PS has worked as a freelance writer since 2012. When she's not traveling and writing, she helps people with web design and development.
As a copywriter, you will find your business stands or falls by the relationships you are able to build with your clients. And a crucial aspect of this is your ability to accept and indeed encourage feedback and constructive criticism of your work.
There will be times when your client doesn't like your ideas and wants changes made or even a completely different approach. Copywriters must be able to accept criticism with good grace, even if they don't always agree with it. You must remember that you are being paid to provide a service and a lot of money - maybe millions of pounds - many hinges on the success or failure of the campaign you are working on. Not unnaturally, your clients will have views about your work, and suggestions - or instructions - they want you to incorporate into it. It follows that you should never take criticism of your writing personally.
This process starts with taking the brief. As you will recall, this term describes taking instructions from your client. A brief may be given verbally in a face-to-face meeting or over the phone, or it may be in writing (and sometimes both). You will seldom have more than 15 minutes to take a brief, so it is important that you use both listening skills, to grasp what the job will entail, and questioning skills, to clarify any points you may be unclear about. Your aim should be to ensure that you understand precisely what your client requires, and not waste your time or his producing copy that is not going to meet his needs.
Here are some concise guidelines to follow when taking a brief:
- Listen carefully to everything the client says and take plenty of notes, especially if no written brief is provided.
- Ask as many questions as you need to confirm exactly what the client wants. Never just assume you understand this.
- Clarify how and where your copy will be used. Will it be in a newspaper, magazine, a trade journal, a directory?
- And, in particular, find out who will be the ad's target audience. For example, is it young females seeking fashionable, budget clothing, or affluent over-55s planning for their retirement? This will help you judge the appropriate style and tone.
- Establish the key benefits the client expects you to communicate in your copy, and the USP if there is one.
- Find out the client's main objective for the ad: is it to get people to return a coupon for more information, phone a sales line, send an email, visit the company website, go to a retail outlet, buy directly off the page, or something else?
- Narrow down, as far as possible, how many words are required, how many rewrites might be expected, and so on.
- Ask for any background information and materials the client may have which will help you create the copy. This might include old ads, they have run before, product information sheets, leaflets, articles, photos, and even product samples.
- Confirm the deadline by which the copy needs to be delivered.
- Aim to get an idea of the budget. The client may not be willing to quote you an exact price, but they should be able to indicate the general region they are thinking of.
- Try out any 'on the spot' ideas you have. This can help you judge the way your client is thinking and any particular approaches he may - or may not - a favor.
Be sure at this stage to get contact details from your client (phone and email), so that you can get back to him with any queries that arise during the writing process.
It can also be a good idea to run a few ideas past your client once you have had a chance to think about the brief or send a sample of what you have done so far, so he can let you know if the style, tone, content and so on are right. With longer jobs especially, it is quite normal to liaise regularly with your client in this way, rather than just go off and write the copy without any further communication.
In general, you will find that your copy goes through several drafts. Each time it will be read and assessed by your client - and quite often by his colleagues and/or his boss - and comments and suggested changes made. This will then be returned to you, and based on the feedback you will be expected to produce a further draft. Typically two or three drafts may be needed before you come up with something your client is happy with. (Don't always expect this to be the version that is used, however. Clients are quite likely to make further changes to the copy without any reference to you, which of course they are perfectly entitled to do.)
Don't feel obliged to accept all of your client's suggestions - remember, he is not the copywriter, you are. It is, however, very important to try to understand the reasons behind your client's comments, asking for clarification if required. If you understand why he dislikes a particular phrase, say, there is every chance you will be able to come up with a better alternative than the one he may have suggested himself. In general you should, of course, go along with your client's wishes - but if you think he is wrong on a particular point, don't be afraid to say so.
Soliciting Client Feedback
Especially when you are starting out as a copywriter, you should aim to get as much feedback as possible from your clients. Here are just a few of the benefits you can gain from this process:
- Discover what you are doing well.
- Find out ways you can be more helpful to your clients.
- Identify situations where you need to be more careful.
- Determine areas where your skills need improvement.
- Learn new directions your business could expand into.
In a traditional corporate environment, employees normally get feedback on their work in the form of performance reviews or appraisals. In most cases, they also get feedback from their managers.
If you're a freelancer, however, you will need to be more pro-active about this. While some clients are more than willing to tell you how well you are doing without any bidding, in most cases you will have to ask clients to provide you with this information.
In case your client doesn’t decide to make any comments on your performance, it’s easy to assume that you are doing well and you might not ask for feedback, but that’s not the case always. How many times have you received bad service in a shop or restaurant and thought to yourself, 'I'm never coming back here again,' even though you never complained to the management? You don't want to risk having a client thinking that way about you, without at least giving yourself a chance to try to remedy the situation.
Even when clients are satisfied with your work, it's good to find out if there are any ways you can improve your service to them. This can help increase your perceived value to the client, and make it more likely he will use your services in the future and recommend you to others. It may also pave the way, in due course, to increase your fees!
If you have a long-term relationship with a client from whom you receive regular projects, it is well worth the effort to try to get periodic feedback about your performance from that client. You can do this casually by asking, 'How do you like what I've done so far?' Or, with regular clients, you could design a brief survey for them to complete.
Irrespective of the method that you use to gather your feedback, there are a few important points to remember when you receive it:
- Your client has taken time out of his busy day to provide you with this information so be sure to thank him for his participation.
- It's possible that you will get some information that you don't really want to hear - look at these comments as an opportunity to learn and improve.
- Follow through on the information that you receive with positive action. It's one thing to get feedback - it's another thing to respond to it appropriately.
- Prioritize your response. If you receive a lot of feedback, then tackle the items one by one, beginning with those areas that are most critical to your success.
Even if you get a few negative comments, don't let yourself be deterred by this. Any criticism should be welcomed as an opportunity to improve. Remember, praise is nice, but criticism is actually a lot more useful!
Don't forget: Always ask satisfied clients if they will provide testimonials for you, which you can then use in your own promotional materials, on your website, and so on.
As the preceding section indicated, working as a copywriter is very much a two-way street. This is one aspect of the job that people coming from a journalistic background often find challenging. As a journalist, you will typically research a story, write it, file it, and move on to your next assignment. The copy may be edited by a sub, who might perhaps ask for the odd point to be clarified, but it's rare for journalists to be asked to do a complete rewrite. Apart from anything else, the tight publishing schedules for newspapers and magazines don't normally allow it.
In copywriting, it's different. The pressure of time isn't as intense (though there will still be deadlines to meet). And, as mentioned earlier, it's quite normal to be asked to produce two or three drafts of your copy. Larger copywriting jobs in particular often take on the character of collaborative projects, with various people - including your client, his colleagues, the graphic designer, and so on - making comments and suggestions. Such jobs can have an element of project management to them, quite apart from the actual writing.
This means copywriters need more than just writing skills. They need to be able to communicate well with people from all sorts of backgrounds and form good working relationships with them. An easy-going nature and a good sense of humor can help a lot with this.
Copywriters also need people skills for networking with others in the business. As your career develops, you will build your own network of artists, designers, printers, typesetters, fellow writers, and so on. Knowing such people and having good working relationships with them can be crucial to providing the best service to your clients and getting more work from them in the future. Networking and personal recommendation can also be very effective in finding new clients. If you do not think of yourself as a 'people person' you will, therefore, need to work to improve your interpersonal skills, or you are likely to have problems establishing yourself as a successful freelance copywriter.