particular copywriter.
The Bottom Line
So to conclude, everything comes down to clear communication and using a Copywriter who can follow instructions.
The more detail you provide them with, the more likely you are not to have to make any amendments.
You can go and check that I stuck to my brief now – yikes, I think a couple of paragraphs were a bit long……!