How to write a good brief

When I start working with a new client or on a new admin project there is always a bit of a learning curve with getting to grips with the work. And there are sometimes when this process is reasonably pain free for both parties, and other times when the relationship starts off to a frustrating start because the required information is just not presented in a useful way.

You or the client?

This by no means falls onto the responsibility of the client. I see myself as the leader in ensuring that a good brief, or set of instructions is requested. I want to crack on with the work and not bombard you with small detailed questions as I know you are hoping that I would save you time, rather than give you more work to do.

I believe that nothing is more important when commencing a working relationship with someone than an accurately issued brief. It needn't be overwhelming, it needn't come all from the client and it needn't take longer than doing the job, but it does need to be done.

Email or phone?

Do get a client on the phone to do the brief. The key is to listen and ask questions to probe into the detail. You can then follow up with a written brief or starting point to commence the work.

Example of a bad brief

How could I give an accurate price or time for work when the brief goes something like this:

'I have some applications that I need sorting.'

Note. This was an ACTUAL brief, not (luckily) from a client of mine, found recently on People Per Hour.

Improving on this (and it is all in the detail):

1. I have 200 job applications that need sorting (quantify the amount.)

2. I would like a spreadsheet created with all of the applicants contact information so that I can contact them for interviews / let them know they have been unsuccessful (what the actual job is.)

3. Information to be collected: name, number, email, applied via…, date applied

4. They are all CV’s and will be shared via Dropbox (detail on the file type and whether this is online or paper work illustrates how much time it will take to get the information off the files and onto the spreadsheet.)

5. We are commencing interviews on XXX date so need this completed by XXX (no-brainer, deadline for completion of work.)

A formula

This is a formula you can follow or use to help you think about when you are looking to outsource some work or are even just struggling to get to the crux of some of your own work:

  • Background – about yourself, your company and the project. Has it been attempted before? Has anyone else worked on it?

  • The job – exactly what you want done.

  • Not the job – what you don't expect to be done / what you will be doing.

  • Nitty gritty – login information, access information, contact information related to the project.

  • Brand voice – if you are briefing on work that involves interaction with your audience, how do you want this to sound.

  • Timing – when do you want it done by.

  • Presentation – how you want to receive the work when it is finished

  • Contact – do you want sign offs along the way?

  • Price – if you have an upper limit, best to say it now.

I put this piece together because whilst I have found that the internet is a plethora of information, the brief examples on all of my go-to websites were industry focused such as ‘creative brief’, ‘blog writing brief’, ‘copy-writer brief’ or ‘agency brief’. I wanted some that was more generalised and not as formalised as the above. This blog aims to give you some thinking points that may even just help you as an individual or a team when you are starting a new project and need to get the essentials down on paper. Hopefully it will serve as a checklist to getting things going.

The key is in the name 'brief'. Don't over do it but do do it right.


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