Ideation 102: How Should Writers Approach Doing Ideation for Clients

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Freelance writers often fall hard on either side of the fence when it comes to ideation. Either they love to come up with article ideas for clients or they hate it and prefer to work with clients who do the ideation first.

And while there are definitely benefits to both scenarios, writers that are fast and loose with their content ideas may find that they can attract higher-paying freelance writing jobs. On the flip side, they can also find themselves in non-productive ideation projects that don’t pay enough to justify their time investment.

So, how do you best manage ideation for your clients? Read on to see how top writers on Crowd Content approach this potentially rewarding type of work.

Also – if you’d like tips on ideation, be sure to check out our recent article for some great ideas.

Why You Must Know How to Come Up With Article Ideas

If you’re a writer who hates coming up with ideas and prefers the client take the lead, you might wonder if you can just keep getting paid to write an article and be done with it. In the crowdsourcing world, that’s a viable option, and we have plenty of work for freelancers who simply want to kick out high-quality content without becoming too involved with client communication and branding.

But if you’re looking to build client relationships to fuel your work queue long-term, then going the extra mile can come in handy. After all, ideas flow and they ebb, even for clients, so even brands with a good handle on ideation often appreciate some new blood in the brainstorming process.

Some benefits of learning how to come up with article ideas for clients include:

  • The ability to differentiate yourself from other freelance writers
  • Developing an ongoing work relationship with the client
  • Providing ideas that turn into paid article assignments for you
  • Driving content in a better direction for SEO, audience engagement and other purposes if a client is struggling with these concepts

New to freelance writing?

10 Freelance Writing Tips to Know Before You Start Writing

Business Practices: Should You Charge for Ideation?

If you’re going to put in the extra work, should you charge for it?

The answer to this depends on numerous factors, including your relationship with the client, how much the client is paying for the articles and your personal preferences.

On the one hand, if the client has not ordered content or guaranteed orders, then any ideation you do for them may be of a speculative nature. This is known as a pitch, which is common in the freelance world. Some writers are talented at crafting article ideas into pitches that wow clients and land high-paying jobs, but you definitely have to weigh your time and effort with the ultimate return.

If you’re already working with the client to provide content, how you incorporate ideation depends on you and the expectations you set. If you don’t say otherwise, the client may just assume you’ll come up with topics. You might agree to come up with topics and do all the research for a higher per-word payment, though, or you might offer to do ideation for a per-article or hourly fee.

What Goes Into A Pitch?

We’ve covered why you’d want to know how to pitch article ideas and how to get compensated for that work, but what actually goes into each individual pitch?

Here’s what you need to include:

  1. Title – come up with something that draws attention, and make sure that it’s an appropriate length. You might run it through CoSchedule’s headline analyzer to make sure it’s good. Sometimes you can include title variations to give the client more flexibility
  2. Summary – provide some background research that you’ve done about the topic, as well as the angle your article would take
  3. Estimated word count – ballpark how long you think the piece would need to be to cover the topic properly. This lets clients understand both cost and the amount of time that will go into the project
  4. Audience – often clients will tell you which audience you need to speak to, but if not, you’ll want to clearly identify who you’re talking to. This helps clients identify if your pitch will accomplish what they need, or give them the chance to give you feedback upfront so you write for the audience they intended.

These are the basics of what you’d include, but some clients might request additional info.

What Do You Do If The Client Doesn’t Bite?

Even in long-standing client-writer relationships, not every idea pitched is going to be picked up by the client.

It happens, but it doesn’t mean your effort was wasted. If the client paid you to come up with the article ideas you shared, then you’ve really already been paid for the work so no harm done (hopefully you’re paid a rate that justifies your time).

If you weren’t paid, and your pitches were speculative, then chances are you own the rights to that article idea (make sure your agreement or contract with the client supports this). And, that means that you’ll want to find ways to make the most of the ideas you came up with.

These ideas still hold a lot of value, and there are a few ways that you can use them.

1. Pitch Other Clients

Chances are you work with a large number of clients, many in similar industries. Content teams are always looking for great new ideas for their content calendars, so would usually welcome having you contact them and suggest a topic that you’ve been researching. If they bite, chances are you’ll be able to work out a deal to write the article for them, and you might even be able to negotiate a higher rate for the piece than the original client was offering.

While not as easy, you could also pitch clients that you haven’t worked with. If you know your topics could benefit other companies in the space, it doesn’t hurt to contact their content teams and see if they’re interested in the topic. From their perspective, being contacted out of the blue with great suggestions for articles could be pretty compelling. It shows them you understand their space, and makes giving you a try an easier decision.

2. Keep a Topic Backlog

Odds are that many clients are going to ask you for ideation during your career, so having a selection of topics ready to go could be a real asset.

We recommend that you keep all your topic ideas organized in a spreadsheet, organized by industry, so that when a client asks for some topics, you can reuse topics that other clients passed on.

Many writers who have clients that frequently ask for pitches will keep their topic backlogs updated with new ideas they come up with as they write, not just ideas other clients passed on.

One thing to note is that this works best with evergreen content ideas. If your topics are time sensitive, or go out of date, you’ll want to remove them from your backlog.

3. Publish Them Yourself

There’s a lot to be said for building your reputation in a specific industry.

What’s a client’s favorite question when interviewing new writers?

“Can you send me some samples?”

If you can write and publish some of your article ideas on web properties that you control such as your own website, your Medium account, your LinkedIn profile, etc, it’s a great way for you to share samples with clients.

Plus, this helps build your authority in the industry and can often help attract new clients itself. Put a link in your bio on the article that invites people to contact you to discuss contracting, and you might just pick up some new clients.

Wrapping it Up

Ideation is an important part of freelance writing, but making sure that you’re doing it right, are being compensated for your work (through your per article price or per topic idea), and know what to do with your article ideas when they’re not picked up is critical.

By following the advice above, you should be able to maximize the value you receive for your time spent ideating.

Have any other tips for handling ideation? Let us know in the comments.

Nissa Wallace

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Helping manage over 15,000 clients from over 80 countries, Nissa works with the customer success team at Crowd Content. Her goal is to help clients create unique and relevant content for their digital strategy. Originally from a small town in the mountains, Nissa moved to Vancouver Island to satisfy her curiosity about sociology, and complete her degree in it. When she takes a break from clients and content, Nissa spends time with her partner and her dog, Tickle. She also loves to embroider, paint and draw.

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