I think the hardest thing that I’ve ever tried to do is write for other people. I can do it. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a writer. That’s what I do. But it’s not easy. The requirements are incredible and if you really start to think of what it means to write someone else’s thoughts our for them, you might go bananas. I mean, think about it. You’re basically trying to read someone’s mind and then turn that into words that mean what they think. So how can you make it easier?
Often, copywriters (and any creative freelancers) look at a project and they get a brief and they just get to work creating because they have an idea in their head. Maybe you have a great idea as soon as someone starts to talk and you immediately start thinking about how you could solve the problem but here’s the neat thing about thinking; you can’t listen and think at the same time.
You’ll have time to think about what you want to do. When the client is giving you the brief or explaining what they want, JUST LISTEN. Don’t think. Don’t talk (unless you’re asking a question to clarify a point). Don’t wander. Don’t sketch (unless you absolutely HAVE to). Just. Listen.
Give It Time
I don’t mean be patient. I mean give the work the time that it actually deserves. Last year I was working a project and I had a huge billable amount due in a relatively short time. I figured out that I could probably do in 40-45 minutes what had been planned to take me 1-1.5 hours which meant I could turn 40 billable hours into 20 hours of work. Visions of dollar signs danced through my head and the productivity angel sat on my shoulder and I started hammering away. I busted my ass to get that work done quickly. I’m sad to say that the work that I ended up doing was really just not very good. It was ok. The client didn’t complain, but it didn’t meet my own personal standards.
There’s a pretty good chance, depending on the type of content that you’ve been tasked with creating, that the first draft isn’t going to fit the client’s needs. There are going to be words that they don’t like or the tone might not be quite right or there might be a phrase that they just don’t like, for one reason or another. Understand that these are not criticisms of you. It simply means that they need something slightly different. They need it revised.
Recently I was working with a local startup, writing some content for them, and they wanted to confirm the cost of my work. I told them that the price was X and they asked, “what if you have to revise a couple of times.” I told them that I didn’t charge to do revisions and they were a little surprised. They asked why not. I told them that I was a writer and my job was to be good at writing and charging for revisions was like charging them for me sucking at my job. Now, to be fair, when I’m thinking about how long a job will take me and what that means from a cost perspective, I do include revisions in that planning but I don’t charge people because I either didn’t listen or didn’t take my time. They then asked, “well what happens if there end up being a lot of revisions?” That’s a different story.
If you’ve listened, (really listened) to the client and you’ve taken your time to practice your craft with a piece of work and you’ve made revisions based on their feedback and you’re not getting any closer to delivering a product, quit. Walk away. It does not mean that you’re not good at what you do. It means that you’re not a good fit for this client. It also doesn’t mean that the company is stupid, or unreasonable or destined to fail. It simply means that you and that company do not a good match make.
Some people think that quitting is to admit failure. I don’t think of it that way. I think you quit when you realize that there is no hope for success and if your client leaves you with no hope for success, why are you hanging around, fighting the good fight. Instead, focus your energy on projects where you can succeed. There’s no shame in that.