Most people think of copywriting as an art, like ballet or sculpting.
And in art, everything is freeform—no rules, just endless creativity and flare.
Just like copy, right?
...maybe not so much.
Don’t get me wrong: copywriting is an artform.
But it’s also very much a science.
And like a science, copywriting requires form, structure, and clearly defined processes.
Without it, the copy on your projects can feel like a stressful mess and the copywriters you work with will probably spike your blood pressure. Or gosh forbid, you end up still putting projects on hold waiting for client copy.
Believe me when I say I feel your pain. I work with dozens of agency owners every year, and every one of them has been in your shoes.
My first question is usually, “What’s your copy process?”
And you know what? The answer is usually the same: “We don’t have one.”
The hard truth is that you can’t expect the copywriting portion of each project to go smoothly if you don’t have a simple, clearly defined service framework and set of processes.
The good news is that a simple and effective high-level service framework for your copy process can be simple to put together.
Here are the 4 key elements you need to develop a copy process that’s guaranteed to succeed.
1. Establish clear expectations for the process
Our copy process begins way before the copywriter types their first word. In order for any copy project to succeed, you’ve got to begin with a needs assessment. This starts with having a frank conversation with your client about their vision, budget, and goals.
I can’t begin to describe how painful it is to put together a brilliant About page, when the client was really expecting a Wikipedia-like bio. A lot of the time, a simple review of the client’s goals can help clear up any discrepancies. But having to backtrack later wastes time and effort — not to mention can feel pretty frustrating on both sides.
It actually goes deeper than just talk though. We like to do a full audit of the client’s website, marketing materials, and email campaigns to get an understanding of where they are. We grade it all on engagement and effectiveness, using our Hierarchy of Content Needs.
Once we know where the client is now, we can build a road to where they want to be.
During this first step, we make sure to set expectations with the client so they are crystal clear on what we’ll be creating for them, and where that all fits into their overall project. We usually establish a timeline and book all of the meetings up front, so you get dibs on your client’s schedule.
2. Develop a solid reference for your copy
Nope...we’re still not at the copywriting part yet.
Before copywriting comes strategy. No matter how small the project is or how simple it seems, we always, always, always begin with strategy.
Our strategy starts in the form of discovery interviews where we speak directly with the clients to uncover what their business is all about, and who they’re selling to. We ask questions that range from what their core values are to what their process is. We get to know where they see their business in the next five years, and what emotions they’re hoping their audience will feel when on the site.
We also do a lot of work on the audience segments. During each discovery interview, we focus on who the target is, what they care about, and why. We want to know what makes them tick, what grabs their interest, and how the client can help them. It can be really helpful to talk directly to your client’s customers.
During the interviews, we take copious notes, and then we condense and clarify that information into a useful document we call the Copy Reference Guide.
This deck contains everything anyone who is ever writing for the brand needs to know. We use this guide to write the copy, but it can be used by the client in the future — or another copywriter — to ensure that everything always stays on brand.
The Copy Reference Guide contains the elements that anchor all of your copy to your brand. This is content that’s foundational, and remains consistent regardless of medium. Our messaging anchors focus on the who, what, and how of the company:
- The audience, their challenges, and the solutions the client provides them
- The unique value proposition and support messaging
- The brand archetype, voice, and tone of the copy
The guide also includes a detailed sitemap and campaign map, so everyone is on the same page about what the final project is going to look like.
This is one of the most critical stages of the copy process, and we can’t stress enough how important it is. Spending a week or two on this step saves several weeks — if not months — down the line.
We get both written and verbal approval from the client on the Copy Reference guide, so we can be sure that we’re not going to go through several rounds of revisions at the copywriting stage. Everything that needs to be figured out is already there.
3. Start with foundation copy
That’s right, we don’t actually start copywriting till halfway through our copy process — but I promise, it works wonders this way.
Do not, I repeat, do not start writing any copy until you have your strategy in place. If you’re hiring freelancers or you have a copywriter on your team, provide them with your Copy Reference Guide or strategy brief before they type a word.
We recommend starting with the foundation copy, which is typically the website, landing page, and maybe a simple email campaign. It’s something that’s usually done once, as opposed to being done on an ongoing basis (we’ll get to that part later, promise!)
While the copywriter is working their magic, be sure to let your client know when they can expect to see a shiny new draft for their review. This little step is super important, because you want to make sure that they carve out time in their very busy schedule to do this.
(Have you ever sent your clients a draft and had to wait six weeks for feedback? If yeah then you know where I’m coming from.)
Be clear with the client about the schedule, and get buy-in from them about whether they can do their review of the copy in the time you need. We try not to give clients too much time to make their edits, because then they usually end up putting it off and never getting to it. Aim to provide clients with 2-4 days, tops, for their review.
Now, when it comes to the client’s feedback itself, you have to walk them through what to look for. If not, you may get comments like “this needs more pizazz” which, let’s be honest, means nothing.
We typically walk our clients through how to give feedback through a short video, including how to use Google Docs and how to make comments. This way, there is no room for confusion and no time for excuses.
Now here’s the gold-star-super-secret-step that gets all our projects done on time: a live feedback session. Instead of going back and forth over email in an endless loop of revision hell, the copywriter meets with the clients and makes all of their edits right there on the spot. At the end of the meeting, the draft is approved and you’re ready to move onto design.
4. Build momentum with growth strategy
A key differentiator in our copy process is that we separate copy out between foundation copy and growth strategy copy. The foundation copy is typically a one-time website project, while the growth strategy copy is cyclical and focused around achieving specific, measurable goals, such as increasing visibility or improving conversion rate.
We sit down with clients to understand what their long-term goals are, and prioritize their action item list so we’re consistently prioritizing achieving those goals. Instead of just writing a bunch of blogs or churning out hundreds of social media posts, we carefully work towards continuous improvement by watching the metrics.
We also use this time to keep them accountable for their role. We can write all the guest posts they want, but if a client isn’t taking the time to build relationships and get ‘em published, then they’re not be successful. We strongly recommend making copy decisions in your growth strategy based on data, and guiding your clients to do the same.
Follow the review process and live feedback session the same way as you did with the foundation copy, so that you can have approved content that’s ready to act on without rounds and rounds of revisions.
Copy is such a major component of each of your projects, so building a smooth, seamless, and stress-free process just makes sense. So don’t rely on the “art” of copywriting to get you through it!
Think of it scientifically, and know that clearly defined procedures are going to make sure you get incredible copy on time — with clients consistently thrilled with the results.