Copywriters often don’t ask their clients enough questions before, during, and after the course of a project. As a result, they often end up going in the wrong direction and revising their work significantly along the way.
If you’ve made this mistake before yourself (and who here hasn’t?), you know that this benefits neither you nor your clients. You spend more time getting the project done, your client comes out less satisfied with it, and you end up making less money, especially if you charge your work by word count and not per hour.
To ensure that this doesn’t happen to you again, I’ve compiled a list of questions you can ask every client whenever you’re starting a new project.
Question 1. Have you worked with a freelance copywriter before, or is this the first time you’re ordering this type of work?
Do not underestimate the utility of this question. The difference can be as big as working on a transactional gig where an agency is looking for a freelancer to create content for their client’s website redesign—and having to walk a new client who’s never worked with copywriters before through your typical process of work, including what inputs you need from them, how many revisions they can request, and by when they can expect the whole project to be “complete.”
There’s also an opportunity here. If you start working with a client who needs a little guidance, you can turn into their trusted advisor by giving it. In doing so, you can offer additional services to help your client create a content strategy and plan content creation. You could even become the manager of other freelancers and act as a Chief Editor of sorts if the project and budget allow it.
Look for hidden opportunities to create value (and build long-term client relationships) where other freelancers will only see yet another quick gig to top up their account balance.
Question 2. Do you have a project brief you could share with me? It will help me get the bird’s eye view of what you’re trying to achieve with this project.
The project brief, as Lesa T., one of our contributing authors, wrote in “How to Work With a Copywriter,” is the number one key factor to a successful working relationship.
It gives you clarity about the topic and context about the piece of work that you’re getting hired to do. It helps align the client’s expectations to your understanding of the work—and gives ground for dialogue before, and not after, you’ve written the content.
There are many benefits to having a project brief. Arguably the two biggest ones are that you’ll know what angle to write from and the direction to work with, keeping revisions to a minimum and boosting the client’s overall satisfaction from their work with you.
And we all know that happy clients mean more referrals, which means more business. As much as we all like the work we do, it needs to pay the bills at the end of the day.
Question 3. Do you have any existing materials or previous work by other copywriters you can share with me? What did you like (and not like) about it?
If you’re working with a company or subcontracting for an agency, it’s generally a good practice to take some time to look through your client’s website, landing pages, sales brochures, and marketing materials. Doing so will give you a rough idea of how they like to present themselves and their products or services—and what traits they tend to emphasize on.
When you’re working with a print publisher, online media company, a blog network, or even a single blog, ask them for links to the best and the worst pieces of content that other copywriters have written for them.
“Stand on the shoulders of giants,” as they like to say (or, in this case, of your peers), and learn from the mistakes that others have made in the past. It’s a simple trick, and it won’t take you all that much time per client to do it.
You’ll start getting better testimonials and more referrals as a result. It won’t be uncommon to read, “he or she instantly got the tone of voice for our brand right” or “this was the first time I’ve read a post and hit the ‘Publish’ button without requesting a single revision.”
Question 4. Who will be the reader of this piece of content? Are they a beginner, an intermediate, or an expert on the topic?
Without a clear understanding of your audience, it’s challenging to write copy that speaks directly to them.
If your client gave you a good project brief, you should already know the type of content you’re creating and its target audience. But the reality is that it’s often not enough.
It’s essential to understand your audience’s level of knowledge about a topic and how they are related to it.
It’s one thing to write a guide for replacing the filter on an AC unit for a first-time homeowner who wants to do it by themself—and another to create a field guide for AC repairers.
If you’re writing copy that beginners will read, it’s vital to use plain language and not assume that the reader is familiar with any terms. You might want to provide links or references for more information, which can also be a good opportunity for internally linking to other pages on your client’s site.
On the other hand, if you’re writing copy for an audience that’s knowledgeable about the industry or topic, they may be expecting to see jargon to consider your content “trustworthy” in the first place. And you should probably skip writing about the definitions for everything, as doing so can detract expert readers.
Question 5. By the time they’re done reading this piece of content, what do you want your reader to do, learn, or feel?
I can’t emphasize enough how powerful this question is. It helps you uncover the end goal of the piece of content you’re being asked to create. Doing so gives you the clues that you need to make it as good as possible.
There’s content, like how-to guides and step-by-step guides, intended to teach the reader a specific skill. Then there’s content, like the copy of a landing page, that’s intended to sell. Suppose you’re writing for an online magazine. In that case, you could even be asked to create content, like a list of the ten worst pick-up lines that men use in bars, that entertains.
If you don’t know what the end goal is and don’t take the time to make it as clear as possible by asking your client some questions and having a dialogue or email exchange after, then there’s a good chance that your copy will be ineffective.
Question 6. How in-depth do you need this piece of content to be? Do you have any preferred sources of information you’d like to point me to?
Most clients, for one reason or another, will underestimate the amount of research that goes into the creation of a good piece of content. In some cases, they’re not even aware that a low price and sense of urgency have an inverse relationship with the breadth and depth of research.
By asking this question, you get them thinking about it, which allows you to adjust their expectations to the price they’re willing to pay or the timeline in which they want the content delivered.
It also helps you surface things that copywriters don’t talk about enough with their clients, like what primary or secondary research sources they prefer.
I mean, if you approach this with genuine curiosity—and you have a client that has a pretty good clue for what they’re asking for—you could even save time from research by having the client point you to what they believe are the best sources of information on the topic.
Question 7. By when do you need me to get this done? Is this piece of work in any way business-critical or urgent?
I know this seems like Project Management 101 here, but it’s more important than we give it credit. You should… no, let me correct that, you absolutely must agree on a deadline for the delivery of your work.
This protects you from the client suddenly asking for it earlier because something on their end suddenly changed and helps you plan your capacity and schedule in relation to other projects and clients.
Suppose you can’t get a clear answer for this question even after asking it and discussing the situation with the client. In that case, this is a red flag that something with this project and how they’re managing it is wrong.
At this stage, you should decide whether or not you want to take this project on in the first place, as there’s a fair amount of risk that you could end up working overtime or having to revise the work 1,001 times before their Chief Marketing Officer looked at it and wants just a few changes.
Question 8. Can we agree on our ways of working?
Unless you’re working through a content marketplace, like BuySellText or iWriter, which solves the ways of working for you, it’s crucial to agree on a process for content delivery and the number of revisions with your client.
Just like a pilot who’s running his or her plane through the pre-flight checklist before takeoff, it’s helpful if you have a pre-kickoff project checklist to run your clients through before you get started.
Think about your standard ways of working:
- How much do you charge per word?
- Does that price include a title, SEO title and meta description tags, inclusion of SEO keywords?
- What are your minimum required inputs you need from a client before getting started on a project (i.e., project overview, type of content ordered, desired length of content, must-have keywords)?
- How many revisions does the client get after you’ve delivered Version 1.0 of your work? If they want these revisions done, when should they give you feedback (i.e., within 48 hours of receiving the work)?
- What are your client’s minimum requirements for your work? Should you follow a specific brand book or style guide? Are you expected to deliver a .docx file from your Microsoft Word app or work directly in their Content Management System (CMS)?
Think of all the inputs you need from your clients and all the requirements you need from them. Design a way of working and agree with them on it so that each side knows what to expect how and by when.
After you’ve tried this and iterated on it with a few clients, you won’t believe the difference it makes to the quality of your work processes and their overall satisfaction from your work.
Question 9. Who is the Directly Responsible Individual (DRI) for this project on your end? Will I be working with them or someone else?
In 2011, Apple coined the term “Directly Responsible Individual,” abbreviated “DRI,” after a few internal programs and projects related to the iPhone failed due to lack of clarity around who’d have the final word and be ultimately accountable for success.
Since it was none other than Apple’s founder, the late Steve Jobs, who once said, “good artists copy, great artists steal,” steal this concept from him and his team—and teach it to your clients. For every project you take on, especially when the client represents a big agency or Fortune 500 company, ask about the Directly Responsible Individual (DRI).
That’s the one person who has the final say on the tone of voice, writing style, corrections to be made, and money to be paid. Without them, a simple question can turn into a days-long quest of your client’s organizational chart and company hierarchy.
Question 10. Do you want me to deliver all of the completed work at once, or should I send you each piece of content as I finish it?
Some clients prefer to work in a very waterfall way. They’ll give you all of the requirements at the start of the project, try to answer any questions you might have, then let you do the work and be entirely hands-off until 100% of it is delivered. Then, they’ll take a look at the content, request a few corrections, and consider the project more or less done.
Other clients will be what project managers like to call agile. When they order a large batch of content, like 20 posts for their blog, they’ll want to review each of them as it comes out and give you their feedback so that the next ones are closer to what they want to see. Instead of requiring many revisions at a time, this way of working brings the number of revisions down to almost a minimum as you deliver more content.
Tailor how you deliver your work to the way they prefer to engage with you, and you will quickly become their go-to person for any piece of content they need to get written.
Question 11. Is this a one-off gig, or are you looking for someone to write content for you frequently?
Profitable businesses are built on repeat clients, and copywriting is no exception.
Sometimes, clients with the budget for a long-term relationship will post one-off jobs on sites like Upwork to test one or a few freelancers’ services and select who to work with on a recurrent basis.
Other times, someone will just be looking for a few pieces of content for their redesigned website’s “Our Services” and “About” pages—and isn’t planning to do so again the next four or five years.
Sifting out the one-time gigs from the jobs that can bring you recurring clients helps you boost revenue and profitability in the long run by increasing Customer Lifetime Value (CLV).
Question 12. How do you prefer to get invoiced? What is your standard payment term for freelancers?
When working on a project for a top agency or Fortune 500 company, the terms and conditions for invoicing and payment will be covered in your contract (often called the “master agreement” or “frame agreement”) and purchase order.
And you’ll want to talk these through with your client and formalize them in a contract (or, at a minimum, have written confirmation from them in an email exchange) if they are a solopreneur or small business who found you in a Facebook group or contacted you from a client referral.
For clients who are planning to pay you in advance, make sure your contract specifies when the lump sum will be delivered and what deliverables on your end it’s bound to.
If they’re going to do a monthly payment schedule, find out by what date you need to send the invoice—and by when they will pay you once you do. This is important; missing the date can mean not getting paid for two months if you have to wait 30 days for the next invoicing period and another 30 days for the money to arrive in your bank account.
Question 13. If you like my work, do you mind giving me a testimonial or introducing me to a few of your friends who might need a copywriter?
Testimonials set you apart from others when you compete for work on marketplaces or when a potential client visits your portfolio website and sees the logos of a few household brands or the names of one or two industry influencers. The only way to get them is to ask for them proactively.
Some clients might be hesitant to give you a testimonial, but they would still like for you to know how great the experience was. If this is the case, then ask them if they can introduce you to a few friends or industry peers who might be looking for copywriting services.
This is a great way to expand your network and find new clients. If someone has an outstanding network that they can introduce you to, you can even talk with them about giving them a cut. For example, you could share 10% of the first year of work you get from anyone they introduce you to.
Question 14. If I give you a discount, would you be willing to order more content in bulk?
Here’s another way for you to increase the lifetime value of most of your client relationships: when you see that a client has the budget to do so, offer them a discount if they order more content in bulk.
Say that you’re about to start working with one of the top blogs in a niche. That blog’s making money from display ads, affiliate links, and selling courses. Unless its owners are not reinvesting as much money into its growth any longer, they’d probably be able to order more than they initially asked for.
So how do you get them to do it? Offer them a discount if they order in bulk.
For example, you’re getting hired to write only one article for $100. So you know what they’re paying for content of the same length. Looking at the blog, you can see that they publish ten articles per month, so they’re probably spending a little over $1,000 on it (remember that this is just an estimate; there are probably other costs for editing, and not every article will be of the same length).
Tell that client that you can write ten articles for them if they agree to work with you on a retainer for $900. Or ask them if they’re willing to work with you on a $1,000 retainer if you gave them $100 off (same offer presented differently).
Question 15. Is there anything else I should know?
Last but not least, give your client the chance to tell you anything else that truly matters to them regarding the work they’re hiring you to do. Maybe it’s an article written by another author whose style they liked. Or it’s a specific angle with which they’d like you to approach the topic.
Just try this question out when talking to your next client. I guarantee you that you’ll be surprised how, 9 out of 10 times, it will help you surface invaluable information that enables you to write content that’s better-tailored to their preferences.
To sum it up, these are the 15 questions that copywriters should ask their clients before, during, and after a project:
- Have you worked with a freelance copywriter before, or is this the first time you’re ordering this type of work?
- Do you have a project brief you could share with me? It will help me get the bird’s eye view of what you’re trying to achieve with this project.
- Do you have any existing materials or previous work by other copywriters you can share with me? What did you like (and not like) about it?
- Who will be the reader of this piece of content? Are they a beginner, an intermediate, or an expert on the topic?
- By the time they’re done reading it, what do you want them to do, learn, or feel?
- How in-depth do you need this piece of content to be? Do you have any preferred sources of information you’d like to point me to?
- By when do you need me to get this done? Is this piece of work in any way business-critical or urgent?
- Can we agree on our ways of working?
- Who is the Directly Responsible Individual (DRI) for this project on your end? Will I be working with them or someone else?
- Do you want me to deliver all of the completed work at once, or should I send you each piece of content as I finish it?
- Is this a one-off gig, or are you looking for someone to write content for you frequently?
- How do you prefer to get invoiced? What is your standard payment term for freelancers?
- If you like my work, do you mind giving me a testimonial or introducing me to a few of your friends who might need a copywriter?
- If I give you a discount, would you be willing to order more content in bulk?
- Is there anything else I should know?
This concludes my list. What’s yours? Share the top questions you like to ask your clients with the rest of this post’s readers and me by leaving a comment below.