You’re about to assign work to a new creative freelancer, and you want to make sure they fully understand your goals and specificities so the final product gets turned in exactly as you imagined it. You’ve already prepped a creative brief, and working with freelancers isn’t new to you, but how do you know if you’re really delivering on your side of the bargain? For a creative to truly exceed your expectations, they need you to be precise, clear, and detailed about all the project needs in the brief or assignment summary. Is your brief up to those standards?
It goes without saying that the first, and most important, aspect of a well-crafted creative brief is that it is detailed, easy to understand, and complete. However, from the freelance creative perspective, many briefs get delivered overwritten, include too much extraneous information, and may even end up being the length of the article we’ve been commissioned to write. If you need to spend 600 words explaining what to include in a 600-word article, you’re not being as clear as you need to be.
Similarly, overwriting may mean you’re taking the creative control away from the freelancer you’re hiring for their talents. Yes, we need you to explain to us what you want from a piece of content, but if you’re writing all the headings and providing bullet points for the interior of an article, you’re not allowing us to use our best skills.
“I want briefs to be ‘brief,’” agrees Dahna M. Chandler, digital corporate communications advisor and strategic content writing consultant. “Most of my financial communications clients do an outstanding job with that, but I’ve found lifestyle brands try to do too much and then keep changing things.” She continues, “I also want them to be clear so I can hit the ground running on my deadlines.”
Here’s where new partnerships between editors and freelancers often go wrong: The writer doesn’t nail the voice of the brand. The writing either sounds too technical, too conversational, or too forced. A potentially great relationship dissolves because there was a disconnect between both sides on how to approach the voice and tone in the writing. However, creative briefs don’t often touch on voice, especially if the client has a well-established site with a bunch of previously published content.
Writer Linsey Knerl agrees. “I really like ‘voice’ guidelines. If they can’t offer that, samples of voice are appreciated. Sometimes, a brand will have more than one voice on their existing content, but not by design. It makes it difficult for me to know which is the true voice. When starting from scratch, I like to see links to work that they want to mimic, voice-wise. One of my favorite clients often shares projects in the style of a book pitch—‘Think Harvard Business Review meets Chopped’ or something like that.”
Voice guidelines are especially helpful if you’re targeting multiple personas. The voice-shift between different audiences may seem subtle, but the approach a writer takes may be quite different. For each small assignment, consider sharing the link to a published article for which you’d like them to emulate the voice. Similarly, if you write to the same few personas regularly, you may be able to assign each type a few links in the main content guidelines or style guide. Then, when you deliver a brief for a new assignment, you can simply reference the persona’s name, and the writer will know where to look for voice guidelines.
For larger projects, a short description on the type of voice you’re looking for, possibly with examples as Knerl mentions above, needs to be detailed up front. That said, there may be even more that freelancers need when starting bigger projects. Listen to their requests. Content strategist Brandi Koskie shares an example: “I always ask for access to site analytics. Whether I’m writing articles or restructuring site information architecture, I want to know what user behavior actually looks like, not what the client thinks or assumes it is.”
Image attribution: Anete Lūsiņa
Even if writers master the voice you request, they can’t nail the language, overall tone, and any calls-to-action without knowing the audience they are speaking to, and even more importantly, who the target persona is for the specific project they’re working on. A style guide or overall set of content guidelines needs to be formulated prior to the start of any project, and it needs to include a write-up on the target audience’s needs, wants, and motivations.
When I run workshops or give speeches, I need to have a general idea about the people sitting in my audience. The way I’d deliver a talk on content marketing would differ drastically depending on whether I was talking to a room full of middle schoolers at career day or a group of my peers at an industry conference. The same principle applies for written content. Knowing who you’re talking to, and making it clear to whoever is creating the content, changes the way it’s both delivered and received.
It’s extremely frustrating to invest time into researching an article and citing experts, scholarly articles, or other highly regarded websites, only to find out that your client wants something different. But what “different” actually is doesn’t always get articulated clearly. Sourcing almost never makes the contents of a creative brief, though it’s regularly discussed during a revision cycle. Waiting until the work is actually complete to discuss sources can double the work of a freelance creative. The sources we choose to include often sway the content we share. If something gets added at a later time, entire sections may need to be deleted or additions made, potentially changing the scope of the original agreement.
Jennifer Goforth Gregory, author of The Freelance Content Marketing Writer: Find Your Perfect Clients, Make Tons of Money and Build a Business You Love, says “Sourcing requirements are very important—do you want in-person interviews? If so, what types of experts? For web research and links, are there any sites or sources that you do not want used because they are either competitors or not trustworthy to this specific audience?” Knowing all this ahead of time makes both the writer’s and editor’s jobs easier. The writer can source content they know the client approves, and there’s less legwork on the editor’s part to send good work back simply because the sources are not up to par.
Here’s where I see most creative briefs fail: There is often little to no information about the timeline included in the brief. If anything, it’s often just a due date for the completed project, without mentioning time-sensitive issues like the editing schedule, response time for edits, and expected publishing schedule, among others.
Writer Tasha Williams says, “When setting timelines, build a framework for you to return feedback and edits promptly so that we can plan our work flow. And stick to it! If you agree to take a few days to review a draft but take a week instead, please don’t press us to turn the revisions around in 24 hours. Freelancers need to manage other projects simultaneously and we don’t get paid—like staff—to be on standby for any one client.” When your creatives know the timeline, they’re better able to adjust their own schedules so their entire focus is on your assignment, and not another client.
Working with freelance creatives is supposed to make your job easier. By putting effort into a brief before a project starts, you’re helping ensure the content delivered ends up being what you hoped for.
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Featured image attribution: Christin Hume