I hate the phrase “fresh idea.” No, hate isn’t strong enough. I loathe it. I detest it. I simply abhor it.
That hasn’t always been the case. Five years ago, using these two words together never offended me personally. But when I joined the Internet’s pool of writers for hire, my outlook changed drastically.
I write for various content firms, and invariably they all post jobs with phrases like “fresh idea,” “killer sales copy” and “compelling content.” It’s not that I don’t understand what the client wants. I know they’re looking for well-crafted, useful content to enhance social media campaigns and get their sites found by search engines. I get it. I really do.
But here’s the problem: I’m not the expert in the client’s field. Even if I have specialized knowledge of commercial doors or wind power generators or diabetes supplies or whatever it is they’re selling, I simply don’t have the same insight into these niche markets as the client.
Therefore, before I can come up with a fascinating piece about socks or accordion folders or vending machines, the client must help me understand a little more about the business’s market position and growth strategy. Otherwise, it’s nearly impossible for me to write “fun and informative articles about shoe laces.” (No kidding. I’ve seen this one.)
To that end, I’ve developed some questions to ask clients who offer vague instructions for content about a specialized product or market. More often than not, just by explaining what it is his or her company really does, I can craft content that’s on target with expectations.
Here’s a look at some of the questions that help me get started:
1. Who is your audience? Who do you want this message to reach? When I understand who the client is selling to, I can frame the content so it resonates with the intended audience.
2. Who is your competition? I hate it when a company’s content mirrors that of their direct competitors. From a writing standpoint, it’s vital that I know what the other guys are doing.
3. What are your FAQs? It helps me to think like a customer when I’m generating ideas for a client. If I know which questions customers ask frequently, I can come up with ways to answer them in a creative, insightful manner.
4. What are your brand attributes? By asking a client to identify what makes their brand unique, I can get a better sense of how to portray the business. Is it strictly professional? Maybe more laid-back and fun? This question also provides some clues into what the client doesn’t want.
I won’t promise that these questions will help in every situation. In my case, I’ve written about Botox so often, I don’t think any number of questions will get my creative juices flowing. But these questions will help you when asked to produce “content that jumps off the page” about mortgage loans, dried fruit or leather wallets.
Chelsea A is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.