There’s nothing more nerve-racking than the ominous glow of a blank screen staring back at you. Whether you’re a writer, a designer, or an event planner, you’ve likely experienced the moment of excitement and terror when a new project begins.
In many instances, a client will come to you with a fully developed plan of action, and they’ve hired you to execute it. You’ve got the scope of work mapped out for you or you’ve at least got a clear jumping off point, and you can dive right in.
Then there are other occasions where the vision for the project isn’t so clear. Sometimes a client comes to you not only for your services but also for your creative direction.
No matter what your industry, all freelancers know that wearing multiple hats comes with the territory. It can be exciting to work with a client on conceptualizing a project, but it can also be daunting unless you have a system in place to problem-solve.
It’s crucial to establish a creative brainstorming process that you can rely on when you’re called upon to devise a strategy for your client.
Here are 4 ideas for establishing a creative brainstorming process:
1. Compose a “Copy” bank
In its purest form, a copy bank is a brainstormed list of keywords and phrases that pertain to a particular business or a specific initiative. It could be a very specific list of terms needed for SEO value, or it may consist of more general terms that align with the client or strategy.
A copy bank might not contain any “copy” at all. It could also be comprised of colors, fonts, shapes, or other graphics that embody the brand or project at hand. No matter how you’re using a copy bank, it will not only help you to conceptualize your project but also serve as a convenient reference sheet once you begin working.
2. Draft a mind map
A mind map is a tool used to visually diagram and organize information, and it starts with the core concept. When working to develop a strategy for a client, this core concept could be the initial idea for the project or the desired end goal. The great thing about a mind map is that it doesn’t really matter where you start – it allows you to work forward, backward, or even sideways.
Once you establish the core concept, the brainstorming begins. Start branching off the core concept with whatever comes to mind – this could be images or words and phrases. Continue branching off those ideas, and you’ll begin to develop a web of possibilities for your client’s project.
3. Free “Write”
When freewriting, you essentially take what’s in your mind and put it on paper in a stream of consciousness fashion. Like a “copy” bank, a free “write” might not include words, phrases, or sentences but instead consist of drawings, sketches, or renderings. The key to freewriting is to keep the process continuous.
If you sense your analytical side kicking in, try to suspend judgement. Shift your thought process and keep writing or sketching whatever comes to mind, even if it starts to feel irrelevant. Another idea to boost the freewriting process is to physically free write or sketch with paper and pen as opposed to using the computer. Regardless of which method you choose, it can also be helpful to set a timer during the process.
4. Try the Pyramid Technique
With the pyramid technique, you start with the most broad or general idea, the base or foundation, and work up to the smallest, most specific idea, the tip or point. This brainstorming method allows you to take your client’s undeveloped idea and flesh it out until you arrive at the crux of the project.
Depending on how much information your client gives you to work with, you could approach the pyramid technique by establishing the generic concept for the project at the base and setting the desired result for the project at the tip. From here, you could work forward in a linear path to building a strategy that will ultimately achieve the end goal.
The last step to establishing a creative brainstorming process is to determine which approach is best for you and your client. First, consider what industry you work in and how your mind works. If your work is predominantly visual, you might want to use a mind map where you can more easily organize colors, fonts, or concepts in respective groups.
On the other hand, a copy bank or a free write may be more beneficial if you’re working with a lot of content. You should also take into account how you work best.
If you tend to think in a more linear fashion, the pyramid technique may best align with your natural thought process. However, if your mind tends to work more abstractly, a free write or mind map could be the best way for you to brainstorm and formulate ideas.
The client and project at hand are other factors to consider when deciding which brainstorming method to use. Perhaps you’ve gotten a sense of your client’s personality and how they work in your initial conversation or perhaps you’ve worked with this particular client previously.
It's important to use a brainstorming process that will produce the best results for your client's specific needs and the unique initiative you're conceptualizing.
If you’re trying to formulate a project with a lot of moving parts, like a complete website overhaul, you might choose a mind map to flesh out each component. When developing a more concrete project with a clear objective, like an event with a set goal for the number of registered attendees, the pyramid technique might work best to organize what needs to be executed to get from point A to point B.
No matter which method you choose, the important thing is to establish a creative brainstorming process that you can rely on when you’re called upon to devise a strategy for your client.