How to draw up a brief and terms of reference for a freelancer

How to draw up a brief and terms of reference for a freelancer


It is difficult to imagine a successful agency or brand that doesn’t publish content on a dedicated website or on social media. In order to stay afloat and reach the target audience, companies need specialists – from SMM to photographers and content writers. 

This process is not the simplest one, especially if you are hiring new experts and not the ones who have worked for you before and know the industry from A to Z. One of the best tools to make the cooperation fruitful and achieve your brand goals, is to help the content writer (or another specialist) what you want from them. What message do you want to render? What is your goal? What are your brand’s general voice and tone? It is like completing an academic assignment – you don’t simply say write my essay for me but tell the writer about your topic, subject, deadlines, and formatting.

Just like a high school essay, the future content should be based on a list of parameters and guidelines. And that’s what a brief is about. In this article, we will cover the basics of crafting a top-notch outline and terms of reference.

How to write a brief: four simple tips

Freelance specialists, not depending on whether we are talking about content creators, photographers, or developers, can’t read thoughts. That is why if you want to get a good result, it is important to tell them what you want. Experts across all industries agree that the brief quality directly impacts the quality of work. 

If you are ready to write a detailed and accurate brief, read the tips below. And you will never need a freelancer template!

1 Give background information

Context always matters. That is why you should dedicate some time to telling the freelancer about your company, its goals, and vision. Here are the things that you can cover:

  • Introduction to the team. Explain what you want to achieve, who your key employers are, and what pillars your enterprise stands on.
  • Tell about your main values and the target audience. The freelancer should understand what direction to go.
  • Enumerate key competitors and explain what makes you better.

Some companies have brochures or About Us sections. If you have one, include it in brief. But it doesn’t mean that you should upload a 100-page business plan. The main feature of this part is accuracy and shortness.

2. What you expect from the specialist

The second important step is explaining what the assignment entails and what you expect from the freelancer. This part consists of numerous elements, and they may vary from one project to another. Below we will name only some of them:

  • Project summary. It should be no more than two sentences long.
  • Type of content. Is it a blog post or email newsletter? Article or website?
  • How many words/pages you need
  • The medium where they will be published
  • The main message that you are willing to share
  • List of main keywords
  • Examples of similar works. These may be your own samples or competitor’s content that you like
  • Overall style and tone
  • Deadlines
  • Expected outcome. This section is crucial and should be written clearly. For example, you want the reader to download a document, press the link or purchase something.

3. Draw a picture of your target audience

Now, when you have provided details about the company and drawn a general picture of the project, you should introduce the writer to the target audience. It is impossible to write engaging content without knowing who you’re writing for.

We recommend being as specific as possible. Don’t just say ‘men aged 35 – 70’. A good example is teenagers aged 12 – 18 who live with their parents, enjoy sports, and don’t have much time for hobbies and activities. The good idea is to draw a picture of a perfect customer. You might give them a name, age, indicate where they live, study, and work. Such an approach is called buyer persona and gives freelancers an opportunity to understand the brand and its goals. 

You should also indicate who you are willing to attract and what problems your products or services are solving. The writer should speak customers’ language and share their values. And this requires lots of background information and clarity.

4. Details matter

By now, the freelancer has almost everything to start working on the project. However, if you want to make it one step further, there are other issues that you should mention in brief. Let us enumerate them:

  • Links to resources, publications, and websites that help to conduct a research
  • Legislation, regulations, and restrictions that impact the industry and your brand
  • Testimonials from your customers
  • Copies of your company’s guidelines and rules
  • Brand’s distinguishing phrases
  • Call to actions
  • Company’s information: phone numbers, website, email addresses, etc.
  • Preferences of the visual style, structure, fonts, and other elements
  • Things that you want to avoid in the text

Terms of reference

Writing a brief is not the only thing you can do to help the writers cope with the task. After creating a brief or an outline, it’s necessary to sign the terms of reference. It is a document that indicates the main requirements, guidelines, and time limits. Such a document protects all participants of the process and helps to avoid lots of misunderstandings. Here are the elements of standard terms of reference:

  • What a freelancer should do. For example, write content for the home page, draw a banner, etc.
  • The expected result
  • Terms of completion
  • The number of possible edits
  • Project size
  • Date of completion
  • Payment details

After agreeing on the terms and signing this document, the freelancer can start working on the assignment without any worries about not being paid. The client, in turn, can be sure that the work will be done on time and according to the guidelines.

Final thoughts

As you see, writing a brief and terms of reference is an important part of any cooperation between a customer and a freelancer. They give a chance to clarify all the points and guidelines and to make the process simple and convenient. With their help, all parties are protected and can concentrate on direct responsibilities, saving lots of time and nerves.