Content Strategy

Context Matters: How to Create a Content Brief Based on Freelancers’ Experience

Anna Burgess Yang
February 9, 2023

As a freelance content marketer, I’ve seen more than my fair share of content briefs. Some have been carefully crafted by my clients. Others times, clients use an Airtable form I’ve created that acts like a brief, collecting the information I know I will need. And sometimes I get nothing more than an email saying, “Hey, can you write a post about X topic?”

Here’s the thing: I can work with any of those formats. But clients have to understand that my work is going to be based on the information I’m given.

Your working relationship with the freelancer will be driven by clear communication, and it starts with the content brief. And what you include in the brief depends on the type of freelancer and the type of content.

Here’s what you should always include in your content briefs

Freelancers can be an amazing complement to content teams. They can provide support when an internal team is overloaded or bridge a gap when a full-time resource is not needed. But it’s important to remember that they often don’t have access to the inner workings of your company: broader marketing goals, sales targets, product information, etc.

At a minimum, you’ll need to provide some basics to a freelancer, no matter the experience level or industry expertise.

Target Audience: Give the freelancer some background. Is the content TOFU, MOFU, or BOFU?

Keywords: Unless you’ve hired the freelancer to manage your SEO strategy, include any primary and secondary keywords.

Style Guide: If you don’t have an internal style guide, you’ll probably need to do some editing after-the-fact.

CTA: Either let the freelancer know the CTA (book a demo, download an eBook, sign up for the newsletter, etc.) or add the CTA when the content is published.

Internal Links: The freelancer won’t know your entire content library. If you want specific links included, provide them.

Resources: Give the freelancer access to anything and everything that helps them understand the product and company, including internal subject matter experts.

It’s very unlikely that a freelancer will say, “That’s too much information!” They’ll take anything you provide and use it as needed.

Additional information you should include in your content brief will be based on a few different scenarios. 

Scenario 1: An inexperienced freelancer

Every freelancer has to start somewhere. You may see potential in a freelancer’s writing sample. Or the freelancer was previously at a content agency or in-house and is now striking out on their own.

But without experience working with a broad range of clients, you’re going to need to provide more structure in a content brief—at least in the beginning.

Recommended Reading: How To Work With Freelance Writers: Rates, Relationships & Sourcing

If the freelancer is new to content marketing overall, provide an article structure, such as the H2s and a sentence or two about each section. It’s like training anyone in a new field; the freelancer will need to be given some guidance. Be prepared that the first few drafts may need heavy revisions. The freelancer agreement should clearly outline how many rounds of revisions are allowed per deliverable.

If the freelancer has experience with content marketing but is new to freelancing, you will still want to provide detailed briefs. The freelancer may not have seen a range of briefs or is used to briefs in a specific format. Have a conversation with the freelancer about the briefs they’ve worked with previously, what they found helpful, and how yours may differ.

Either way: plan some buffer time when working with an inexperienced freelancer. Beyond editing and revisions, new freelancers may also be new to project management. They may sit down to write and realize that they have questions for you—which then has a downstream effect on delivering on time.

While perpetual late work is a problem, give some grace in the beginning as you get to know each other.

Scenario 2: A niche or experienced freelancer

While there is no shortage of freelancers able to write about well-covered topics, some industries require specialized knowledge to write with authority. Or you may be looking for a freelancer that needs less hand-holding and has proven results.

Recommended Reading: Outsourcing Thought Leadership Content Is Hard But Not Impossible: Here's How to Do It

In this case, you can rely on the freelancer to bring their expertise to the table. You don’t have to give as much guidance and can instead let the freelancer get to work based on a general topic and main takeaway (like your company’s stance on the topic).

In fact, providing too much guidance might stifle the freelancer’s creativity. Think of the freelancer more like a consultant: in the brief, you’re providing some background information and relying on the freelancer to come up with the best solution.

Working with an experienced freelancer can reduce the burden on your team—since the freelancer won’t require as much hand-holding—but you need to consider how much direction you want to provide in the content brief. If your reaction to the content is “This isn’t what I had in mind,” then a hands-off approach won’t work and will waste time and resources.

Some of my best experiences with clients have been those where the client asks me what I need to be successful. And I’ll be very upfront: as a niche writer, I can take a topic and run with it, but then the client has to trust my judgment. If the client wants a specific outcome, I need a more specific brief.

If you’d like to give the freelancer a lot of freedom but want to have some assurances about the result, ask to see an outline. Just make sure that you build in enough time to review and provide feedback before the final deadline for the content.

Scenario 3: Product-heavy content

A freelancer is never going to understand your product (or services) as well as your internal team.

Even if the freelancer understands the industry and the problems that your product solves, the specific nuances of what the product “does” or “doesn’t do” won’t be obvious.

Freelancers can certainly support product-heavy content (like a how-to guide), but you’ll need to provide extra support to make sure that the content accurately represents your product and product messaging.

Resources might include:

  • Videos that demo the product/features
  • Sales decks and internal sales support materials
  • Access to the product or tutorials

For example, I worked with Gorgias to create “Recipes” that explained specific use cases for the product. I have a background in product-led content, but not specifically their product. (And shoutout to Superpath—I connected to Gorgias through the #work-freelance Slack channel!)

In every brief, the editor pointed me in the direction of Help Docs that explained, in detail, the product functionality. He also explained why Gorgias users would benefit from the particular use case. I was given videos to watch and access to internal product SMEs.

I also asked for access to the product so that I could click around as I was writing. With product access, I could make sure that I was correctly describing steps in the Recipes.

Your content brief drives the outcome

If content briefs feel like a chore, or you don’t have the time/bandwidth internally to prepare good briefs for your freelancers remember: freelancers are not mind readers. They’ll do the best they can with the information they’re given.

Provide feedback if you feel like the freelancer missed the mark based on the brief, but understand that it takes time to build the relationship. The freelancer should be willing and able to adjust the content based on your guidance in the spirit of shared success.

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