How to write effective briefs when working with freelancers

Guide to briefing freelancers effectively

It's an undisputed fact in freelancing and project working, the quality of the output is only as good as the quality of the input. In other words, if you want a great piece of work back, you need to provide a great brief.


This guide covers some of the important things to consider when briefing a freelancer:

How to write a brief for a freelancer

3 reasons why you want to give great briefs

This section could be a hundred points long, but there are probably three reasons that stand out:

1) You get what you want.

Sounds obvious, but the brief you provide to a freelancer is the best tool you have for ensuring you get back what you want. Unless you’re very clear about what you’re trying to achieve and what a successful outcome looks like, you’ll probably be disappointed!

2) You don’t waste any money.

If the work they complete answers your brief, it’s understandable that the freelancer expects to be paid. But if your brief forgot to mention something important and it means that the freelancer has to start over, it’ll cost you.

For example:

Client - "Thanks for that design, it looks great on my website."

Freelancer - "Great, glad you like it."

Client - "I forgot to mention, I also need it in high-resolution printable format."

Freelancer - "No problem but that’s going to take me a couple more days to artwork, which I’ll need to charge you for."

Client - "Oh. I didn’t budget for that?!"

You can see a better brief in the beginning would have saved the extra cost as the freelancer could have prepared for both digital and printable formats.

3) Everyone’s happy

As you can see from the previous example, a bad brief has the potential to cause friction between you and the freelancer. And just like with full-time employees, when you find a decent freelancer, you’ll want to do everything you can to keep your relationship productive:

How do you write a great brief?

No doubt, you’ll agree that having a great brief is beneficial for everyone. So, how do you go about writing one?

A good brief has the following components:

  • Background and context
  • SMART objectives
  • Boundaries
  • A clearly described output
  • A discussion
freelance brief components

Start with background

First, start with the background. It’s extremely valuable to understand the motivation behind, or the reasons for the project. It provides context around the challenge you’re facing, it also gives the freelancer a chance to provide suggestions or alternatives that you might not have considered.

For example:

Objective without context: "We need a social media plan for our customers"

Outcome: "You need to adopt Facebook, Pinterest and Snapchat"

Objective with context: "We have just launched a new product aimed at tech business owners. We really struggle to find out who are buyers are, so we need to use social to generate some leads"

Outcome: "You need to use LinkedIn’s Lead Accelerator product alongside Twitter’s conversational ad format"

You can see a little bit of context changes the strategy considerably.

SMART objectives

Much like with providing background information for context, sharing your objectives with the freelancer can help shape their response for the better.


Here are some examples of some objectives that aren’t specific, measureable, achievable, realistic or time-bound:

  • "We want to increase awareness of [company or product] in the UK"
  • "We want to get more positive reviews and less complaints"
  • "Our website needs to be faster"


Here’s how the above might be tweaked to give more clarity:

  • "We have just launched [product] in the UK. We currently get 100 enquiries about it a month. We want to increase the number of enquiries so we are averaging 150 a month for the last 3 months of this year."
  • "Our current tripadvisor score is 3 out of 5. We want to increase this to 4 out of 5 before we go into our peak holiday season in August next year."
  • "Our website currently takes over 10 seconds to load for a new user on a mobile device. We want to reduce this to under 5 seconds before the end of next month."

You can see each objective is very specific about changing a measurable performance indicator. The improvements are also both realistic and achievable and have a specified time-frame.

Use plain english

Another simple, but effective, tip for writing briefs is to use plain english. You’ll use a number of acronyms and lots of jargon in your working day. It’s easy to forget that not everyone speaks the same work-language as you do.

When you write or communicate a brief, you need to assume the freelancer knows nothing about you, your company, its products/services or your industry.

You can see a little bit of context changes the strategy considerably.

Setting boundaries

Broadly, the scope of a project prescribes what is included and what’s not. It’s important to do this when briefing your project to control it.

Let’s use the social media example from before:

Project without boundaries: "Set up and manage our social media accounts"

Outcome: "I’ve created accounts and profiles on 25 social platforms including Sina Weibo and MySpace. My fee is £1000."

Project with boundaries: "Set up and manage our Facebook and Twitter accounts"

Outcome: "I’ve created those two. My fee is £40"

You can see, without clearly delimiting what’s inside the scope of the project could lead to expensive misunderstandings.

define freelance project boundaries

define freelance project outcomes

Describe the desired outcome very clearly

Unless you're very specific about the outcome you want, you'll be surprised what different people will create when given a degree of freedom. You and your freelancer could both be describing the same thing but picturing very different things in your minds.

But there is a fine balance between being ultra-prescriptive and too vague.

If you’re ultra-prescriptive, you’ll get exactly what you ask for, but you may limit the ability for the freelancer to do something amazing. If you’re too vague, the freelancer might completely miss the point.

Here’s how we recommend you tackle the issue of defining an outcome:

Talk through the brief and be prepared for questions

David Ogilvy, once said, "If you want action, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want."

And it makes a lot of sense.

Once you’ve written your brief and sent it to your freelancer, to ensure there is complete understanding and a clear plan of action, you’ll want to talk it through and be able to answer questions.

When working with remote freelancers, often it’s best to do this via a video chat. Skype, Google Hangouts, Gotomeeting, Webex all offer really simple convenient video conferencing services.

Of course, you can discuss the brief over the phone. But being able to see the other person move, point to things and smile/frown adds a lot more meaning to the discussion.

video chat with freelancer


After reading this guide, you might think the briefing process seems like hard work! Following the tips above will make the process easier, but it shouldn’t detract from the time and effort you put into briefing your projects. After all, the better your brief, the better your chance of being happy with the result.

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