How do you get the brief right for a freelance writer?

As a writer, I want a reputation as someone who meets the brief spot on, every time. A magazine editor once told me I was an editor’s dream, and I loved that. Sometimes, the client and I have to work at it.

You’re the client. I’m the writer. You told me what you wanted, I seemed to understand, I wrote it and sent it to you and you’re disappointed. It isn’t what you had in mind at all.

What went wrong?

It must have been the brief. Or the way you constructed the brief. Or the way I interpreted the brief. Or both of those. But the brief is at the centre of it.

Writing the brief is the most important thing the client has to do – even more important than authorising payment, because unless the brief does what it needs to do, there won’t be any payment. The client must take care to say exactly what needs to be in the finished piece and the writer must take care to understand it, which may involve asking questions.

I gave a very simple example of failure on the writer’s part in my book, How To Make Money As A Freelance Writer. This was the brief:

Write three paragraphs about the (resized)

How difficult could that be? Not difficult at all if you happen to have the background and knowledge base that I have; you take on fiddling little jobs like this because the client is someone who uses you a lot and you want to keep her (or him, but it was a “her” in this case) happy. I knocked it off in about eight minutes. This is what I wrote:

The Foot in the Door Marketing Technique (resized)

That’s all right, isn’t it? Fits the bill, doesn’t it?

Well, no. It isn’t and it doesn’t. Where’s the bit about lead generation?

I hadn’t read the brief. The client would almost certainly have pointed that out; fortunately, before I sent this one off I re-read it and noticed that I hadn’t completed the job I had been asked to do.

That was a case of writer error. The writer always gets the blame, but it isn’t always the writer’s fault. Writing a good brief that tells the writer exactly what is needed takes time and thought on the client’s part. Some are better than others.

I know a marketing agency in Los Angeles and another in Shropshire that take the time to think through what it is they want the writer to do and how best to convey that information. I know a Swede who is always ready to clarify what is needed. All three will be my customers for as long as they want to be. I used to have a client – never mind where – with whom I had a series of “Oh, no, that’s not what I wanted” incidents. She isn’t my client any longer and that was my choice.

When you brief the writer, always err on the side of giving too much information rather than too little. The writer can discard what isn’t needed but cannot put in what needs to be there if s/he hasn’t been told about it.

If you need a writer, only the best will do and you know that quality is worth paying for, get in touch. Between us, we’ll make sure your brief says exactly what it needs to say and that the finished piece meets all your aspirations. And if you’d like to learn more about the freelance writer’s life, you’ll find it here.