Writing a freelance assignment? Gather the facts
Besides being a newspaper reporter early in my career, I’ve worked in the corporate trenches writing everything from news and feature stories for customer magazines and newsletters, to sales and fundraising letters. I’ve also spent a fair amount of time as a ghostwriter.
After all these years, my work style is second nature, from how I prepare for an assignment to how I interview sources and get into the writing itself.
But I often run into people who are eager to break into copywriting or freelance writing and they want to know how to go about it, so I decided to analyze and share some of my personal best practices.
In this post, I explain how I get started on an assignment by doing research. In part II, I’ll delve into the interview process.
Start with research.
Once I have an idea or assignment, the first thing I do is learn as much as I can about the person or topic. This sounds like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many people skip this step. I’ve written everything from stories about growing shiitake mushrooms to the art of glass blowing and felt much more comfortable about going into the interviews after doing initial research. Research sparks ideas for interview questions and story angles, ones I might not have considered. Ultimately, you’ll be more confident if you’re prepared.
The Internet. If I’m doing a personality or business profile, I’ll check the person or company’s website for details and publications that have already mentioned them. I look at the About page and read news releases posted on the site. I’ll research background information through industry organizations and other websites.
Company marketing materials and sources. Whether I’m writing about a person, process, or product at a company, I ask for brochures, media kits, and data sheets. I’ll also ask for additional sources inside or outside the organization who can offer insight or expertise.
Customer data. If I’m writing a sales letter, brochure, or other sales piece, I want to make sure I know what’s important to the customer who will read it so that I can position the copy to resonate with the intended audience. I seek out persona information, buying habits, and any other customer data the company has collected.
I’ve developed a system over the years that fits how I like to work. You may find these tips work for you or you may have some different processes. Please share your own writing system. I’m always eager to learn a few tips myself and see how other writers work.