Brief me, please aka: clarity as the key to happy clients & happier freelancers

Information: we hear a lot about it. In all its forms and shapes. But what do we make of it? How accurate does it have to be for us to make the most of it? When I go to conferences as an interpreter for large corporations, or when I talk to prospects who are unhappy with the way their translations are handled or when I liaise with people in general, the common denominator for most of them is that they seem to complain about the lack of good communication in all the aspects of life. Most specifically:

  • unclear requests or sentences
  • poor grammar choices
  • bad customer service
  • wrong deliverables
  • mischievous ads or products
  • inaccuracy or wrong interpretation of needs
  • lack of detail or poor explanations
  • generalised rudeness – and I could go on. Sounds familiar?

As freelancers, how can we make sure we obtain / deliver the right information and products fit for purpose, day in, day out?

What I’ve learned over the years is that – unlike most people think – design is a highly structured and organised process. My designer is aiming to deliver the right product to the right client in just one go and experience tells me he manages to do so 99% of the times. How? He has perfected the art – pun intended! – of the Creative Brief. It’s no big news, really: a creative brief is a document – normally a questionnaire – that the client should fill in for a designer to identify what he needs to produce for them.

So, why do we need a tool such as a brief as freelancers?

Briefing: nothing to do with men's underwear.

Briefing: nothing to do with men’s underwear.

Whatever you want to call it (it’s sort of a Purchase Order, really) or whatever you want it to include for you (I like as a bullet point list), it is a useful tool that
  • creates a framework of work, prone to no errors
  • prevents “derailment” of the projects with added requests
  • it gives reliability and structure to the process
  • makes you feel confident about timelines (and hurry to stay on track)

What to include, then?

Who said it must be boring?

Who said it must be boring?

Basics: name, start date, client contacts, delivery estimate, fee + expenses
Timeline: clarify delivery and payment deadline too (unless, as I like doing it, you ask for advances or full payment upfront). Still, that should be clear in the doc anyway. You can include “milestones” like possible checks with the client mid-way, tweaks or approval of samples/feedback.
Deliverables: clarify what you are going to give your client, black on white. That and that only. Include the formats too:
1 word file
2 powerpoints
1 tracked changed excel file
and so on.
Purpose: it may seem obvious but you, as a translator, need to know why the client wants to embark on this project and why.
  • What are the sensations to trigger?
  • What is the audience supposed to feel when reading this copy or using this interpreting service?
  • Is this for publishing?
  • What’s the demographics?
  • Is this adult or children’s material?
  • What the ultimate audience?
Tone, voice, manner: esp. when doing copywriting, it is essential to use the right tone (I talked about it in the latest two posts on emotional writing too) so ask who is the material addressed to. You can provide a list of adjectives for your clients with boxes to tick accordingly. This is a good way to fine-tune your work to the client’s expectations.
Special notes / requests: multiple copies, hand delivery, travelling arrangements… it can be anything you wish to add.
Legal: the small print is also crucial. Scripta manent. I’d include:
-Terms and conditions
-Payment terms / late payment section (including payment method/bank account)
-Refund section (if any)
You may wish to insert a feedback section or something for the client to include queries and doubts before and during delivery.
What to do in case of delays?
Bear in mind that in design just like in translation, sometimes things change during the project. Factor these delays into your brief and be clear with your client explaining what to do and what could happen eg. in case the client wishes to introduce changes, explain that they can slow down the initial quoted times and change turnaround dates, or that adding / removing a language last minute or extra texts can also change the conditions, etc.)
Now, go get it signed and emailed back. And start working!
Take your time  (via

Take your time

To sum up:

  • be clear
  • include all the best/worst case scenarios
  • make sure the content of the brief is all confirmed and understood, signed and approved
  • always keep the client informed of what you’re doing during the process
  • promptly reply to emails
  • show flexibility but at your conditions
  • try and offer a free reward when you can (that extra revision or a followup sample to please the client)
  • clarify payment both via email and on paper
  • for interpreting, check dress code and research the client so you can adjust the brief / PO accordingly too
Upload, ask, contact me. Simples!

Tasks should be clear and direct.

Any more pointers or tips to include in the brief?


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