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How to Work with a Freelance Copywriter

Working with a freelancer copywriter can be intimidating if you’ve never done it before. While you might be used to working with people you already know who work in the same business as you, a freelancer is often an unknown quantity. You want to make sure you end up satisfied, but when you’re working with someone completely new it can be hard to start the ball rolling.

So, here’s my view from the other side of the fence – how to work with a freelance copywriter so that you get what you want.

Before You Start

First things first, you need to absolutely clear what your end product should look like. This doesn’t necessarily mean setting out a full brief right away (though that’s a very good idea), but you should sit down along with any other project stakeholders (such as your client, or other team members) to flesh out what you’re expecting as an end result. The clearer your picture is the easier it’ll be to communicate this to your freelancer, and the happier you’ll be with the end result.

First Contact

Now you’re ready to choose a freelancer. You’ll want to contact a few for a range of quotes, and to minimise the amount of back-and-forth it’s important to set out some basic information in your first email. My contact page lays out some of the information that typically comes in handy, but you needn’t include it all.

In order to get a useful reply straight away your first email should tell your freelancers who you are, what you need doing, and how big the project is. For example:

Hi Ben,

My name’s Karen from Big Apple Farms. We’re looking for someone to refresh our website’s content, working alongside a digital developer who’ll be revamping the site’s design.

There will be about 30 pages of content, broadly following the topics of the site we currently have in place. You can find our site at www.bigapplefarms.co.uk.

Could you let me know a rough price and working time for this project, please?”

From this first email I can get straight back to them with some useful information. I can take a look at their current website for a general idea of how much work they’re asking me to take on, which lets me reply with a rough estimate of price and time. If you have time constraints, such as a site that’s going live in 2 weeks no matter what, mention this upfront, since this might affect the copywriter’s ability to take on the project.

If they hadn’t passed on this info, I would just have to ask for it anyway – by including it in the first email they make it easier for freelancers to return quotes straight away. Big Apple could send this email to a dozen different freelancers if they wanted, and get plenty of quotes back without having to answer loads of follow-up emails. They can then pick between freelancers who get back to them quickly and professionally, with a reasonable quote, rather than bouncing half a dozen emails off different freelancers to get the info they need.

Briefing

This is the most important part of working with a freelancer. Remember, they won’t have any idea what’s happening within your company, and won’t necessarily have any of the reference points that you do. You need to explicitly describe what the end product should look like and what purpose it should fulfil, and the clearer you can be, the better. For example:

Big Apple Farms Landing Page

Landing page We need a few short paragraphs describing our business, and what sets us apart from the competition (see the attached brand guide for examples). This page should branch out to our fruit juice and whole foods product pages as well as to our blog, and guide visitors along to these sections naturally.

Style guide – This page should be informal, but not “jokey”. We’ve attached some examples of what we like, as well as what we don’t like.

Keywords – organic apple juice, organic apple farm, health foods, eating healthy”

This is a useful brief. It allows me, as a writer, to understand what you want me to produce – this doesn’t mean I’ll get it perfect on the first draft, but it means I’ll be close.

Most importantly, it includes examples of what the client does and doesn’t want. This is really helpful, especially if you have a specific result in mind, because it shows me clearly what you mean by “too jokey”. Bear in mind that what you consider to be “jokey” might not match up exactly with what I understand it to mean – if you show me, then we’re on the same page.

Redrafting

If you’ve sent over a clear, detailed brief, your freelance copywriter should be able to land the first draft pretty close to what you want. Remember, though, that it’s a draft – you aren’t expecting the first one to be perfect. If it is, then great, but you should anticipate making a few amendments. I always factor redrafting into any creative copywriting work I do so there’s no additional costs for redrafting, and I think most copywriters work this way (though it’s worth checking).

Redrafting is to be expected, but you don’t want to send your copywriter back to do it all over again. You shouldn’t have to, if you’ve picked a good writer and briefed them properly, but to help make sure they’re on the right track it’s well worth running a “test piece” before the project starts. I usually suggest this to clients, to ensure that I’m not way off track with what I’m writing.

For instance, if someone wants me to write a 20-page guide, I’ll suggest writing a single section on its own to start with. The client then has the opportunity to give guidance, which I can use to refine the rest of the project as I go. If I’ve made an incorrect assumption about perspective, for instance, it’s much easier to correct this up front rather than retrospectively.

Settling Up

Once you’re happy with the content you’ve received from the copywriter, the job’s finished. If it’s a one-off project I usually invoice at its completion, but if it’s an ongoing monthly project (like a blog) I’ll invoice at the end of the month for any work that’s been completed. If the work ends up taking longer than I initially thought, or if it’ll be more expensive, I’ll let my clients know as soon as possible. If, for example, a client has asked for a 2,000 word article on a topic but I find it’s more suited to a larger format, I’ll clear this with them – I won’t wait until I submit the invoice. It is worth confirming costs with your freelancer once they’ve begun work, though, to ensure that you won’t get any surprises when the final project is completed.

That’s about all there is to it; follow these bullet points and you should find that working with a freelancer is a smooth, easy experience:

  1. Be sure what you want – check with stakeholders like clients, bosses, etc.
  2. Give useful information in your first email – start and end dates, project size & type, what your business is and what you’re trying to achieve.
  3. Provide a detailed, in-depth brief – include examples if at all possible. The clearer your brief, the better your project will be.
  4. Redrafting is part of the process, so provide useful feedback to make sure you end up with the perfect content.
  5. Settle up – request an invoice, and pass it on to your accounts team!