There comes a time when most startups hire a writer to help with some aspect of their marketing.
But if you’ve never given a creative brief before, or you’ve never worked with a freelance writer, you might have trouble getting the kind of results you want.
If you’re nodding as you read that, keep reading. Here, we’ll step through the seven most common mistakes business owners make when they’re briefing writers, and see how to overcome them.
1. You chose the wrong help
The world is full of self-proclaimed writers. And real ones, too. So if you’re not getting the results you want, maybe you’re not being choosy enough.
Pick someone who knows what they’re doing, and what they need from you to do it. This means they can guide you to giving a good brief from the start.
When you’re reviewing the writer’s folio, don’t let yourself be bamboozled by pretty executions and big brands. Look deeper: take the time to understand how the writer works and what matters to them. For example, I know some writers who are crazy about plain English; some who are passionate about brand communication; others who are specialists in writing for SEO.
Once you know what your chosen writer is all about, you can make sure you address those points for them. That’s great. But you’ll also be able to see the gaps between their focus and your own goals or direction. And you’ll be able to fill those in by giving them relevant materials as part of the brief.
This way, if you have a writer who’s a specialist in writing branded content in plain English, you can supply them with SEO imperatives (keywords, rank requirements, and any background information) to ensure the final copy meets all your goals.
Of course, it goes without saying that you should choose someone who has proven experience with your product or service category and the medium you need them to write for.
2. You’re not 100% clear on what you want
The one rule of creative projects: every decision you don’t have nailed down will wind up costing you more. If your content briefs aren’t working, this may be why.
Last year, a client asked me to write content for a new website they were launching. They didn’t have wireframes yet, but given their time constraints, asked me to draft the copy. Then of course the wireframes came through, and we had to redraft all that copy. They paid double what they could have with just a bit more organization.
If you have actual conversion goals, or other metrics that you want the communication to achieve, say that to your writer in the brief (or even beforehand—if they’re scared off, you’ll know they’re not the writer for you). If you need the content delivered in a certain way or by a certain date or budget, again, say so in the brief.
The caveat? If you have specific needs for the copy, be prepared to be flexible in helping the writer meet them. For example, if you have certain conversion metrics you need an email to achieve, be ready for your writer to ask for input into email layouts, and/or to work closely with your designer. Writing doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and text alone does not conversions make.
3. You’re not using plain language in your brief
Here’s a snippet from a brief I received recently:
“Our solutions are all designed to help customers meet their business objectives. We consult to assist clients design, deploy and manage a range of technology solutions that incorporate expertise and technologies from world leading brands.”
You might use that language to impress clients or investors, but to your writer, this is garbage. They can’t extract pretty much any information from this kind of language. If you’re using jargon to explain what you do, you’re probably hindering your writer more than you’re helping them.
Give them a clear explanation of what you do, maybe with some examples, and testimonials from your best clients so they can get an idea of the user-perceived benefits you deliver. Did I say “clear”? I meant crystal clear.
Even if you want the writer to use niche-specific language (aka jargon) like this in what they write, you need to be able to communicate with them in plain English.
4. The writer hasn’t experienced your offering
If possible, it’s important to let the writer experience your offering first hand.
Immersing them in the product or service they’re writing about is a great form of research, and an excellent way to get a personal edge into your communications. If this is missing from the content your writer’s producing, a lack of first-hand experience could be the problem.
Be prepared to pay for this time, though. Consider it necessary research that will produce a better outcome for your business.
5. You aren’t talking them through the UX
By UX, I mean the users’ experience of your brand. It’s up to you to make sure your writer knows what your audience understands about your brand before they get to the communication piece in question, and what they’ll do afterward.
Even if the audience has never heard of your brand before, they’ll have to be exposed to this new communications piece somehow. How will the user find the communication you’re creating? If they act on it, what will they experience after they do so?
Telling your writer this will help you both understand where the information that’s being written fits in the communications process, as well as what it needs to do, and what it should add to your users’ experience of your brand.
6. You’re giving lots of information, not the right information
People often say, “give as much information as you can in your content brief.” I say, give the right information.
Recently a client gave me a 50-page audience research report, saying, “We don’t hold with everything that’s in here. It’s not right on the money, but it should give you some context.”
Yeah: irrelevant context. How would I know which bits you believe, and which bits are inaccurate? Which bits should I consider in my work, and which bits should I ignore?
Don’t give the writer anything that doesn’t reflect what you believe to be completely true about your brand and audience. Just give them the correct information they need to know to get the work done.
7. You’re “outsourcing”, not collaborating
Getting creative done isn’t like using a vending machine. You can’t just insert your brief and get out some copy. And if you’re treating the process like this, you’ll be wasting your money, as well as your and the writer’s time.
Ultimately, to get good creative, you need to be as engaged in the output as the writer is. You need to consider their work closely so that you can give feedback that lets them shape the output as you want it to be.
You don’t just need to be available for questions, you need to be asking them of yourself ahead of time, preempting and shaping the path the writer takes to give you the content you want as you watch them work, and the writing evolve. If you see working with a writer as a creative process, and one that involves you, you’ll be in a good place to get a great outcome.
Have you briefed a writer recently? What advice can you share from the mistakes you’ve made? Tell us in the comments.
Georgina has more than fifteen years' experience writing and editing for web, print and voice. With a background in marketing and a passion for words, the time Georgina spent with companies like Sausage Software and sitepoint.com cemented her lasting interest in the media, persuasion, and communications culture.