Building a copywriting project timeline: three steps you can’t forget

May 28, 2020

Are you building a project plan for a copywriting assignment? Do you know how to estimate how long it will take? Be careful – especially when you’re assigning the work to someone else – not to underestimate your copywriting project timeline.

For example, if you need just a few pages of web copy, it might seem reasonable to plan for a week or two of writing. But if that’s all of the time you’re factoring in from beginning to end, you’re overlooking several important steps in the process – your steps.

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Three steps in a copywriting project timeline that nonprofit communicators often miss

Because of the structure and nature of their organizations, most nonprofit communicators I work with need to build a certain amount of time into any project for consultation and internal checks-and-balances. This means that even if someone else is doing the writing, you need to allocate time in your copywriting project timeline for project management and input.

Whether you’re assigning a writing project in-house or to an external writer, here are the three steps in the project plan you might be missing.

1. Scheduling a briefing and getting organized

As your writer, the first thing I’ll need from you is a project kick-off call. During this briefing, we’re going to get into the details of your project brief, such as objectives, audiences, key messages and calls to action. This is usually a one-on-one call, though sometimes you’ll want to bring in subject matter experts or other team members. To work around busy schedules, we usually need a few days to get the kickoff call on the calendar – and then conduct it. I’ve encountered more than one client who initially wants their copy completed within a week, but it then takes more than a week just to fit in the briefing call!

Next, you’ll need to organize background materials. Sometimes my clients start are completely prepared with all of the background information I’ll need. But more often, additional items come up during the briefing (belief builders and keywords are common examples). Depending on who you need to speak with internally, getting this additional information can take a few days – or more.

2. Booking and holding additional consultations

Depending on the scope of your project, I might need additional briefing and consultation beyond the kick-off call. For example, if we’re developing stories, I’ll need to arrange to interview your subjects. For big internal projects, like an overhaul of important pages of website copy, I may need to speak with internal stakeholders.

Arranging and conducting these additional interviews or consultations can take time, ranging from days to weeks.

3. Review and revisions

Once the content has been drafted, you’ll need to review it and provide comments, corrections and changes. How long will you need with the copy at this stage?

Review time can range from one day to a couple of weeks, but I recommend that you plan for at least a week; this ensures that you can fit review into your heavy workload and busy schedule. Depending on your team structure and approval process, you might need to include one or several colleagues in this step, so you’ll need to give each person a few days or longer, depending on the scope of the review. And if you do have multiple reviewers, you’ll need time to consolidate their feedback and make your judgement calls, because it will be up to you to provide clear, consistent, guidance to your writer.

***Note: this step often ends up taking far longer than my clients initially think it will!

Also consider: one round of review might not be enough. After all, you’ll want to see the revised copy and build in time to provide any further input, if necessary. I generally build two rounds of revisions into all copywriting project timelines, just in case. You might require more or fewer rounds, but I recommend allocating at least one week for each.

'Once you’ve factored in your role, you may realize that your copywriting project will take weeks, not days': Help with building your copywriting project timeline Click To Tweet

Are you building realistic copywriting project timelines?

Once you’ve properly factored in your role, you may realize that your copywriting project will take weeks, not days. You’ll probably need at least a couple of weeks on your end alone – even if your writer only needs a few days of actual writing time. That being said, as the writer, I usually allocate time for:

  • Review of the background information provided, and briefing notes
  • Development of the creative approach and/or outlines
  • Editing the draft based on the review and comments you provide

Even a relatively straightforward writing project takes time. To help you see it all come together, here’s a sample copywriting project timeline:

Weeks one and two
Kick-off call/briefing
Additional briefings, interviews or consultations, if required
Gathering and review of background information identified during briefings

Week three
Development of outlines – if you require this step

Weeks four and five

Week six
Review of the first draft (including any internal consultation and compilation of feedback)

Week seven
Revisions to draft one

Weeks eight and nine
Review and revisions to the second draft

Week ten
Any other review or revisions

I realize that this might seem rather lengthy and have you feeling like it would be quicker to simply do the job yourself – or do it in-house if you were considering external help. And if you have the skills and capacity to do so, that might very well be the right decision.

But if the copy you need is important enough to bring in external help – OR if you’re assigning the work internally to someone who needs your guidance – then you should make sure you’re including all of the steps you need for the best possible final result. Important copywriting projects do take time, but your contributions will be manageable, and you’ll be setting your writer up to do the heavy lifting for you.

Do you feel ready to assign that copywriting project?

I hope I’ve helped you to account for the actual time you need in your copywriting project timeline. I create detailed project work plans for all of my clients, but if you’d like to make your own, or if you simply want a general sense of timing so that you can make realistic plans, you can use my sample timeline above.

Are you considering outsourcing copywriting for the first time? Do you have other questions about how to work with an external writer? Then you might be interested in these past articles:

And if you’d like to learn more about my approach, including the copywriting and content strategy packages I’ve created for nonprofit communicators, have a look at my services page.

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