Working with clients and content

Paul Boag

@boagworld as a freelance developer how do you handle web content? Do clients write their own or should I hire a web writer?

As I neither a developer or a freelancer, I’m probably not best placed to answer this question! However, I can provide some thoughts on the subject and hopefully people will fill the gaps in the comments.

After 20 years building websites for clients, I’m still amazed at how completely clients underestimate the work involved in creating content for their website. I’m also gobsmacked every time a client happily pays for design and development, but won’t spend a penny on content creation.

It is as if the very reason for a website existing (communicating key messages through content) is of secondary importance to the technology and design.

So how can we go about changing this perception? In most cases I use a couple of approaches.

Emphasis the size of the task

I put considerable effort into emphasising just how big a job content creation is. Essentially I endeavoured to scare the client into seeing this as a near impossible task. I overemphasise what is involved, not to deceive them, but to counterbalance the fact that they underestimate the task.

Get them to think through practicalities

I also push them to make specific commitments. We write into the agreement milestones where they have to deliver content. Where possible we also associate penalties if they fail to meet those milestones (either financial or in terms of slippage).

I push them to tell me exactly who is going to be responsible for content creation and what their availability is like. By pinning them down on the specifics you will be able to show them if they have not dedicated sufficient resources to the task.

Once the scope of the task has been laid out, the client may realise that they do not have adequate resources. This then allows you to bring in an outside expert.

Of course the problem is not just limited to availability, there is also the issue of capability.

So you think you can write for the web?

Many people are under the impression that because they can write well, they are therefore capable of writing for the web. I’ll be honest, this is a hard perception to counteract. It’s made worse by the fact that they think they will save money by writing it themselves. It may indeed save them money, but as I have already demonstrated, it costs them a lot in time.

I tend to send them lots of material on the subject. This makes you look helpful while at the same time demonstrating that it is harder than it looks.

I share various articles I have written on the subject including…

I even give them a basic fact sheet I have written. Anything to get them to realise the challenges involved.

If they accept that they need help, but do not have the budget to call in a dedicated writer, suggest that they attend a workshop or read an appropriate book.

Give them something to react to

One thing I would definitely avoid is using Lorem Ipsum. Doing so lets the client off the hook and does nothing to move the content of the website forward. Instead, I recommend writing some sample copy yourself and suggesting that unless this copy is replaced it will go live. You will be amazed how quickly the client will replace your copy when they see how bad it is! Putting in some sample copy also gives them a starting point to work from, which most clients find very helpful.

Of course my experience as somebody running an agency is slightly different to a freelancer, so I would love to hear others opinion on working with clients to produce content. Post your thoughts in the comments below.

“The word Content” image courtesy of