A six-figure freelancer on the questions to ask about a writing project BEFORE you start working on it.
If you want to be happy, productive, and well paid as a content marketing writer, there’s one question you’ll have to ask yourself repeatedly, each time a potential writing project walks through your Inbox and says, “Pick me?”
And that question is this: What’s going to be my hourly rate on this?
Let’s be straight here. We’re all here because we love writing, because we like the freelance lifestyle, and because we enjoy the freedom this life affords us. But none of it is possible if we aren’t making enough money to feed those insatiable children, keep the liquor cabinet stocked, and buy those chew toys for the dog. I’ve been a journalist, a blogger, an author, and more. These days, content marketing provides the fuel—the money—to keep those fires burning.
With content marketing writing, the purpose is not to win awards. It is to help a business generate income. And I don’t know about you, but if my work is helping others make money, then I’d like to make some (or a lot) of it as well, thank you very much.
So, ask that all-important question each time a potential writing project lands at your door. What’s going to be your hourly rate at the end of this project?
And in order to figure that out, you’ll have to work out the answers to these questions.
1. What’s the format? How much does it pay? Deadline?
If you haven’t already got a list of these questions somewhere, make one today. These are the basic barebones questions you need to ask about every single assignment as a freelancer, no matter whether it’s a blog post, a content marketing deliverable, or an investigative report. You need to get clear on these things before you say yes.
- What’s the format? (Article, blog post, white paper, profile?)
- Word count?
- What does it pay?
- When does it pay? (How soon after submission of work?)
- Will I get a byline?
- Will I get a bio? Does that bio include a link to my website?
- Is there a contract? (What does it say about payment terms? Does it restrict other potential opportunities? Is there a horrific indemnity clause?)
In content marketing writing, we rarely discuss rights, mostly because it’s understood that the business is buying rights to the material. It’s not work you’ll be able to resell, so make sure to get paid well initially.
2. What are the deliverables on this writing project?
As a writer, you’re already used to asking this question, but be warned. Depending on the client, the deliverables for content marketing writing work can range from images to SEO-friendly titles, to social media status updates, to a whole lot more. That’s why it’s important that you ask upfront what the scope of the project is likely to be, so you can accurately calculate how much time you’ll need to spend on it.
3. How much reporting is required?
Will your assignment require sources and interviews? If so, how many? Corporates and agencies can both get pretty specific about these things. There may also be a restriction on what kind of sources you can use. “Don’t quote the CEO of a competing business” is an obvious one, but these rules can be wide-ranging and variable depending on the business. One of my clients has a rule that we can’t use the same sources in two stories, which increases the reporting time because I can’t be efficient by repeatedly calling on sources I have a relationship with. So you’ll need to factor in those details as well.
4. What is the purpose of this piece of content?
Remember, you’re writing for a business. They’re not asking you to write this because they have pages to fill. Every piece of content you’ll write for a business has a function, a motive. It will be a spoke in the wheel of the content marketing strategy. It’s important to understand what the goal for the content you’re writing is so that you can keep it in mind as you write.
For instance, one of my clients is a national bank, and they ask me to write straight up service stories on how to increase your savings because the goal for their content is to educate their customers and provide them with motivation to put more money into their bank accounts. Another large company, however, hires me to write well-researched reports that are distributed internally. These reports help them with big-picture decision making, including what areas of technology to invest in over the next five years as a company. While they publish these reports on their website, the goal is not to inform customers or clients. The goal of these reports is to help employees and decision-makers be up-to-date on the plans for the company’s growth.
Yet another client, a developing world government agency, wants me to find and write about unique projects originating in that region because they’d like to improve the image of their country in the world.
Knowing the goal behind each piece of content helps me to target my research better and to help them achieve that goal. It also saves all of us endless rounds of revisions, which can be a major source of frustration for writers.
5. Who’s the audience for this piece and what’s in it for them?
If you know the purpose for writing a particular piece of content, it’s likely you already know the audience as well. But it helps to dig deeper. For example, for my bank client, it helped to know the demographics of the people who were reading their content, such as age and what stages of their careers they’re in. This helped me find a voice and style that worked with that readership. This not only ensures that I produce work that is the right fit, but eventually saves me time and multiple rewrites.
So, those are the five questions I routinely ask before taking on any writing project and while I’m writing it. Not only does asking the right questions ensure you’ll be delivering exactly what the client wants, but that you’ll be making your life easier in the process.
In my book The Freelance Writer’s Guide to Content Marketing, we delve deeper into the types of assignments you’ll be handing as a content marketing writer and how to choose the writing projects that most appeal to you. Read about it here.
Natasha Khullar Relph
Founder and Editor, The Wordling
Natasha Khullar Relph is an award-winning journalist and author with bylines in The New York Times, TIME CNN, BBC, ABC News, Ms. Marie Claire, Vogue, and more. She is the founder of The Wordling, a weekly business newsletter for journalists, authors, and content creators. Natasha has mentored over 1,000 writers, helping them break into dream publications and build six-figure careers. She is the author of Shut Up and Write: The No-Nonsense, No B.S. Guide to Getting Words on the Page and several other books.
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