How to Brief a Copywriter

How to brief a copywriter

As a freelance copywriter I receive numerous requests for quotes every week.

They can be anything from new website copywriting, content for a brochure or direct mail letters to newsletters, email marketing and case studies. To make sure I get all the information I need I use a pro-forma that asks a series of questions designed to extract as much information as possible from the client so I can put together a comprehensive proposal and quote.

Most of the time clients are more than happy to complete the form in a very detailed way. However, every so often, clients will just jot down the bare bones of what they’re looking for assuming I’ll be able to fill in the blanks.

I’m good, but I’m not that good.

What your copywriter needs to know


When I first started as a freelance copywriter, one friend said to me “But why would I need a copywriter? You couldn’t possible know my business better than I do” and he was right, I couldn’t – not only that, I would never suggest I did. But that’s not what copywriting is about.

It’s not about who knows your business the best, it’s about who can write the strongest sales message.

Business owners tend to want to write about their business and achievements. They find it difficult to stand back and see their company from their customers’ point of view. And that’s were a professional copywriter comes into their own. Not only do they understand how to write powerful marketing copy, they can also view the company and its products/services from the customers’ perspective.

But to be able to do that, your writer is going to need as much information as possible about your company, its services and products, its ethos as well as the tone you want to convey.

Can’t you just write it?

As I mentioned earlier most of my clients appreciate what they need to provide me with, but there’s always the odd one that doesn’t. They think they’re doing my job for me by providing me with information – well, I don’t have a crystal ball, I don’t know your company intimately so I can’t write fabulous copy just from you company name.

To illustrate my point consider what would happen if you wanted someone to build you a house. When you sit down with your builder to brief him and say – “I want you to build me a house. Get on with it.”

Is he going to say “OK” and start building? Very unlikely.

He’ll want to know:

  • What style you want – detached, semi, bungalow
  • How many bedrooms
  • How big the rooms should be
  • How many rooms you want
  • How big is it going to be

And that’s just for starters.

You wouldn’t dream of doing this so why expect your copywriter to write amazing SEO website copy from your instruction “I want you to write my website – get on with it”.

The copywriter/client relationship is a very close one. You have to work together to achieve the right copy. It’s a very collaborative approach and one that can create a strong working relationship. The more work your copywriter does for you, the better they get to know your company. They will be able to make suggestions and point out areas of your marketing that need strengthening, giving your income a much needed boost.

A great copywriter is a valuable asset for any company to have and a worthwhile investment. Through their marketing expertise your company will gain the upper hand. Through powerful brochures and email campaigns to strong SEO website copy to boost your rankings, your copywriter is quite literally worth their weight in gold.

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#1 Richard Hollins on 11.15.10 at 10:23 am

You make excellent points here and I like the house-building analogy. The quality of the briefing is one of the keys to a successful project. In my experience, bad briefings often happen because the client doesn’t really know what they want. Spending time working through this at the beginning will save huge amounts of time later on.

#2 Jay on 11.15.10 at 11:31 am

So, would you share the pro-forma with us? Thanks!

#3 admin on 11.15.10 at 11:42 am

I’ve emailed a copy to you

#4 Lucy Smith on 11.15.10 at 11:33 pm

Oh, so true. “Hi, I have a website. How much will it cost for you to write it?” Those tend to be the ones I never hear from again anyway – in my experience the ones who are serious will already have at least some kind of idea of what they’re after.

I’d also be really keen to have a look at your pro-forma too, if that’s okay. I get really tired of writing the same email to prospects over and over 🙂

#5 admin on 11.16.10 at 7:24 am

Hi Lucy–I’ve emailed a copy to you.


#6 Jen on 11.17.10 at 6:56 pm

I love this post and it’s spot on! I tweeted the link in hopes my clients (and prospective clients) will read this. I always tell clients, “writing is a solitary pursuit. Copywriting is not. It’s very collaborative.”

Very interesting about having a pro-forma to put together the proposal. It’s a great idea! Do you mind sending me a copy as well? I sincerely appreciate it, Sally.

#7 admin on 11.18.10 at 7:31 am

On its way Jen

#8 Ros on 12.01.10 at 11:39 am

Great post – please can you email me the template too?


#9 admin on 12.01.10 at 11:42 am

On its way

#10 Kim on 12.28.10 at 1:51 pm

Great post. Thanks for sharing.
Could I also receive your template too?

#11 David on 09.15.11 at 10:10 pm

I know the post is older, but please could you send me the template?


#12 admin on 09.16.11 at 9:15 am

No problem David, it’s on its way.


#13 Anna on 11.14.11 at 1:32 pm

Hi Sally

Thanks for your post! Can you please email me the template as well?

Thanks a lot!

#14 admin on 11.14.11 at 1:44 pm

No problem Anna, it’s on its way.


#15 Mike Robinson on 01.21.12 at 7:57 am

Hi Sally – yet another request for the template, if that’s OK.

Thank you!


#16 admin on 01.21.12 at 8:54 am

It’s on its way Mike – hope you find it useful.

#17 Naomi on 05.01.12 at 2:43 pm

Hi Sally – another request please!

Many thanks,


#18 Katherine on 05.04.12 at 7:00 pm

That sounds like the answer to my nightmares Sally – can a put in a request too please?

#19 admin on 05.08.12 at 7:45 am

On its way Katherine

#20 Vicky Fraser on 06.14.12 at 8:35 am

That’s a useful post, thank you – and I’m afraid I’m going to put in a request for your template too please!

#21 admin on 06.14.12 at 8:59 am

On it’s way Vicky

#22 Steve T on 07.17.12 at 11:00 am

I do something similar but there’s always room for improvement — I’d love to see your pro forma, please!

#23 Alexei on 08.06.12 at 10:15 am

Thanks for useful info! Can you send me your brief template as well, please?

#24 Lisa on 08.09.12 at 10:12 pm

I’d be so grateful for your template. I’m just plucking up the courage to launch a copywriting career and such insight would be wonderful.

#25 admin on 08.10.12 at 7:40 am

On its way Lisa

#26 Camilla on 11.28.12 at 10:18 am

Thanks for this post. Could I request a copy of the template as well, please?

I’m a general editorial freelancer and I’ve been approached about some copywriting work, but it would be a new direction for me. Knowing what questions to ask would really help.

#27 admin on 11.28.12 at 10:33 am

Hi Camilla – sure, I’ll email it to you.

#28 Sam on 02.23.13 at 7:51 pm

This is a really useful blog! Could I bother you for a copy of your pro-forma template too, please?

#29 admin on 02.26.13 at 7:51 am

Hi Sam, it’s on its way

#30 Dana Trado on 03.12.13 at 5:28 pm

Very critical for success! I am currently requesting samples for a job and would love a copy of your template if not too much trouble.

Thank you

#31 admin on 03.13.13 at 10:40 am

Hi Dana, sending it now

#32 Zoe Vears on 03.19.13 at 4:06 pm

I’m looking for a briefing document too – are you able to email one to me too? Thank you!

#33 admin on 03.19.13 at 4:34 pm

Hi Zoe, sending it now.

#34 Alex on 03.23.13 at 7:34 pm

Guess what?! Could you send me a copy of the pro-forma too? Thanks!!

#35 admin on 03.25.13 at 9:05 am

A copy is on its way.

#36 Dagmar Smeed on 01.07.14 at 11:15 pm

It would be great to receive the proforma. Many thanks

#37 Michelle on 04.14.14 at 6:32 am

Thanks for this post. Could I request a copy of the template as well, please?

#38 admin on 04.14.14 at 10:07 am

It’s on its way Michelle.

#39 Handell on 07.15.14 at 5:05 am

Great analogy! May I also request a copy of your pro-forma briefing template?

#40 Ali A on 07.23.14 at 4:31 am

Thanks for the great post – I am just striking out on my own and would also love a copy of your template please!

#41 Lenka on 10.02.14 at 3:44 pm

Hello from Czech Republic. I would like to ask for your template. Thank you

#42 admin on 10.03.14 at 7:58 am

Hi Lenka, it’s on its way.

#43 Vanessa on 02.09.15 at 12:11 pm

Hi There

I would love a copy of your template as well please!

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