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The secret of a good web copywriting project? A detailed client brief.

Freelance web copywriters rarely meet their customers face-to-face. We often have clients scattered across the state, across the country, and even across the world. That, plus the fact we usually charge for our services by the hour, means that we need to have a reliable way of collecting all the information about a project to write an accurate quote or proposal.

Enter the client brief.

Getting a comprehensive client brief starts a project on the right foot. It gives a copywriting project a far higher chance of success – which means a happy client.

My client brief (which gets filled out to kick start the project) contains:

  • Name of company and motto (so I get the spelling right in the content).
  • Contact name, phone number, and email address (so I know the person to chase up with any project related questions, and also who I’ll send the final version to).
  • Description of project – for example one 250 word web page using existing marketing material (gives me a feeling for the size of the project, how much content I need to write).
  • Unique selling points of product or company – for instance the only authorised supplier of xyz in Brisbane (helps with developing an angle for the content).
  • Five words to describe the personality of the product/company (helps me decide on the tone and language to use).
  • Company website url (for obvious reasons).
  • Supporting information provided (so I know how much research I’m going to need to do).
  • Main competitors (gives me an understanding of the industry).
  • What do you want your call to action to be (such as give us a call, download our whitepaper, subscribe to our newsletter)?
  • Who is your target audience (retirees, youth, parents etc)?
  • Specific keywords to use in the content (so I fit in with any other SEO activities you may be undertaking).
  • First draft of content required by (helps me plan).
  • Final version of content required (again, helps me plan).
  • Format required – for example .doc (I use Word 2007 generally, but I can provide other formats such as a plain .txt file).

I’ll also ask if you have an in-house style guide that you use. Helps me with things like heading style (of course I always recommend sentence case).

Do you think anything else should be added to the list?

{ 15 comments… add one }
  • Louise Desmarais June 25, 2009, 12:09 am

    I agree that the brief is sooo important, and sometimes half the battle is getting it filled out by the client! Many prefer to just hand a job over without spending too much prep time on it themselves. But then, the end result is exactly what they deserve.

    To add to your list, I also ask them:

    1. What pains they are alleviating for their clients
    2. What barriers to purchase there might be (why would a customer NOT buy from you?)
    3. What they DO NOT want to see or read in their marketing materials.

    This last one helps me avoid any negative issues that immediately turns them off and colours their opinion of the copy before they read through it.

    Louise Desmarais’s last blog post..Blogging. If it’s not part of your “here I am!” strategy – it should be.

    • Snappy Sentences June 25, 2009, 8:19 am

      Hi Louise
      What good points! I especially like number three – of course there will be ways people prefer NOT to describe their products or services. I think I’m going to add that to my template 😉
      Cheers

  • Glenn Murray June 25, 2009, 8:49 am

    Agree 100%. But I’ve always find I need a lot more info than that. Also, most of my jobs are for multiple pages, so I end up asking ‘project-wide’ questions, as well as ‘page-specific’ questions.

    Here are some questions you could add to your list (sometimes you’ll need to ask these questions about the project as a whole, and sometimes about specific pages)
    1. What is the objective of this copy?
    2. What problem / need / situation has caused the reader to read this copy? (Slightly different emphasis from Louise’s question 1 above.)
    3. How would your reader achieve their objectives without your offering?
    4. How long have you been in business?
    5. Why should readers trust you?
    6. Do you have a particular tone or style in mind for your copy (e.g. Informal, funny, conservative, formal)?
    7. Can you refer to anything in my portfolio that is written in the style that you would like me to use?
    8. Can you supply links to other copy that is written in the style you would like me to use?
    9. What point / claims do you want to make on this page?
    10. Please provide details that validate this claim (similar to your supporting info question).
    11. Any other details you want to include?
    12. What makes your delivery of this product / service better than your competitors’? (The answer to this will often be a little different from the answer to the USP question.)

    Also like Louise’s questions 2 & 3 above!

    Cheers.

    • Snappy Sentences June 25, 2009, 9:04 am

      Hi Glenn
      Fantastic points as well. Do you find it hard to get clients to supply all of that detail? Or are you very strict with the brief (incomplete brief = no quote/project initiation)?
      Thanks for the comment!

  • Glenn Murray June 25, 2009, 9:08 am

    Yeah, sometimes clients are a bit slow with the information. But I’m not asking for the fun of it. If they want me to write their copy, they have to provide some answers. If they’re not prepared to answer some questions, they mustn’t take their copy very seriously.

  • Snappy Sentences June 25, 2009, 1:37 pm

    You’re right, they are hiring a professional to do the work after all.

  • Tina Blackmur July 23, 2009, 11:42 am

    Hi there
    I have really enjoyed reading your blog and found it so informative and interesting. I find that I always get asked “how much do you charge per page for writing website content?” and that people generally want a firm quote rather than be charged per hour. Personally I would much rather charge for copywriting services per hour when writing website content, as it’s so difficult to predict exactly how long the writing will take. And very often, clients want to add in extra stuff anyway.

    • Snappy Sentences July 23, 2009, 7:45 pm

      Thanks Tina

      I get asked that a lot as well, and to get around it I have a word limit on the pages when I quote per page. I also have a revision policy in my terms and conditions – usually they get one draft and one final version (and when I email them the draft I am pretty clear that they get one shot at changes). Of course, if they want more flexibility with changes – I take that into account with my quote.

      How do you handle requests for lots of changes?

  • Tina Blackmur July 24, 2009, 8:39 am

    Yes, I also have a word limit on pages when quoting, and a revision policy of one draft and one final version. With requests for lots of changes (because the other aspect of that is that I want my clients to be totally satisfied with the end result) this usually results in negotiating an extra fee. However I have to admit that once I have quoted a fee for the whole project, it doesn’t always sit well with me to ask for more money. I have always found this a bit of a stumbling block. I suppose that it makes sense to allow for the extra changes in your initial quote?

    • Snappy Sentences July 25, 2009, 10:54 am

      Yes, it is hard – but luckily I’ve only had to do it a couple of time. And in both cases I recognised fairly early in the project that it was going to require more work than initially quoted, so I was able to offer a few options to the client so they could still have a positive outcome within budget.

      I also came across this post from Men With Pens on accurate estimates. Even though it’s for graphic design, it’s still food for thought.

      Are you on Twitter Tina?

  • Tina Blackmur July 25, 2009, 11:24 am

    Thanks for that. I had a look at the Men With Pens article on accurate estimates and it is a refreshing way to look at the process.

    How do you answer prospective clients either on the phone or even meeting them face to face at a networking event, who ask you “how much do you charge for writing, for example, a brochure?” I was put in this situation only yesterday at a networking meeting, and in a group situation? I would be interested to know your thoughts on this.

    No, I’m not on Twitter. I have to confess I don’t really know how to either blog or do the Twitter thing – as yet, anyway.

  • John July 28, 2009, 4:21 pm

    Yes I agree but a lot of clients are so disorganised they often don’t want to answer these questions (and simply want to pay to have it all done without any effort on their part). I solve this by asking them if I can speak to the best salesperson in their organisation for research then recording the pitch they do for me over the phone regarding the product and using this as the control test.
    .-= John´s last blog .. =-.

    • Snappy Sentences July 29, 2009, 8:16 pm

      Hi John

      That’s a good idea, especially when you are having trouble gleaning the information you need to write the copy. BUT, I’m always cautious dealing with just salespeople. Yes, they do have the pitch down pat – but sometimes they also have a distorted view on the product 😉

      Cheers

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