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In the past six months, I’ve written copy for 31 new clients, all of whom represent small businesses. Very early on in our working relationship, typically during the enquiry stage, nearly every one of those soon-to-be clients has asked me, ‘So, what happens next?’

It struck me that working with a freelance copywriter for the first time can feel like venturing into the unknown. With this in mind, I wanted to use this week’s blog to tell you more about what to expect about outsourcing to a copywriter (or web designer, graphic designer, social media marketer, virtual assistant*), as well as things you can do to make the most of this relationship.

*delete as applicable

What does a freelance copywriter do?

The Freelance Copywriter servicesPeople often ask me exactly what I do and how I can support small businesses. Different copywriters may have different specialisms, but my copywriting services cover writing for print marketing (e.g. brochures, leaflets, postcards, sales letters, guides, prospectuses, posters and more) and writing for the web (e.g. web pages, landing pages, squeeze pages, blogs, ebooks and e-newsletters).

I also provide copyediting and proofreading services, which for many small business clients, provides a cost effective way of taking copy they’ve already written and giving it a professional finish.

What this means for you, the small business owner – or your clients (if you represent an agency) – is that I can provide consistently compelling, readable and engaging copy for most marketing projects.

Your first enquiry

At the initial point of enquiry, clients usually want to know whether I can help, how much it will cost and when I can deliver a project. At this stage, I try to ask as many questions as possible to get an understanding of the scope of the project so that I can provide a quote that accurately reflects the amount of work involved. If I feel I’m not the right fit, I’m honest about it from the outset. I have some great contacts that I can recommend. We copywriters are chameleons though, and I tend to see most projects as an exciting challenge.

Getting to the heart of the copywriting project

At this stage, I usually ask my clients whether they would be interested in filling out my briefing form. This fantastic tool works for some people but not for others. Why does it only work for some? Well, my briefing form asks lots of questions aimed at identifying concepts such as the ideal customer, why the client is in the business they’re in, why their customers should buy from them, what they want the project to achieve, and so on. Some clients love jotting down answers, brainstorming ideas, taking some quiet time to clarify their objectives… but to others it feels like homework. And that’s fine. I’m happy to be flexible. It would be a boring world if we were all the same!

I’ve had clients call my briefing form ‘a revelation’, a tool that has encouraged them to think more strategically about their marketing aims than they have in years. Other clients want to talk all of these things through more informally via email, face-to-face or over the phone. That’s not a problem. I spent the first four years after university taking calls from Channel 5 viewers (the stories I could tell…) so chatting things through on the phone and taking copious notes isn’t a problem in the slightest!

Give as much detail in your copywriting brief as possible

Before you even get to the briefing stage, it’s helpful to spend some time thinking about what you want the copywriter to do for you. What is the project? How will it be used? Who is it aimed at? What do you want it to achieve? How are you going to measure the results? What sort of tone to you want? Do you need initial creative concepts?

The more detailed you are in your brief, the more likely the copy will meet your expectations. I understand that it’s not always easy to put your finger on what you want. For years, I had a client who would say, “I’ll know it when I see it”. Unfortunately, this usually meant, “I’ll know what I don’t want when I see it”, which was frustrating, time-consuming and often a costly lesson for both of us.

Mind you, a good copywriter can help clarify your brief by asking lots of questions, so don’t worry if you need a bit of support to work this out.

Agree a timeframe for the copy

It is a good idea to discuss the project’s timescales with a copywriter (or any other creative to whom you outsource your work). I usually agree to provide the first draft by a specific date, as well as making a note of other key dates, such as print deadlines, launch or event dates, when the client will review the first draft, and so on. When I book in a project, all these key dates go into a central job sheet, as well as my calendar and task list. That way, the client and I both know we’re on the same page with reference to what’s expected and when.

I tend to have work booked in several weeks in advance but I’ll always do what I can to accommodate your deadlines. If it’s just not possible given my other commitments or because I think the work demands a slightly longer lead time, I’ll let you know from the outset.

Enlist a copywriter’s help early on

Ideally, a copywriter should be involved in a project from the beginning, giving input into its creative direction, initial concepts about how the design and copy might work together, and – with writing for the web – helping you structure your website so that it’s reader and search engine friendly from the outset.

Freelance copywriters are often brought in on the tail end of a project with the copy tacked on at the end, squeezed and manipulated to fit the design, but early input really is the ideal in my experience.

The first draft and beyond

Once we’ve agreed a deadline for the first draft, I go away and put my thinking cap on. Sometimes I procrastinate loads (not that it shows in the finished copy) as the initial ideas percolate away in my brain. Most of the time, I work deep into the evening when I’m at my most efficient. I make notes, read everything you’ve given me, brainstorm ideas, write with my heart, then edit with my head. Satisfied that I’ve done my best and kept the brief in focus, I send you the first draft for your feedback.

A word about feedback

Feedback formI’m not precious about my work (although it is precious to me). I want my clients to feel 100% confident about giving me their feedback. There may be times when I tell you why I wrote what I did and why I think it will work. Other times, I’ll defer to your knowledge of your own business.

Inevitably, there will be changes to make – a word here, a paragraph there – but I’m proud to say that it’s rarely anything major. I want you to be happy with the result, so your feedback is all part of the journey.

Is there anything I’ve missed? If you have any questions about what to expect when you outsource to a freelance copywriter, just drop me a line at emma@thefreelancecopywriter.co.uk or drop me a message via my Facebook page and I’ll be happy to help.

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Emma Heasman

Emma Heasman has been an in-house and freelance copywriter for the past 13 years and launched The Freelance Copywriter in 2003. Ever passionate about copywriting, she now works with small businesses to help them write copy that speaks to their ideal customers. Connect with Emma on Google+

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