Congratulations. Your client loves your copy. He’s so impressed with your work—and work ethic—he asks you to take on a huge assignment: Content for a full website, ghostwriting for a book, multi-part collateral or cross-media campaign content.
The project will take weeks or months to complete.
Yay. Big copy jobs are exciting, lucrative and satisfying.
Yikes. Giant assignments can eat up energy, misdirect time and sideline other projects.
Feeling conflicted about committing? No wonder. Before you jump headfirst into a big copy job, you need to weigh the pros and cons.
Let’s take a closer look.
Six reasons to love big copy projects
Long, time-consuming assignments let you…
- Bill more. The most obvious benefit of a big project is a big fee. Whether you charge hourly, per diem or by project, you’ll almost always bill more for a large assignment than a small one. But proceed with caution: With a distant deadline, it’s easy to get sloppy about estimated hours. Before you give a quote, map out the project in detail. I draft an Assignment Sheet—very much like a creative brief—that helps me accurately estimate billing, prevent scope creep and limit revision time.
- Mine rich research resources. When you’re asked to turn around a Slim Jim in three days, no one expects you to interview executives and experts, hang out at the warehouse or listen in on customer service calls. You simply don’t have enough time—nor do short copy budgets cover those hours. Bigger, long-term projects let you sink your teeth into the subject matter—analyze product line, competitor information, customer niches—while the time clock is ticking.
- Draft content with more ease. Ever notice that longer copy is easier to write than short? Yes, you should write all copy as concisely as possible. But fact is, longer copy allows more leeway. It lets you use narrative to support your lede or illustrate points. Add quotes and anecdotes. Revise with a lighter hand: you don’t need to ruthlessly kill all your darlings—those juicy but possibly extraneous words and phrases—as when held to strict word-count. A concise piece forces you to think with razor-sharp clarity, identify copy goals and make structural decisions—ideally before starting a first draft. Hard.
- Apply Zen-like single focus to your work. Feeling overwhelmed by life’s frantic pace? Exhausted juggling multiple daily to-dos? A long-term assignment lets you explore the harmonious benefits of single-focus work. “When you’re pouring water, just pour water. When you’re eating, just eat. When you’re bathing, just bathe,” advises Zen Habits’ Leo Babauta. You may want to try this single-tasking approach to copywriting.
- Balance work, family life and personal commitments. Concentration on one large copy project may allow you to more easily integrate work, family and community life. With time scheduled weeks in advance, you may feel a little less guilty about taking a few hours off for your daughter’s soccer game, a yoga class, or coffee with a friend.
- Build and cement client relationships. When you work for weeks or months on a copy project, you have a chance to immerse yourself in your client’s culture. Often you meet key players within the company. Cultivate these relationships and you gain that many more contacts. I’ve followed copy managers and marketing execs through multiple companies over the last 18 years—picking up varied work along the way. Not sure that would have happened had I only worked on short assignments.
But for all their benefits, big copy projects present challenges.
The dark side of longer copy assignments
Committing yourself to a long-term copywriting project can…
- Monopolize your time. Freelancers all too easily fall into feast-or-famine cycles. And too much work can prove as stressful—and unprofitable—as too little. Running a copywriting business means more than writing copy. Project planning, communications, invoicing, accounting and self-marketing take real time. Given long-term assignments’ lulling rhythm, you need to make a conscious effort to include tasks and responsibilities beyond content-creation.
- Limit additional client work. A big copy job may require face-to face meetings, or long conference calls. You might have to communicate frequently with your client, conduct interviews, meet numerous mini-deadlines and spend many hours planning, drafting and revising. The sheer amount of project planning involved may deter you from taking on additional clients, considering new proposals or following up on leads.
- Cost you money. In your rush to accept a long-term assignment you may assume your lucrative fee will more than make up for aggregated income from smaller jobs. Take a closer look before you commit.
Don’t ignore your gut.
In addition to rationally weighing long copywriting assignment pros and cons, trust your instincts. Do you feel drawn to—or trapped by—a big job? Are you eager to work for the client or do you dread it? Would you like to explore the project’s medium or industry fully or does it make you skittish?
Take time to weigh reason and feelings—and you’ll make a decision you won’t regret.
Marketers, creative directors and business owners: I enjoy copy assignments of all sizes. For your digital and print content needs, contact me.