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Checklist: 15 Questions to Ask Before Starting a Content Marketing Project

Earlier today, Ann Meany provided suggestions on how you can get the best work from your freelance writer. This is great advice if you are hiring writers, but I know many of our readers are freelancers and content creators. If this describes you, how do you ensure that projects go as smoothly as possible?

These are questions I suggest writers ask before submitting a proposal to get a feel for the scope of the project — and to avoid any potential misunderstandings. While this checklist is developed for a writer to share with a client, you can also slightly modify and use this checklist if you are working with a freelance writer.

Are there writers’ guidelines I should be following?

Does the company follow a standard style guide such as APA or the Chicago Manual of Style? Or, does it have its own set of guidelines that you should follow?

What tone/style should the piece have?

Should the piece be formal or conversational? And will it be used in a tactical or strategic way?

Who is the audience?

Of course, it’s important to get as much information about the audience as possible. Is there one or more than one audience for the piece? Get as many details as possible including title, level of expertise, needs and more. Ask the clients if they have buyer personas you can review.

What are the publication requirements?

You need to understand how the content will be used. Will it be a “straight HTML” page or will it be an eBook that needs callouts, sidebars and other skimming elements?

Does this need to be optimized for SEO?

Depending on the format of the piece, you may need to keep SEO in mind. Ask the client which keywords are important for this publication, and then use them judiciously.

Does this project require an outline?

Ask the client if he or she would like to see an outline before you draft the copy. (Of course, plan your timeline so there is time for review.) For longer-length, complex topics an outline can be a real time-saver, preventing you from”‘wordsmithing” an article that may have the wrong focus altogether.

What is the word count?

Always ask what word count the client is expecting so you don’t need to add/remove text unnecessarily in the design stage.

How many hours do you estimate this project will take?

By asking this question, you can often get a feel for how in-depth the client expects the writing to be. Additionally, you can see how realistic the expectations are of you and the project.

What is the deadline for the piece?

Understand the urgency of the content, and ask if the deadline is tied to something specific (such as an event).

Do you need me to handle any project management?

As any writer knows, there is more to content than writing. If the client wants you to help with project management and/or working with the designer, you need to build additional time into your proposal.

What is the process for rewrites?

Ask how many people will be included in the review cycle so you can get a feel for the complexity of the project. The more people who are involved, the higher the chance for rewrites. This is especially important if this is project-based, and you are including a certain number of rounds of edits in your price.

What examples of writing/publications would you like me to emulate?

Not only will asking for examples help you create better content, but it will also help clients focus in on what they need the final deliverable to look like?

How will the publication be used/reused in future?

Does the client need you to write content for tweets promoting the project, or LinkedIn and Facebook updates? Will the project require a press release or other summary document, and will you be asked to handle these as well?

Are there specific sources I should review?

Clients often provide you with internal documentation to educate them on product positioning, but it’s also worthwhile to see if there are external sources that the client recommends you review. If they don’t provide much source material, you may need to dig. On the other hand, a glut of information will take time to wade through. If the client does provide supporting research to help support the project, ask whether citations/footnotes will be needed.

Is there anything else that I should know about this project?

Asking an open-ended question sometime reveals another aspect of the project that the client may not otherwise mention.

As a writer, do you have a similar set of questions you ask? If you hire writers, are questions like these useful? What would you add to the list?

Looking to score big points with your target audience? CMI’s 2016 Content Marketing Playbook has tips, insights, and ideas that can help increase your success with 24 of the top content marketing tactics.