40 Questions You Need to Ask Every Copywriting Client

40 Questions You Need to Ask Every Copywriting Client

Reader Comments (58)

  1. Hi Carol

    “Can you please define your project”. Great question and one that should be promoted with any prospect in any business project at the earliest opportunity. Project scoping and defining the boundaries are vital for success.
    If the scope is not defined it will end in two definitive results.

    1. An unsattisfied client.
    2. Your business losing money on the deal.

    If they can’t define what they want, then a simple scoping exercise can be done with you (which could/should be chargeable). You can always make it part of the overall price if they decide to go ahead with you.

    Good post – thanks

    • Scope is also a integral part of project management. Somebody should be running the project as a project manager – either on the client or the freelancer side.

    • Barney, I have been there, done it. Like you said, when no project scope is undefined, then the client could ask for things which where didn’t specify from the beginning, and you work a lot more, for no additional income. If freelancers would use contracts or be upfront, nothing like that would happen.

  2. As an SEO consultant, I’ve asked very similar questions. The biggest one is usually in regards to how much control I am allowed over their content. Will I be writing blog and articles, or will someone be doing that in-house? Do I have to get everything approved beforehand, or do they trust my judgment and expertise? How many people do I have to convince of an action before I am allowed to follow through? Sometimes you spend more time getting things approved than you do actually working on it!

  3. Great questions – and I’m happy to say that I ask most of them (sometimes some just aren’t pertinent to the client or project).

    I will say that I can’t agree that a fixed-price bid is always best. I do aim for fixed-price when I can, but if the scope seems open to change, I’d rather go with an hourly estimate, define the scope as tightly as possible, and set clear expectations that scope creep will affect the final cost.

    Sometimes (as you also point out) clients really don’t know exactly what they want. Trying to push them into defining it when they haven’t yet committed to working with me can be – reasonably from their perspective – annoying. It’s also often quite futile, because when someone doesn’t know what they want, they may need an example – something to shoot at, so to speak – before their wishes will crystallize into form.

    I guess what I’m saying is – everything is always flexible and dependent on the situation!

    • Hi Grace — That’s why I say if they don’t really know, try to find a small initial project you can do for them. Sometimes you can do several smaller projects while the client is figuring out the big picture of what they want to do in marketing this year, and that keeps your name in front of the client and generates some income in the meanwhile.

      • Well, conceptually, I agree.

        In actual practice, though, it’s a tad difficult to ask a client to define a “small initial project” when they come to me wanting a new website, but unsure about exactly what the pages will turn out to be.

        It’s usually a lack of full clarity around their business – and understandable enough; in my experience, relatively few people have that level of clarity about their business, and even people who’ve been in business over 20 years have told me they were much clearer about their real focus and strategy after we were done. It seems a bit inflexible if I insist that we have to nail down every aspect of their site before we start. I’d far rather give them a more broadly-defined, hourly approach.

        I’d also add that you have to be very, very good at writing tight project definitions if you’re going to work on a fixed-bid basis, and that’s a skill that takes time and practice to develop. I’ve been writing project definitions of all sizes – from a few $100 to half a million (literally) – so I’m relatively confident in my scoping and in my ability to write a scope document that both I and the client can be comfortable with.

      • Carol, that’s good advice, I am always puzzled when some copywriters go for the big projects and completely neglect the smaller ones. If done right, they’ll add up and generate a lot more cash than a single bigger project 🙂

  4. Carol,

    This is a great list! I already ask many of these, but thanks to you, I now will be asking a lot more! The answers definitely helps define a clear scope of work upfront, protecting all parties.


  5. Carol, I often get phone queries about my copywriting and decline most projects simply because my rates are higher than what people are willing to pay. So asking the question about their budget is right near the top of my list.

    I ask only a few of these questions initially. If they’re still interested, we proceed to the next layer of questions. Asking them all means I could end up wasting 45 minutes and having nothing to show for it.

    • I would rarely ask all these questions off a phone query, Joan. Definitely would want to be at a stage where I’m clear it’s a fairly serious prospect before gathering this many details.

  6. Couldn’t agree more – this is a fantastic list! 40 take an unrealistic amount of time to ask for some copywriter-client situations, so can you get it down to the Top 15 or 20 that one shouldn’t live without?

    • Carla, in my business, I cover all of these questions, but in a more phased manner so it doesn’t seems like I’m grilling the prospective client or putting him/her in the hot seat. For example, I don’t initiate a discussion about my payment terms until we have determined that my skills are a good fit for the client’s project and whether I have enough free time to meet their expected turn-around time.

  7. Carol, this is such a great list! I particurly appreciate questions #15 – #21, which are critical to delivering on-target copy. Although I don’t typically ask these types of questions up front, once I have “won” a copywriting assigment, I never move forward without gathering this basic product/client/competitor insight. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Wow, that’s a really thorough list of questions. I definitely didn’t have nearly that many on my list, so I’ve got quite a few notes now-

    Thanks Carol!

  9. #23 is so important. I find that those who are new to working with a freelance copywriter may not think about the difference between copy writing and graphic design. If you don’t bring up design, you can find yourself delivering the prescribed copy and hearing the client ask when you’ll be putting it into the final format.

  10. I also ask: ‘What does your target audience currently think/feel/do and what do you want them to think/feel/do once they have read this brochure (or website, or whatever it is I’m going to be writing).

    Questions around tone of voice can open up a can of worms if they don’t have a clear concept of what their tone of voice is/should be. I was recently briefed by two directors of a company on what their tone of voice should be and I agreed to do two sample web pages to check I was on the right lines. They said it was spot on and so I wrote the full 12 pages. Then a third director got involved and said he didn’t like that tone of voice at all and made me rrewrite it to HIS specification. (Totally overruling his two fellow directors). That begs a further question: who needs to be in the initial briefing session?

    • Having worked with a lot of creative pros and agencies from the client side, I can confirm that we used to do this to people all the time. (It wasn’t any fun for us either.) This is a critical one to get sorted out, and to make sure that you don’t get penalized for the company’s disfunction.

      #8 and #9 might not seem that important if you’ve never worked in an organization that has issues with power struggles, but they’re critical.

  11. I have never been into copywriting business and I am not interested at all, since I am planning to stick with my blogging career and live my life as a blogger. Anyway, thanks for sharing these useful tips.

  12. “Let’s determine the time limit for this project.” Key especially if you work like I do ““ until you’re thrilled.” Plus I love #23. All copywriters should get to know good designers.

  13. Carol, I always loved articles like this. A lot of people pop into freelancing (writing, developing, designing, and etc) and they get “blind-sided” by clients that request too much of them.

    However, if they follow these 40 questions, they can prevent that from ever happening.

    Now think about it… what if you turned this into a 2-page document and offer it as a free download? People can refer to it before each and every client meeting.

  14. This is a fantastic post. I am going to hold onto this as reference for new client meetings.

  15. Without fail, there always seems to be something I forget to ask during those initial meetings. List like this certainly come in handy. And the beauty of a compilation like this is that it not only covers what you should ask of your clients, but what they should expect from you. Most times, the client will ask “Can you “insert project here” for us?” without fully realizing what a half-decent copywriter/designer/illustrator should be bringing to the table. These types of questions get the clients to look at their project in a different way. It’s always satisfying when a client leaves a meeting with a new perspective on their own project.

  16. Can I be brutally honest?

    I’m all for content marketing – that’s how I built my business as well.

    But in this post you’re NOT giving away content – you’re giving away METHODOLOGY, and I don’t think that’s smart, for a number of reasons:

    1) You’re creating (amateur) competition that is diluting the copywriting business,
    2) You’re giving away stuff you could get money for,
    3) You’re devaluing the methodology.

    This questionnaire should be EARNED while a trainee is working with a pro copywriter, or bought by a beginner copywriter who WANTS to get ahead faster.

    What do you think?

    • Guess I don’t agree, Gabor.

      This is exactly the sort of content I give away on my blog all the time. My mission is to help writers earn more, so I often describe exact ways writers can do that.

      I don’t think I’m devaluing methodology by discussing it. And as you can see from the comments above, not everybody agrees with my points anyway.

      I’m not worried about more competition, and I don’t think sharing methods creates more. It doesn’t give people the skills to DO great copywriting — it just allows copywriters to gain a better sense of what they should charge, and charge appropriately for the project’s true scope.

      Certainly flattered you think the list is of such high value that I should sell it. But most of my products for sale are much more extensive than this.

      I think putting forward this information gives copywriters better tools for demanding more pay. That strengthens the copywriting business and firms up rates for all of us, rather than diluting the value of copywriters in the marketplace. But happy to hear others’ thoughts about it.

    • Carol’s enough of a pro to know that the market is always strong for good copywriters who are also good businesspeople.

      And we give away lots of stuff we could charge money for. 🙂 We’re asking for people’s time and attention — that’s much more valuable than any dollars they could give us.

  17. Great list of questions–I only wish you’d written this post two months ago! I was recently burned by a client specifically because I didn’t know the answers to Questions No. 5, 9, 16-20, and 27-29! I was hired by the business owner and spent weeks reporting directly to her for final approval–which she was slow to give, if she even replied to email/voicemail at all–when the person I was *supposed to be* reporting to thought I was a slacker for never talking to her!

    I eventually discovered, as the business relationship was rapidly dissolving, that the owner had no experience with freelancers, so she didn’t know that I thought I’d be reporting to her unless she told me otherwise. She didn’t know that freelancers don’t always take on one client at a time from start to finish; she basically wanted me to be a 24/7 employee available at her beckon call, whereas I usually work on multiple projects simultaneously. They also had no client profile what-so-ever, and how they present themselves in marketing is MUCH different than how they work behind the scenes. They are a very traditional business that wants to cast a wide net and get every possible person in a large area–they have a niche, but they want that niche AND everyone else. Thus, they wanted traditional marketing pieces–press releases with very “professional” (which in their culture’s terms meant traditional, nothing that could be considered out-of-the-box or unusual) images to go with it.

    Since I was brought on board to work with their online presence and create their social media program, I jumped in with behind the scenes photos, personal stories from clients, and applied all of the usual Web 2.0 community-building tactics that their marketing seemed to suggest they’d want. Unfortunately, they were still working with tried-and-true, impersonal methods of marketing–nothing in the first person, everything very stoic and rigid–so that the culture clash was too severe and they ended up going with a different freelancer to maintain what I’d built up until that point.

    If I’d simply asked the right questions, I’d have known from the start that the project was completely and utterly wrong for me.

    Of course, I’ve bookmarked this site and will integrate these questions into my new client questionnaire so I can hopefully avoid another bad experience!


  18. Thank you for your post, Carol. I’m fairly new to copywriting, and these sample questions will be a big help. I’ve noticed that finding reliable information about the interviewing portion of copywriting is almost impossible. Most websites discuss the writing aspects of the work and seem to gloss over the fact-gathering stages.

    As a writer, I find the interviewing process the most challenging portion of my projects.

    Could you recommend any further sources for information on the interviewing/fact-gathering processes?

  19. Awesome list! Definitely bookmarking this for when I do this type of work.

    As far as giving away your IM or Skype handle… My main business is online dating profile writing & dating coaching. My clients have my IM handle – my business handle. I only log into this account when I am meeting with a client. If a different client pops up asking for advice, I will schedule a time that we can talk. Sometimes it’s immediately after the current client, sometimes it’s the next day or over email. Either way, I control my schedule. 🙂

  20. Excellent piece. I am not a Copywriter but want to apply the 40 questions to other areas of work, be it internal clients or external customers we need to define scope and expectations of satisfaction.

  21. Lucky number 13 is my favorite on this list! I cant tell you how many time, early on in my copywriting career I forgot to do this. There is nothing worse than repeating the mistakes of your predecessor! What’s worse is finishing a TON of awesome content and being SO sure of your work, only to get a frustrated or even angry response from your client… and having NO IDEA what went wrong.

    The simple act of going over their current content to find out what they do/do not like and what they’d like to see done differently can save you from a serious headache. As an added plus, it shows your client that you can, and it gives them a chance to vent a bit. They’ll be grateful for both.

  22. Whoa boy, step #1 in your list is always one of my favorites. It is so true that you need to be able to define a project before making a request. At the same time, I always help nurture along the question, can you define your project, by having available brand questionnaire or web workbook to help people brainstorm and work through the process.

    Great list!

    • I’m a fan of the written questionnaire approach too, especially for that initial phone conversation. Somehow, being confronted with a line on a form that says, “How many blog posts a month do you need?” helps crystallize an answer better than just verbally being asked.

  23. Hi Carol. Thank you for this very informative post. I need to find someone to do some copy writing for my business consulting website and your list will be a fantastic starting point to make sure that I have all the answers clearly in my head before an interview. Your post may have been directed specifically to copy writers but it will no doubt save a lot of problems on both sides of the fence.

  24. Fabulous post, thank you. And I guess that this epitomises the best of blogging – perpetuating the community feel, stimulating discussion, sharing your knowledge with others and doing so with intelligence and charm.

  25. This is great! I actually have a friend who will be in need of these questions. She is currently working with a client that is asking her to do things she never agreed upon, but this was because she rushed into it, she took them as a client and never asked, like you were saying. Thanks for the post..wonderful!

  26. Thanks for this great piece Carol!

    I’m very new to the freelance business (so new that I still need to keep my day job). While I’m a technical writer rather than a copywriter, many of these questions are very relevant to what I do. I’m also trying to decide if copywriting is an area that I can move into down the road so I’m trying to take in all the knowledge I can from the experts to see if it’s right for me before I jump in. I appreciate that seasoned pros like you are willing to share these “secrets of the game” with the rest of us who are still learning how to play.

    I just added your blog to my feed list. I look forward to more great content.


  27. That’s a very useful secret you have given out for free. It’s really a good action plan for freelance business. Thanks.

  28. I’m tacking this to my wall next to my computer and yes, this list will be in my hands during my next negotiation call for sure. I just wish info like this was available to me years ago when igot myself into some sticky situations with clients.

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