How to get the most out of your freelance copywriter or editor

I generated some buzz on Twitter a while back with my ‘Hi Tiffany’ series of tweets. Largely tongue-in-cheek, they dealt with bizarre client requests, strange foibles and inexplicable confusions (and before you ask, they were based on my dealings with only 5{7aef4e5c6853be3cc4d057a807069aa9f2ae8fd184061eb63ea53e14fedec9bd} of my client base; the other 95{7aef4e5c6853be3cc4d057a807069aa9f2ae8fd184061eb63ea53e14fedec9bd} is usually absolutely fantastic to work with).

  • ‘Hi Tiffany. I don’t know what I want. Can you just, I don’t know, make something up?’
  • ‘Hi Tiffany. It’ll take you five hours to write our brochure copy? But we could do it ourselves in less than that.’
  • ‘Hi Tiffany. Even though you quoted, and we accepted, we’ve now changed the brief. But please don’t change the quote!’
  • ‘Hi Tiffany. Can we meet tomorrow? Can you supply 40 or so pages of sample copy by then?’

Funny, yes, but what I’ve realised is that it’s my responsibility to educate this 5{7aef4e5c6853be3cc4d057a807069aa9f2ae8fd184061eb63ea53e14fedec9bd}; to explain how freelancers work and how to get the best out of us. So, for those of you who’re interested, and for my precious – and hilarious – 5{7aef4e5c6853be3cc4d057a807069aa9f2ae8fd184061eb63ea53e14fedec9bd}, here goes:

What copywriters and editors do

To begin with, there are copywriters and editors specialising in all kinds of projects – from creating corporate profiles to polishing CVs, writing company newsletters to generating content for websites, editing textbooks to populating glossy brochures, and conceptualising ad campaigns to writing copy for labels and packaging.

Whether you’re a large multinational corporation, a small business, a government department, an NGO or an agency, we can help you enormously.

Our job extends to cutting through the confusion to make your message clean, clear, crisp, appealing and appropriate. Helping you to get it right the first time, and within budget. And above all, because your image is so important, guiding you towards the right tone for your brand and the right words for each piece of communication.

But we need some input from you

To do our job properly, and to give you what you want, there are a couple of things we need from you. If it helps, use the below to inform the brief you give your freelancer (or, more realistically, the brief that your FL will take from you):

  • What exactly do you want the FL to do?

For example, would you like her to write a document from scratch, polish an existing document or proofread a document in hard copy or on-screen? Please keep in mind that copy editing takes three times as long as proofreading, and copywriting about three times as long as copy editing, so what you want done determines how long the FL needs to do it (and what it will cost you). A rush job is usually a pap job.

  • What’s your ultimate aim or objective?

What do you hope to achieve with this document (inform, educate, impress, entertain, compel, share, involve, bond, persuade, credibility-build, fund-raise) and what is the ideal outcome or reader reaction that you hope to provoke as a result of the material? In other words, once the reader’s read the document, what should happen next? A website visit? An e-mail? A phone call? An order?

  • Where should we get facts/figures from?

Are you going to be able to provide your FL with everything he needs to write the copy? In other words, all of the background info, facts, figures and data? If not, will he need to set up interviews with relevant role-players, conduct web or other research, or review bulk material to get the good stuff out? It really helps us to know this in advance, so that we can allocate research and info-gathering time and budget.

  • What’s your/your company’s ideal style?

What style do you think is most appropriate to your audience or your message? Formal or informal? Chatty or sophisticated? Colourful descriptions or irreverent, chatty, cheeky touches? Industry jargon or simple explanations? Is there anything you’ve seen elsewhere that the FL could look at, as a yardstick? This helps a lot. And which spelling style will be more appropriate for your reader: USA, UK?

  • Are any other creative resources required?

A lot of first-time freelance-users don’t know this, but 95{7aef4e5c6853be3cc4d057a807069aa9f2ae8fd184061eb63ea53e14fedec9bd} of copywriters and copy editors deal only with the copy. We don’t do graphic design, layouts or corporate ID.

Our specialty is the part with the words in it.

However, by virtue of working in the industry for a long time, many of us have great contacts in graphic design, DTP, packaging, printing, web design, web programming, back-end SEO, etc, and we’re more than happy to offer you a list of suppliers you can choose from. We’re also willing to work with your existing team, if you have one.

  • Who is responsible for copy sign-off?

Who in your organisation must approve the first draft and/or make changes? Will the FL have a free hand, or is there a third party you’ll appoint as the editorial point-person? If there’s more than one person involved in approving drafts, will you (or someone in your company) manage them, or would you like the freelancer to do it?

  • And a few other things to think about…

If you have an initial sense of budget, timing, deadline, etc, please try to share this with your FL up-front, as this can help enormously with our costing, planning and scheduling – and assist us in providing you with the most accurate quote possible.

Let’s keep all of the channels open

In short, we really do want to get your job right the first time. We want to make you happy. We want to deliver the message you imagine to the audience you’ve identified. So please help us to help you by giving us as much information as you can, as early on in the process as is feasible for you, and then trust us to make the suggestions that best suit your requirements. But don’t be shy to ask questions throughout – this is the very best way to guarantee that we’re all on the same page.

* A version of this article originally appeared on