Whether you are a freelance writer or a staff writer, you will eventually encounter the short-notice, last-minute, urgent copywriting deadline request.
Handling these situations gracefully can make all the difference between establishing yourself as a professional, or falling apart like an amateur. Here are some key strategies for managing ASAP client requests.
When your boss or your client is feeling a sense of urgency and pressing you for a response, it can be difficult to remain calm. However, remaining calm helps you make the best decisions, and when everyone else is panicking, you may need to be the voice of reason.
Take a deep breath, count to ten, remind yourself that the world isn’t ending, and maintain a healthy perspective on the request.
Managing a Last Minute Copywriting Request: Initial Assessment
The truth is, you need a lot of information from the client in order to determine how to handle a tight copywriting deadline. But before you start asking questions, take a moment to make an assessment. Here’s what to do:
- Briefly acknowledge the request. If you have received an urgent copywriting request, the client may be anxiously awaiting your reply. If you’re a freelancer, they may be working their way down a list, preparing to hire the first person who responds. It’s always a good idea to acknowledge their communication right away. Send a note or tell them that you’re happy to hear from them, you understand this is an urgent project, and you need to check your schedule and will get back to them shortly. Make your communication short and professional, and let them know that they are heard. This will often help to calm them a bit and buy you some time for a more thorough response.
- Look at your schedule. Do a reality check against your current workload. Is it even possible for you to do the writing in their requested time frame? If you worked that quickly, would you have to sacrifice quality? Would you have to work evenings and weekends in order to get it done?
- Assess the opportunity. Do you even want to do this project? Do you need the money? Does it represent an opportunity for you to do writing that you’re excited about? Is this a great client who is worth some extra effort? If you’re a staff writer, do you expect negative consequences if you don’t or can’t deliver on time?
- Develop a framework for your response. For almost every impossible project, there’s a framework that would make it possible. For example, consider these kinds of factors:
- I could do the project if I had an extra day
- I could do the project if I were paid for evenings and weekends
- I could do the project if I could delay a different task or deadline
Determining these kinds of factors will help you guide your boss or your client to a compromise position that makes the task doable, or help you decline the job politely and professionally.
Managing the Client: Responding to an Urgent Copywriting Request
Once you’ve taken a few minutes to consider your schedule, your needs, and the alternatives, it’s time to respond to the client. Before you make any final decisions, it’s important to gather more information. Some of the questions to ask are:
- What is driving this deadline? Does the final brochure need to be at the printer in the morning in order to ship to the convention on time? Or is it simply that the vice president has asked to see the new web site copy? Often when you ask questions about what is motivating the urgency, you’ll find that it’s not so urgent after all.
- Can aspects of the project be prioritized? It’s sometimes the case that there are particular aspects of a project that are more critical and time-sensitive than others. If you ask, you may find that only a small portion of the writing needs to be done on an urgent deadline, while the bulk of the task is less important.
- Can the project be broken down into smaller deliverables? Sometimes a client has a feeling of panic and urgency just because they want to feel a sense of motion and accomplishment. In many cases, copywriting projects can be broken down into smaller increments like an outline, an introduction, a rough draft, etc, and these smaller deliverables help satisfy a client who is in a hurry.
- Is there wiggle room? Think about your framework above. Is there an extra day in the schedule? If you’re an in-house writer, can you delay or delegate other tasks to focus on this one? If you’re a freelance writer, will the client pay more for urgent requests?
Urgent Copywriting Deadlines Principles and Practices
Before you make a final decision, it’s important to consider the principles at stake. Whether you’re a freelancer or an in-house copywriter, your response to urgent writing deadlines can shape your career. Keep these factors in mind:
- What is the precedent? Some clients or workplaces are disorganized and always in one crisis or another. If you agree to drop everything and work night and day to meet a deadline, they will probably expect it again in the future.
- Never sacrifice quality. There’s an old axiom about how you can have things good and fast, or good and cheap, but never good, fast, and cheap. Never sacrifice quality to meet a deadline. Delivering bad writing can be a career killer while delivering good writing fast can be a door opener. If you won’t sacrifice quality and the client can’t move the deadline, then there simply needs to be more compensation.
- What is the relationship? If you’re working for a great boss or working with a great client, coming in and saving the day with some great copy at the last minute will strengthen that relationship in ways that will pay off over time.
- Give yourself a margin. It’s a good idea to give yourself a margin in all of your daily writing, adding some extra room to your schedule. Giving yourself some padding in your schedule creates space for last-minute changes or delays, and lets you switch tasks when something urgent comes up. Even staff writers usually have the ability to manage their schedules in a way that creates some room to manoeuvre.
Some writers simply never do rush jobs, and still have successful careers and a great work-life balance. The trick is to understand that, no matter how chaotic your client is, you can remain calm, in control, and make smart decisions.