FAST TRACK: Work with John

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My 12 questons for copywriting clients

Here are the 12 questions I ask at the start of all new copywriting projects, along with some examples and explanations. Download as Word

  1. Where will the copy appear?
  2. What is the project deadline?
  3. What do you hope the copy will achieve?
  4. Who is the primary audience?
  5. Is there a secondary audience?
  6. How should the copy sound? What is the ‘tone of voice’?
  7. Which websites or publications do you like?
  8. Which websites or publications do you hate?
  9. Describe your business in two or three sentences
  10. What problems do you solve for your customers?
  11. What is the story behind your business?
  12. Who are your main competitors?

Q1. Where will the copy appear?

Examples: public-facing website, email campaign, ebook, process document

I ask this so I can understand which writing style is likely to be best. The way you write a website sales page won’t be the same as how you write a white paper. Tell me the destination of your content so that I produce the words that will do the best job.

Q2. What is the project deadline?

Examples: 4 weeks, early September (specifics are better than ‘as soon as possible’)

I need to know when you need me to finish the work, so that I can make sure there’s room in my schedule.

I tend not to work on more than a couple of projects at once.

Short timescales can affect the price of the work. Keep that in mind in case your deadline is ‘yesterday’.

For more about pricing, see my technical writing prices series.

Q3. What do you hope the copy will achieve?

Examples: promote a new service to drive more sales, explain how a product feature works to existing users to improve retention

Unless you’re a hobbyist, you should have a defined purpose for your writing.

What’s the point of that web page, ebook, document or email? When I understand what you’re trying to achieve, I’ll be able to prepare the words that will help your audience.

Q4. Who is the primary audience?

Examples: Tony, a 35-year-old male Top Gear fan who likes boxing and gadgets but hates user manuals. (This example could be much longer – see Pen portraits.)

This is the most important question of all. We have to understand the audience in order to write something that will appeal to them.

Most people think of their audience in much too broad terms.

There’s no point saying ‘we want something that will appeal to men and women in their 30s.’ Such a wide target will mean that the content won’t be appealing enough to the reader. And when you try to write for everyone, you’ll probably end up writing for no one.

It’s far better to produce something more targeted, so that the reader thinks ‘yes, this person is speaking to me!’ Narrowing the focus might mean you end up appealing to a smaller audience, but that’s good because they will be the right audience for your message.

I work with clients to define an ideal consumer of their product or service. My post on Pen portraits explains the details. Once you understand how it works, you can start building a picture of ‘Tony’ or ‘Tina’ – your ideal audience member.

Q5. Is there a secondary audience?

Examples: Terry, Tony’s older, richer brother. Not sporty or a gadgets fan but is busy and needs to save time during the week. (Again, this could be longer – see Pen portraits.)

Sometimes, your product or service will appeal to more than one group – and that means it’s useful to have a second pen portrait in mind.

Q6. How should the copy sound? What is the ‘tone of voice’?

Examples: short and authoritative, warm and friendly, zany and unusual

There’s a lot said and written about branding, and I’m not going to bore you by repeating it. Here’s the important bit:

How would you describe your product or service if you were to meet Tony or Tina face to face? Would it sound like an informal chat over a coffee? Or would it be a more formal conversation?

Think about how you want your business to sound – and then we can write in that voice.

Q7. Which websites or publications do you like?

Examples:, Stuff magazine

I have no interest in copying anyone else’s writing, but it’s good to know which other organisations and publications you look up to so that I can have a sense of the style you want to portray with your content. One or two sources of inspiration would be helpful.

Q8. Which websites or publications do you hate?

Examples:, GQ magazine (no axe to grind here – they’re just examples)

The same as the previous question but in reverse. If there’s an organisation that you wouldn’t want to be aligned with, let me know.

Q9. Describe your business in two or three sentences

Examples: we create a mobile bookkeeping app for owners of small businesses. It’s free for most users but we sustain our business through premium subscriptions.

I need to know what the key business proposition is. What is your field of expertise? Perhaps we’ll find a better way of describing what it is you do, and that could lead to more business.

Q10. What problems do you solve for your customers?

Examples: we save people time and money with our integrated invoicing app.

If you’re promoting a product or service, talking about features alone isn’t going to cut it.

As well as discussing the benefits of whatever you’re offering, you’ll need to make clear the problems you’re solving for your customers. There needs to be a level of empathy shown here: whatever is causing your potential or existing customers pain is what you need to be talking about.

Q11. What is the story behind your business?

Examples: a family-owned business started in 1965, created to support ex-forces servicemen and women. (And a lot more detail.)

If you need content for your website, including this sort of historical information can help set you apart from the competition. Put some detail and personality into your ‘About’ page and get readers interested in the business.

Even if the writing has nothing to do with ‘about’ content, it can sometimes be helpful to bring this sort of information into other places. For example, perhaps we’re working on an educational project and can refer to the organisation having more than 50 years’ experience in a particular method. This sort of insight comes only when I have some grounding in your history.

Such matters might sound boring to you, but bear in mind that it could and probably will appeal to the right audience. Having a rich back-story is far better than having nothing.

Q12. Who are your main competitors?

Examples: Sprockets, Sprockets & Sprockets

Again, it’s not a case of ripping off the competition, but it’s good to know what we’re up against when it comes to writing content that will appeal to Tony or Tina. With a fresh pair of eyes, I can assess your competitors to see what’s working and what isn’t, and use the best ideas to help shape the content I create for you.

When preparing for a copywriting job, I do keyword research on a topic. This process can reveal some competitors that you might not even have known existed. I’ll tell you what I find out and you can then keep your eye on them.

If you’re fortunate enough to operate in a niche that isn’t saturated by other businesses, there may not be much competition to worry about. It’s great when this happens – your copy could end up setting the benchmark.

Work with me

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Once you’ve filled in the document, please email it to support *at* I’ll get back to you as quickly as I can, usually within 1 working day.

Thanks for reading,

John Espirian