It’s a side of business no one wants to talk about.
But the truth is, at some point during your business career you will experience a relationship breakdown with a client.
It is probably one of the hardest things to deal with whether you’re a freelancer or a small business owner. Apart from the fact it means you’re not going to be paid (at least in full), it also hurts because you always want to do your best for your customers and it can come as a slap in the face when, even though you have, they (or you) decide to walk away.
Why things go wrong
Before I go on, this is written from a freelancer’s point of view (because that’s what I am). Although most of the scenarios are written from a copywriter’s perspective (again, because that’s what I am), they can relate to any service provider (they are also fiction, but good illustrations of why things can go pear shaped).
1. Bad brief
In an ideal world, you would go out and meet every new client. During this meeting you will be able to suss them out and come away with a detailed brief.
Of course, it’s not an ideal world and that can’t always happen.
Getting as much detail as possible from a client is essential, but also not always that easy. Some clients believe that as you are a copywriter they can just say ‘I want 3 web pages written’ and it will magically appear.
Don’t be afraid to ask loads of questions, you have to if you are to get a full and clear picture of what they and their customers are looking for.
A bad brief is a disaster waiting to happen. At best it will lead to umpteen rounds of revisions, at worst it will lead to a breakdown in your relationship with your client, or rather soon to be ex-client.
This usually relates to the client not really knowing what they want.
Someone has probably told them they need a copywriter, but they’re not sure why.
They won’t really know what style they want, what sort of layout, or what the main benefits of their product/service are.
This can only spell disaster. The only solution is to speak with them at length, ask a lot of questions and then make suggestions. It is also a good idea to ask for examples of any particular styles of writing they like. After all, it’s much easier to emulate a style if you can actually see it.
3. Too many cooks
One of the first questions I always ask is what is the review process?
If only one person is to sign it off, who just happens to be the person giving the brief, you can breathe a sigh of relief. But if it is someone else, or worse, a whole gaggle of managers, you could be in trouble.
It’s very unlikely they will all have the same view on content and style, so be prepared for multiple revisions.
Getting a meeting with all the decision makers at the outset is probably a pipe dream, but if you can make it happen, do – getting some ground rules on style from the start will pay dividends later. It’s also your opportunity to let them know how you work and what you expect of them, especially when there are deadlines to hit.
4. Fixed ideas
Now and then you’ll come across someone who knows exactly what they want.
Fantastic! I hear you cry.
You would have thought so, but this can also be bad news.
What happens when their fixed ideas won’t work? They’ve called you in because you are the expert in copy, but when you tell them how their content should be written (i.e. benefits led, second person, informal, engaging etc.) they shout you down and tell you “that won’t work, I want it like this…”
The problem is, what they want won’t work in a month of Sunday’s.
The choice here is to persevere, do what they want and risk ruining your reputation, or walking away due to irreconcilable differences.
The main tip I can give you when taking on new clients is to trust your instincts. Take it from someone who knows. Thankfully, since starting out as a freelance copywriter about 6 years ago, I’ve only had to walk away twice. But if I’d listened to the little voice in my head, I would never have taken on either client in the first place.
I probably agreed because I didn’t have a lot on at the time and had the capacity, but something told me it was a bad idea, and stupidly, I ignored the voice because I knew best.
Well these days that little voice gets the final say.
Your instincts will tell you if the job is right for you or not. It will probably take a little while to distinguish between the good and the not so good, but when you can it will save you a lot of hassle.
Anyone who has hired a professional copywriter to help with their sales and marketing materials will understand the collaborative process that lies behind a successful relationship.
Once you’ve briefed your copywriter and told them all they need to know, they’ll go away and create a first draft.
So what do you do when that first draft pops up in your inbox?
Reviewing the copy should be done in three separate steps.
Here’s the first.
1. Get to know it
First of all you have to get to know the copy. That means reading in through to get a sense for the writing.
Reading it out loud is a great way to get to grips with it. As you go through it, make a note of any places where your attention slips, or areas that you find confusing, or that simply don’t seem to flow well.
Once you’ve done that, you’re ready for step two.
2. Soft edit
A soft edit solely looks at the spelling, punctuation and grammar. In theory, as you’re using a copywriter, there shouldn’t be too much to do here, but typos can be notoriously hard to spot, so one or two may slip through.
Once that’s done, you’re ready for the final step.
3. Hard edit
This is where you need to look at the content itself and highlight areas that may be incorrect or where information should be expanded.
In theory, your brief should have been comprehensive enough for your copywriter to add all the detail required, but sometimes things get missed.
This is the point where you have to place your trust in your writer’s abilities and trust their professional instincts, which have been honed over many years.
Put your feelings aside and forget about how you would have written it – that means word choice, sentence structure and use of rhetorical devices.
If you just wade in changing things willy-nilly because ‘you would have written it differently’, you might as well have just written it yourself.
You hired a copywriter because:
You don’t have time to do it
The materials you were using simply weren’t working
You don’t have the necessary skills to produce great copy
They’re not going to write like you; they’re going to write like a professional writer who has a lot of experience in what they do – so trust them.
The following guest post was written by Vicky Fraser. The author’s views are entirely her own and may not reflect the views of FreelanceCopywritersBlog.com. If you are interested in producing a Guest Post for this blog, please get in touch with your ideas.
SEO: search engine optimisation. It strikes fear into the hearts of some; cynicism and distrust into the hearts of others. However, if your business has a website and you need to generate leads, you’ll ignore it at your peril.
Firstly: a warning. Anyone who tells you that they can shoot you to the top of Google overnight is either lying, not terribly bright or using dodgy techniques like ‘spamdexing’ (which will get your site blacklisted).
Tackling it yourself
For those who want to undertake SEO themselves, there are a few things to think about. If this is your first foray into SEO, it’s worth spending a little time learning about it.
A video is worth quite a lot of words on this subject, and this is a great little introduction to SEO from those clever guys at Search Engine Land:
When you’ve sussed out your meta descriptions, chosen your URLs, set your keywords and (this is important) written your image ‘alt’ tags, it’s time to think about the copy itself.
It’s not just the search engine spiders you’re writing for; it’s your customers, too. And the search engine spiders know that. New algorithms are popping up all the time and they are getting more and more intelligent. The spiders can recognise good, relevant, useful content and they are more likely to rank it highly.
However, it’s not just about algorithms: the more relevant, interesting and engaging your copy and content is, the more likely it is to be shared, and the more likely it is to be ranked highly in the search engines. Be honest: if you’re not a good writer, employ one. It’s an investment you won’t regret.
Use the tools available to you, as well. There are quite a few good freebies around. HubSpot has an excellent ‘marketing grader‘ tool that gives feedback on a variety of aspects of a website. The SEO snippet tool is a brilliant wee thing for writing your Google snippets and URLs. And SEOQuake is great – offering a suite of widgets to diagnose individual webpages.
Once your site is optimised – don’t leave it alone! SEO is not a ‘job done’, it’s an ongoing task. Start a blog, and update it often. Fill it with relevant, useful content that people want to share – the search engines love it.
Make social media work for you too – more and more, it is searched and indexed by those spiders. The search engines are recognising what valuable sharing and search tools social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are.
Employing someone to tackle SEO for you
The advice above is very brief, and is the tip of the iceberg. If it feels like more work than you can take on yourself, pay an expert to do it for you.
There are many SEO bods out there with a variety of skills, and you may not want or need someone to take care of the whole shebang. Take a good look at your site, using the free tools mentioned above, and decide which areas need your attention most. Then spend your budget on those areas, and tackle other areas yourself.
If you have a little experience with the back end of websites, and know how metadata works, this is a relatively simple (but fairly time-consuming) task, and one that you could tackle yourself. Don’t underestimate, though, the skill involved in boiling each page down to 156 characters for the meta-description (that’s the snippet that appears in Google’s listings. It’s not terribly important for rankings, but a well-written snippet will stand out from the rest on the page and is more likely to be clicked)…
Perhaps your website copy needs rewriting and optimising for search engines? It is not simply a case of stuffing keywords in there; in fact, doing so is likely to harm your rankings and it certainly won’t do your customers any favours. As mentioned above, and this cannot be overemphasised, your website copy needs to be interesting, useful, relevant and informative – as well as easy for the spiders to recognise and rank using keywords.
Maybe you’d like a regular blog, but you just don’t have the time? Or perhaps you’d like to embrace social media, but you don’t know where to start…
Getting the best from your freelancer and the most from your budget
You’ll be paying for the copywriter’s expertise, and a good one is worth their weight in cheese. However, you can keep costs down by doing some of the legwork yourself.
Do your research yourself. Ask your customers, your friends and family, your colleagues and even complete strangers what they would search for if they were looking for your product or service.
If you can pass on a decent list of keywords and keyword phrases to pass onto your freelancer, you will save them time. That is not to say that they won’t do their own research if necessary, but they will quote accordingly.
Compile a full list of your competitors – local and national – and pass it on to your freelancer. They can do some keyword research, investigate their blog and take a good look at their use of social media to see what works in your industry.
Trust your freelancer: they will be able to look at your business from the outside, and talk about what your customers (and potential customers) want to hear. This will probably not be the same thing you want to say! Your customers want to know what you can do for them, not how great you think you are. It may be painfully honest, but it will be honest and it will do your business good.
If you’d like to employ a copywriter to blog for you, you can save them time (and reduce the bill) by providing a list of topics, and writing an outline. Researching blogs takes time, so if you do the research for us and provide a skeleton article, the costs will come down.
SEO isn’t that scary. Honest. It does require skilled writers, and an investment in time. Either way, if your business relies on inbound leads from the internet, you can’t afford to ignore it. Dive in – and do it properly!
Vicky Fraser is a freelance copywriter and marketeer based in Warwickshire. Being a science nerd undertaking a physics degree, she specialises in simplifying and clarifying scientific and technical copy but writes about all manner of things for a wide variety of clients. She blogs about science, freelancing and writing – amongst other things.
Sooner or later, you’ll realize that keeping up with the amount of content you need to keep your online marketing strategy going, is impossible on your own.
So, it’s time to call in the experts.
You’ve done your research, you’ve found a copywriter you believe you can work with – so what next?
Well, if you were thinking you could just email them a list of your requirements and then let them get on with it without any input from you, you’d be wrong.
Your writer is going to need a lot of information from you and they’ll probably either use a briefing document (which they’ll email to you for completion), or if they’re close enough, meet with you.
So, what can you expect to be asked about?
Ready? Here goes…
Your goals – what you’re looking to achieve with that particular project
Brand personality – how you want your company to seen. Plus, the work they do for you will also have to fit in with your current brand image, so they’ll need to know things like preferred vocabulary, house styles etc.
Preferred voice – do you want it formal, informal, conversational etc.
What’s worked in the past? – if you’ve had a particularly successful campaign in the past, let them see it so they can use its style within the new project. Also, if you know something doesn’t work, again let them know.
Your audience – they’re going to need to know whom they are writing for. That is your present clients base and potential clients, or those you want to do business with.
Background – don’t forget your writer is unlikely to have a background in your industry so don’t assume knowledge. Provide them with details of your main competitors, articles and blogs that might be relevant etc.
Back to basics – as mentioned earlier, your writer isn’t going to be an expert in your field, so be prepared to get right back to basics. After all, you’ve acquired a lot of knowledge over the years, but that doesn’t mean your audience have the same knowledge levels.
There’s a bit more yet – here are a few other things to bear in mind:
Give them time – last minute deadlines don’t help anyone
Give them one point of contact – this will avoid confusion and mixed messages
Review drafts quickly – it saves a lot of time chasing
Keep them in the loop – let them know what’s going on, especially if it’s going to affect their work
Treat your writer as a member of your team. The more they work with you, the more familiar they will become with your business, products and audience.
Any parent will know how annoying the word ‘why’ can be.
But, for a copywriter, it is one of the most valuable words in the English language.
As a copywriter, you are:
A master sales person
A persuasive orator
A great writer
However, you are not an expert in every industry sector in the known universe.
It is important that is made clear to your clients from the outset.
I often hear people ask why they need a copywriter when they don’t know anything about their business. Well, that’s exactly the reason why they do need a copywriter.
Let me explain.
In the client/copywriter relationship, the client is the expert in their industry, but the copywriter is the expert in selling their clients products and services to their marketplace.
So long as neither party crosses those lines, the relationship will be harmonious.
When taking a brief from a client, the one word that should constantly be used is ‘why’.
Don’t be afraid to keep asking, especially if you’re dealing with a complex product or service.
The client will know their business like the back of their hand and therefore will have the tendency to talk in jargon only understood by their colleagues.
Your job as a copywriter is to break through that jargon to understand the product or service in layman’s terms. After all, if you don’t fully understand it, how are you going to be able to write about it and make your readers understand?
So keep asking:
What does that mean?
How does that work?
Why is that of benefit?…
Far from annoying your client, it will demonstrate your interest in their business and your determination to produce powerful and persuasive copy that will grab the attention of potential new customers.
At the end of the day, you can’t write about something you don’t fully understand, so keep asking ‘why’ until you get to the real nitty-gritty.