You just landed a big project with a client.
They want you to rewrite their top-level web pages – the home page, the about page, and the services page. Plus, they want you to write a new sign-up incentive to help them build their email list. And, they want you to write 10 blog posts… one of them needs to be comprehensive, in the neighborhood of 2,500 words.
You’re excited. Elated, even. After all, this project comes with a five-figure price tag. And, if you do great work, there will be more where that came from.
It feels like the big break you’ve been waiting for.
And then, the nerves set in.
What if you blow it?
What if they don’t like your writing?
What if you don’t know the topic well enough? (You realize you don’t know much about the topic at all, and you’re facing a learning curve along with everything else.)
Suddenly, your big break feels like it might break you.
Why does this happen?
It has to do with clarity.
Uncertainty Kills Productivity… But Only If You Let It
At the start of a project, you aren’t certain what to write. There’s no way to be certain… you’ve only just begun.
But, that lack of clarity makes you feel like you’ll never be certain… like the right wording, the right messaging, the right approach are just never going to come to you.
Fortunately, that’s not actually the case.
Finding clarity is possible
And, you need to go through only a handful of basic steps to do it.
So, take a deep breath. Remind yourself that the nerves are part of the process… and then use these three steps to get clear on what you need to say and how you need to say it.
Step 1: Figure Out What You Do Know
When that panic sets in, everything you don’t know is crowding out what you do know.
It can leave you feeling like you don’t know anything at all.
To take back control – and regain your confidence – begin by writing down everything you know so far.
What do you know about the company?
When did they launch?
What’s their mission statement?
Are they active on social media?
Do they have a blog?
How many people work there?
What tone of voice do they use on their website?
Is it consistent across communications?
How big is their product line? (I use “product” as an umbrella term to cover services, too.)
What do you know about their brand? Are they a household name? Do they have a cult following?
You get the idea. Really dig into what’s already in your brain and get it down on paper.
Next, do the same for the audience.
Who tends to buy what your client is selling?
What do you know about that person?
Do they like to read?
How much schooling do they have?
Which social media networks do they hang out on?
How much time do they spend online?
Do they have a family?
Do they drive a car or take the bus?
What do they do in their free time? Do they subscribe to any magazines?
Are they politically active? Religious?
Do they live in a big city or a small community?
What drives them crazy?
What are they wishing they could change in their life that your client could potentially help them with?
Obviously, you probably won’t know the answers to all these questions, but I put them here to get you thinking about what you do actually know.
Write it all down.
Then do the same thing for the product you’re writing about, if there is a single product. If you’re doing a broader project, write down what you know about the product line.
What does it do?
How does it make people’s lives better?
How do you have to use it to see that change in your own life?
What’s it feel like?
How big is it?
What color is it?
What emotions does it evoke?
How much does it cost?
Get it all down.
And finally, write down everything you know about the specific project you’ve landed.
What does the client want to accomplish?
Who are they trying to reach?
How will that person find what you’re writing?
What will that person do after reading what you’ve written?
What’s the emotional note you hope to strike?
What are things your client would absolutely say?
What are things they would never say?
What is the audience looking for when they come across what you’ve written?
What does a successful result look like?
What happens to your client if you fail?
Put it on paper.
All right… at this point, look at the pages and pages of stuff you already know! Impressive, right?
You’re probably feeling better. And a little clearer. But, you haven’t found clarity yet. (Trust me.)
Step 2: Figure Out What You Need to Know
Having captured what you do know, it will be easier to figure out what you don’t know that you need to know.
Everything you wrote down as answers to aaallll those questions probably revealed some pretty important gaps.
Things you don’t know that would be really good to know.
That list might include things like:
How does the audience talk about this kind of product?
What other things have they tried?
What objections did they have?
When other products didn’t work, why didn’t they work?
What is the guarantee my client is offering?
Why are certain features included? (If you don’t know why a feature is there, chances are there’s a reason, and once you understand it, you might discover a big benefit or differentiator. Good stuff.)
What are people in the industry talking about right now?
Has my client tried a project like this before? How did it work?
You get the idea.
Once you have this list of things you want to know, get to work on finding the answers.
This is the good old-fashioned research portion of your program, but by doing step one and step two first, you have a clear direction for your research.
Some good things to do at this point:
Talk to your client.
Talk to the development team.
Talk to the marketing team.
Talk to the sales team.
Talk to customer service representatives.
See if your client will arrange for you to interview a customer or two.
Read competitive blogs – especially the comments.
Spend some time with the audience on social media.
Read a trade magazine or two or three.
Read reviews of similar products.
Read news, studies, and expert interviews that relate to the industry or product.
The answers are out there, and once you have them, you’ll be a huge step closer to finding the clarity you crave.
But wait… you thought you were ready to start writing, right? And, maybe you are. But I recommend one more step before you start writing your actual draft.
Step 3: Do a Mock Interview with the Person You’re Writing To
Sit down at a table. Set your phone to record. (You’ll probably want to be alone when you do this, otherwise you’ll get some odd looks.)
Think about everything you’ve learned about your audience and what they want and need, what they desire, and what they already know.
And then, imagine having a conversation with a single person from your audience about your client and the product.
This is a mock conversation – you’re going to conduct both sides of it. Start by introducing them to the client as a company you thought they might want to know about, because the product might help with a problem.
Then play the other role. What questions do you think they would ask at that moment?
Ask the questions out loud, and then give a well-thought-out answer. You’re recording, remember?
Spend 15 to 20 minutes doing this mock interview – or more, if you need to. If you have a multi-part project, spend a few minutes of the interview focused on each part. So for example, if you’re writing several blog posts, conduct a shorter interview for each post.
When you listen to the recording, chances are you’ll discover you already have your project organized in your head. You know what to say, how to say it, and what order to say it in.
Voila… you’ve got clarity.
Now, at this point, if you’re anything like me, you can’t wait to sit down and start writing, because you know you’re going to wow your client. So go on… get to it. Go write something amazing!