You have a number of handy tools in your freelancer toolbelt. You’re a contract whiz. You’ve honed your negotiation skills and downloaded the best apps for freelancers. But, before you begin any project, do you take the time to draft a creative brief?

If creative briefs are part of your process, you know how useful they are. They create a framework for projects and help get you and your clients on the same page. They prevent scope creep. And writing one can actually help with the creative process by providing structure for brainstorming.

The next time you’re facing a complicated assignment and feeling unsure about where to begin, try starting with a creative brief.

Format

The format of your creative brief can vary depending on project type, your personal preferences and freelance style. I like simple charts with text and itemized lists, but I’ve seen effective creative briefs take shape as powerpoint presentations and word documents with extensive prose.

Content

This can also vary by project. You might find it helpful to start with a comprehensive template that you pare down according to each project’s unique needs. Consider including the following categories:

The Basics

The project name, the start date, client contact info and budget.

Timeline

In addition to the deadline you can include milestones for both you and the client. Your milestones may be for drafts and revisions and theirs for feedback and approvals.

Deliverables

This is where you outline exactly what you will provide to the client. It’s a good place to capture multiple formats or variations of a final product. Some examples:

(1) 90s Instructional video in two formats:

  • for broadcast
  • for web

or

(3) 300x300 Promotional Web Banners in various colors

  • pink
  • purple
  • blue

Goal

It may seem too obvious to bother including, but defining the overall goal (not just the deliverables) can help ensure you provide what your client actually needs vs. what they think they need. If the goal is not 100% clear, you can can ask your client questions like “What action should your audience take after reading/seeing/watching?” or “How will success for this project be measured?” They may initially request a printed brochure, for example, but then realize a series of clickable infographics will better help them achieve their goal.

Audience

The “Paying for College” article you write for new parents is different than the one you’d write for recent grads. Before you start researching or generating concepts, make sure you understand the client’s audience.

Tone and Manner

Is the design for the piece quirky and fun? Or is it slick and buttoned-up? Your client’s brand manual is a great resource for understanding tone and manner. If they don’t have one you can do a quick materials audit to get a sense of their typical look and feel. You can also ask them to describe the organization or project in three adjectives. Or pose the question “If your company/organization/brand were a person, what would they be like?”

Executional Considerations

This is a space for things like technical specifications, notes on file delivery, paper size/weight, etc. This can be omitted if it isn’t applicable.

Approval Process

This is another category that may not be necessary, especially if you’re working with a single person. But if your client is a larger corporation it’s helpful (for billing purposes and your own work planning) to get an understanding of who needs to give the final “OK” and how long that typically takes.

Got any tips for drafting strong creative briefs?