What’s the process when working with a copywriter?

September 18, 2020


Your business needs some writing done and rather than slogging it out yourself, you want to hire a copywriter. But how long does it take to get the copy you want? How do you tell a copywriter what you need? And, most importantly, how do you make sure you’re happy with what you’re paying with?

All of your questions and worries are answerable once you understand the copywriting process. These are the steps a copywriter works through to make your copywriting request happen. While every copywriter and marketing agency may have tinkered with the copywriting process to suit their own style, there is a general process most of us follow.

If you’ve never worked with a copywriter before and want to understand how it all works here’s the big reveal, using my own process as a guide.



The copywriting process in five steps

Step 1: First contact

You get in touch by sending an email, filling in the contact form or completing the in-take form attached to the service you want to book. At this stage I want to know:
  • the name of your company and industry you’re in
  • some rough details on the type of copy you want
  • any deadlines influencing the project.
Based on this information I’ll make a call on whether I’m the right copywriter for you. There are some industries my writing style suits better and there are times when I’m booked-out. Assuming it’s all good I’ll flick you a link to my diary so you can book in your free 20-minute discovery call. The discovery call Tell me everything you currently know about the project: why you want new copy, project goals, ideal audience, budget, deadlines and anything else I need to understand about what we’re making. I parrot back what you’ve told me to make sure I’m on the same page, then one of two things happen.
  1. If there are lots of blanks about how we create the thing you want, I write up a sales proposal. This details two or three options about how we achieve what you want. Usually, each option is at different price point.
  2. We’re clear on what you want and budget/cost is sorted so I write up the Statement of Work (SoW) and send the first invoice.
Whether we go down route one or two, you can expect the paperwork within three business days, sent to you as a PDF attached to an email.

Step 2: Getting the paperwork sorted

If I sent you a sales proposal, I ask that you let me know in 2-3 days which option you want. With that decided, your SoW is written up and the first invoice is sent. What exactly are these documents and what needs to happen with them? The SoW details the project scope, deliverables you can expect, project timeline, invoice dates and payment dates. It makes sure there are no unwanted surprises. It also includes my terms and conditions and is our contract. The first invoice is 50% of the total project fee. Paying a proportion of the project fee upfront is common practice when working with a creative from any industry. It shows you’re committed and invested in the project and it locks us into your project. Moving forward means signing and returning the SoW and paying the first invoice. You’re then 100% officially my client. Now you get to see my nifty videos that explain more about the writing/feedback process I follow and gets you access to our shared workspace on Google Drive.

Step 3: The big briefing session

Taking around an hour to an hour and a half, the big briefing session is where I quiz you on:
  • who’s signing off on the work and who do I report to
  • how your business started
  • business ambitions
  • where you’re succeeding and failing
  • your unique selling points
  • how you describe your business and industry to other people
  • who your audience is
  • if your current audience is your ideal audience
  • examples of copy you like and examples of stuff you hate
  • the finer details of the project itself and what we’re making
  • if I need to be aware of any design or SEO considerations.
It’s a lot to go through but it has to be because by the end of it I have to be crystal clear on who you are, what we want to achieve and who I’m writing for. Writing copy without this information leads to failure. You can read more about this in how to brief a copywriter.

Step 4: Writing, editing and redrafting the copy

After the briefing session I give myself a day to digest everything. If I’ve recorded the meeting I’ll watch and listen back, making notes on anything I like the sound of or need to follow up with more research. When I feel ready, it’s time to get into the heaviest part of the project (for me at least). Writing the first drafts. Getting the first draft done can take half a day or well-over a week. The size of the project usually guides me on whether it’s best to wait until all the first drafts are done for everything you’ve asked and give you it in one hit or drip-feed bits through. Dripping through a few pages or paragraphs is sometimes more manageable for you. It’s also a way for me to check early on if you’re happy with the tone and style I’m writing in. All documents are uploaded to our Google Drive and I’ll let you know when a piece of copy is ready for you to review. Sometimes you might also get a link to a short video I’ve recorded explaining things you need to know about the copy and are too long to write up in a comment. As an example, I might want to explain why I’ve laid the copy out a particular way or why I’ve taken a certain angle. It’s then over to you When writing up the SoW I build in a number of days for you to review the first drafts. It’s important you’re able to sit with the copy and have time and headspace to read and think about your feedback. Letting me know what you like and which parts aren’t hitting the mark is easy. Using tracked changes (known as ‘suggestions’ on Google Docs) you can make amends to the copy and they’re underlined and highlighted so spotting what’s different is simple. You can also leave comments and ask extra questions. Once you’re done, and no later than the feedback deadline date agreed in the Sow, let me know. An email, text or quick call is fine. That’s my cue to go back into the document and make the relevant changes so it becomes draft two. The same process of feedback and implementation happens and draft two becomes draft three. By this point the copy is usually close to done. All that’s left is for me to send it to my editor.

Why, if I’m a professional writer, would I send it to an editor?

For exactly that reason. I’m a professional writer who cares a lot about the copy I write for you. After working on a piece of copy for hours, sometimes days, my eyes become immune to spotting all of the errors. Sending it to my trusty editor for proofreading minimises the risk of anything slipping through that shouldn’t. Getting work proofread by a sub-editor is something every decent publication, magazine and ad agency does. No matter how short. Failing to do this can lead to fuck ups, like this. With copy back from my editor I make any final changes and then submit the work to you for final sign off.

Step 5: Sign off and final payment

Sign off is the final stage. It’s you agreeing the work is complete, original and to a standard we’re both happy with. With a nod from you I move the word to the final signed off folder in our shared workspace and send through the final invoice. As soon as the balance is settled, the copyright for the work is handed over to you and you’re free to publish it whenever you’re ready.

Keeping the copywriting process as simple as possible

Parts of the copywriting process can sound fiddly at times, largely because there is some back and forth as you develop the work. Working with a copywriter is a collaborative process with the writer carrying most of the weight. But they can’t do everything. Getting copy you’re proud of means investing time in reviewing the work and giving useful feedback.

See what it’s like working with a professional copywriter

I’ve put together an affordable copywriting service for businesses and freelance folk who have never worked with a copywriter before and want to give it a go. It’s a shortened version of the copywriting process that’s perfect for smaller jobs. A try it and see if you like it deal, it’s called The Tasting Paddle.

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