What 21 things do designers want from a freelance writer?

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Over the course of my career, I’ve learned that one of the most important working relationships for a freelance writer is with the designers who put their words into action. Today’s guest post comes from the design team of Eileen and Bob Burick of Burick Communication Design, with whom I’ve had the good fortune to partner countless times. Their portfolio includes microsites and websites, videos, and print work for top-name clients such as AT&T, Cemex, Henkel, and Troon Golf. I asked them to share their thoughts on what designers want from a freelance writer, and this list of 21 things was their response.

Best Practices for a Freelance Writer:
A Designer’s Perspective

As a general principle, a freelance writer needs able to take a few sketchy, basic ideas and help us transform them into communications that deliver beyond expectations—ours and the client’s. What goes into that? Well, I’m glad you asked! It makes clients happier, projects better, and our life easier when a freelance writer:

  1. Performs the appropriate research to gain an understanding of the client’s needs and how we can best address them.
  2. Asks questions that provoke the client to think, and to realize that we’ve done our homework.
  3. Understands the big picture of the client, their industry, and the project environment: What cultural, demographic, economic, social and other business factors affect the topic or our approach?
  4. Brings fresh perspectives on marketing challenges, and conveys a new take on accomplishing a client’s business goals.
  5. Stays engaged even if the client or topic isn’t necessarily exciting. It’s not always easy to delight the customer over and over again, but we need someone with that mindset.
  6. Turns estimates and invoices around promptly if we’re billing together.
  7. Takes the initiative and move forward once we’ve got the green light.
  8. Doesn’t need hand holding once we’re under way.
  9. Acts as a good team player—supportive, positive, git-er-done attitude.
  10. Keeps cool under pressure. Even cooler when it’s an emergency.
  11. Takes criticism well, and doesn’t mind being edited or making revisions.
  12. Understands aspects of technology such as trends and usability, even though we don’t expect freelance writers to know anything about InDesign, Photoshop or Javascript.
  13. Has an eye for when a design works…and when it doesn’t. Again, you may not have any artistic talent, but your perspective as a user, customer, or prospect is valuable.
  14. Watches the art director’s back—especially when it comes to proofing and quality assurance. Errors make both of us look bad, and the client doesn’t care whose fault it is (even if it’s theirs).
  15. Fixes errors or addresses concerns that occur, without blame or delay, in order to reach our common goal of client success.
  16. Participates as an active partner in client meetings—but doesn’t hog the spotlight.
  17. Speaks up if a concept or approach isn’t working right. It’s valuable to play devil’s advocate, within reason, and share concerns that the designer may not have thought of.
  18. Communicates well, keeping in touch with team members in the ways and with the frequency that they’ve requested. If the client likes to talk on the phone or meet in person, it doesn’t matter that you prefer email.
  19. Meets deadlines (but you already knew that)!
  20. Lets the design team know as soon as it’s apparent that a deadline is in jeopardy–there are many moving parts to a project beyond the content. (If the client is the holdup, failing to supply the necessary information to complete the project, we need to know that, too.) I came across a great quote that summarizes my philosophy on this: “One of the true tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.”—Arnold H. Glasgow
  21. Carries themselves as integral partners in a project. Ideally, you’re part of the design team, not just the word supplier.

A designer and a freelance writer are like peanut butter and jelly or peanut butter and chocolate–or peanut butter and bananas, if you prefer. Our brains may be wired differently, but they absolutely pair up well together. And keep in mind, our client successes not only make your portfolio look better, they bring in more business for both of us.

In the comments: As a freelance writer, what are some of the strategies you use to keep your design partners happy and keep the projects flowing? Designers, what are some of the best practices you’ve come to expect from a freelance writer or editor? 

Photo courtesy of intuitives.

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  1. Alphagraphics Logan says

    I think it’s very important that everyone considers themselves partners. It’s really hard to do work for someone when they think that you are just the one that supplies the words to go with their project. As opposed to thinking we’re all in this together.