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Want to succeed as a freelancer? Then make sure you stop writing

Updated: Apr 28, 2020

Well, initially at least.

I’ve spent years working in the industry and if I’ve learnt one thing, it’s that setting words down on the screen straight off the blocks is an inefficient use of time - even if you've got a tight deadline.

It’s Tuesday afternoon, a brief drops into your inbox and it’s got to be wrapped up by Friday COB. The kids are finishing school in an hour, you’ve a mountain of emails to get through and you’ve a client meeting at 9am tomorrow that’ll run over unless you feign illness. Sound familiar?

So you open the file, open the doc and crack on.

This is the point at which the Claxton should be going off.

  • A rewrite because you haven’t understood and absorbed the brief is a waste of time.

  • Unnecessary edits because you’ve missed an important message, TOV element or vital piece of content are a waste of time.

  • Fudging together existing content instead of posing a new angle, restructuring or changing the tone first time, may result in a rewrite – which is a waste of time.

And this may well come out of your own time – time which could be spent earning money or taking the dog for a walk up on the downs.

In my experience, the first process is always taking the brief on board. I open the file, get out my notebook (but a doc is fine) and take it to pieces.

  • What’s the TOV?

  • The message?

  • How should it be structured and pitched?

  • Are there mood boards, an existing site, brand documentation, competition information?

This doesn’t need to be a lengthy process but I cannot impress upon you just how much time you’ll save later on if you ringfence these first initial steps.

Then develop your gameplan. Again, don’t spend too much time on this but make sure you have a checklist of important elements:

  • TOV – quickly brainstorm suitable words that you can pick and mix to add depth and meaning (and this is a fab resource to refer back to if you get stuck at any point). Use an online or on-desk thesaurus if you need to but sometimes the organic words that pop into your head are just as good.

  • Message hierarchy – so that you get the quantity and position of your content just right

  • Content - whether it's product details or conceptual points, when you've the pressing demands of SEO as well as other stylistic considerations, you can't afford to miss anything out.

Make a quantitative assessment of what needs to be written and how long it's likely to take so you can divvy up your hours accordingly. Have some idea of whether you’re going to hit the deadline or whether you’re going to have to get others on board or negotiate delivery. Advance warning is always a good thing.

Before you start writing, place a summing-up call with the client. Run through everything, make sure you have the right end of the stick. Make notes, query suggestions, tie up loose ends.

All of this is what I call thinking time

- and this should be in addition to research time. If a client doesn’t want to pay for this and you’re the kind of writer that only wants to produce quality work, then you don’t need them as a client. If your portfolio is brimming with premium projects, produced to an honest budget, then your words will speak for themselves.

And happy clients make for other happy clients because in this business, word of mouth is everything.

Amanda Fearn is an experienced Freelance copywriter, specialising in research and white paper thought leadership work but she also enjoys everything from remodelling copy for major companies to branding for independents and coffee-break lifestyle snippets. Not a massive fan of jargon, she's interested in the nuts and bolts of good, honest, effective words and a champion of sound office doughnut distribution policies.

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