Writing a good brief is a quick win, and more agencies should do it.

After navigating the ad-strewn splash pages of Forbes this morning, I came across an interesting read. According to People Per Hour, 50% of workers across the UK and the US will be freelancers by 2020. 

Freelancers are in demand, and it's wonderful. Agencies and businesses across the world are starting to realise that it's far easier (and cheaper) to tap into freelance talent than it is to secure that talent it in-house.  Agile working is on the rise, and the freelance workforce is leading the charge. 

I love what I do. I get to use the power of words to engage, influence and inspire audiences on behalf of some of the world's best brands. One minute I could be writing a video script for a new mobile phone advert, the next writing a press release for a steel manufacturer in Japan. 

It's not all sunshine and roses though. 

I work directly with many clients, but around 70% of my work comes from teaming up with marketing agencies. The majority of agencies I work with are incredibly talented and organised, and serve up better briefs than I could ever hope for.  However, there are an increasing number of agencies who don't seem to grasp the importance of a solid brief.  It affects their bottom line, gives everyone headaches and ultimately hurts their clients - and here's how. 

The importance of a good, solid brief

I'm sure that many of my fellow freelancers have experienced a bad brief, or perhaps even taken on work where there was no brief at all (guilty as charged). All too often, copywriters in particular are faced with one liners like, "We need to you to write 10 new webpages. Here's the existing site. Go!" Of course, we could go away and do that, but the chances of it meeting yours or your client's expectations are extremely slim. 

As a result, we need to ask really obvious questions about tone of voice, length, titles, calls to action, designs etc. I often go one step further and offer to write up meta descriptions and titles for the pages, enquiring if SEO is something they'd thought about. Often they hadn't, but they'd like it anyway.  Head, meet desk. 

A brief isn't just there to make sure the job gets done correctly though. It's there to help with all aspects of taking on the work, from me giving an accurate quote to an agency getting what they need on time. 

Let's talk about time.

Most good freelancers prefer to charge for their time. In any other profession you get paid per hour, so why should copywriting, designing or developing be any different? It always makes me laugh when an agency asks, "What do you charge for 500 words?" or a would-be client states bluntly, "We pay £0.02 per word!"

Do you pay warehouse staff per box they shelve? Office workers per document they file? If we paid bartenders based on how many drinks they served things would get very complicated. People are paid for their time in all professions, and freelancing is no different. It's established. It works. 

A more appropriate question might be, "How long do you think it would take you to write 500 words on the importance of localised digital marketing?" I can then ask any questions that spring to mind and perhaps quote for 2 hours' work.  At my hourly rate that would be X amount.  If there are multiple pieces to write or there's an ongoing requirement, I may reduce my rate accordingly. 

If there's any piece of advice I could give to an agency before approaching a freelancer, it's to consider their time as you would your own.  

How a brief (or lack of) can impact your bottom line

If I get a poor brief, it's extremely difficult for me to give an accurate quote.  Like many freelancers, I have a lot of work to juggle at any given moment, and I've become very adept at doing so. If I can't determine how long a particular piece of work is going to take, it's hard for me to allocate time (and therefore cost).

What's more, if the brief is missing lots of detail or is incorrect in places, it may end up taking me a lot longer when I actually sit down to do the work. An unclear brief can result in rewrites being needed that, due to scheduling, might have to wait. 

This costs agencies more money and gives them problems with their deadlines. Both things which could be avoided with good communication and a good brief. 

Writing a brief takes time and effort, but after a while you'll start to notice just how well it pays off.  You'll get a higher standard of work, it'll arrive on time, and your margins will be intact. 

If you're not sure where to start with a brief, just ask your freelancer.  I have no problem at all with an agency saying, "What do you need to get started?" In fact, I respect it. I'm always happy to take the time to ask the right questions and help in the formation of a good brief. Oftentimes this dual approach is required, and actually benefits the work.

Agencies and freelancers have a lot to offer one another, and a lot of work to do. Let's do it right!