3 Big Picture Questions You Need to Ask at the Start of Every Copywriting Project
Go back to basics with the questions that rule every piece of written content
A returning client reached out to me recently with a new project. And, despite my willingness, excitement, and the knowledge that my client believes I do good work, I was still nervous about jumping on the phone to discuss the project.
Yes, client phone calls still stress me out.
In the first year or so of freelancing, it seems that no two projects are alike. As I attempt to narrow in on my niche, my work is often widely varied, and I’ve taken on projects across different industries.
My clients have different personalities and expectations.
I worry, have I asked the right questions? Do I understand what my client is looking for?
In a perfect world, we’d receive every copywriting assignment with a thorough description and set of instructions.
Unfortunately, our clients don’t always know what we need from them, and they may find it challenging to put their vision into words. That means it’s my job to develop a thorough understanding of the project at hand.
When it comes to interviewing a client about a new project, I often need to go back to the basics.
I’m too quick to get bogged down in the logistics, like the word count, project rate, or timeline, rather than taking a step back to get the big picture view of the project.
If you experience similar anxiety when it comes to tackling new writing projects, allow this to serve as a reminder of what it takes to lay a solid foundation:
1. Who is the target audience?
This is a seemingly obvious question that is often overlooked, especially if we assume we already know the answer because we have a preexisting relationship with a client.
No piece of writing should pertain to the “broad” audience. Who, specifically, is your client trying to serve? It’s impossible to be everything to everybody. The more targeted the audience, the better you can speak to their needs.
I spoke to a client today who asked me to write an e-book geared toward beginners in his industry. His target audience may know a thing or two about the topic at hand, but they’re largely inexperienced and need an entry-level road map.
This completely changes the tone and the content of the piece. If I use any industry-specific terms, for example, I may need to define them for this beginner audience.
As writers, we need to know the target audience in order to understand what they want and what they need, and how to deliver it with our content.
Only your client can answer this question, but first, you have to ask. Understanding the target audience makes the difference between writing vague, meandering content, and delivering a laser-focused piece that packs a punch.
2. What is the purpose of this piece?
This question takes me back to middle school essay writing… is the essay prompt informative, persuasive, or expository?
What is your client’s goal with this piece of writing? What do they hope to accomplish? Understanding a client’s purpose for the project will give you clarity, and leave little room for miscommunication.
Are you writing an educational article, a piece of content to provide value to your client’s audience? Or are you selling something?
I write blog content for two small business clients. One of the two specifically asked me to take an impartial stance in an article. He wanted the article to highlight the pros and cons of two types of investing without nudging readers in any particular direction.
My goal was to write a piece that gave readers the necessary facts to make a decision for themselves.
The other client, however, wanted me to write an article with an emphasis on the “pros” of the topic at hand — which, incidentally, aligned with the value proposition of his company.
Rather than writing from an impartial viewpoint, I wrote a piece to position my client as an expert in the field.
Understanding the purpose of the project tees up another important question: what’s the call to action? What would your client like readers to do upon reading the piece?
The call to action could be any number of things; the client might want readers to follow their social media, to join an email list, to listen and subscribe to a podcast, etc.
I’m writing an ebook for a client as a lead magnet for his email list. The ebook is meant to be a teaser for the topics he’s covering in an online course.
Now I know that I need to give readers just enough information about the topic without giving it all away. The goal, after all, is to leave readers wanting more, so they’re driven to purchase the course.
3. How will the content be distributed?
Sometimes our clients don’t know what they’re asking for. When I spoke to my client about the ebook project I mentioned above, he originally asked for a 4,000-word article that he could adapt as an ebook.
As we got to talking, I realized he didn’t plan to post the article online and did not, in fact, need two pieces of content (an article, an ebook), but rather would prefer me to write the piece in ebook format from the start. We realized it would make more sense to repurpose the ebook content as a long-form article than the other way around.
As writers, we know that the platform influences decisions regarding style, tone, length, and formatting. There are best practices for formatting a Medium article, for example, which are very different from social media best practices or even publishing on a personal blog.
Making assumptions is dangerous. Asking your client about how they plan to distribute the content is meant to give you clarity about their vision for the project (and how best to meet their expectations).
You’ve seen these questions before and you’ve likely asked them a million times. In my opinion, these questions should be written in stone, or pasted to the wall as a guiding light for every client conversation and discovery call.
You can’t pass “Go” without the answers to these preliminary questions. When you feel overwhelmed by the scope of a new project or an intimidating client, go back to basics and start with these three questions that rule every piece of written content.