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The Ideation Process: Inside the Mind of a Freelancer

When you hire a freelancer, do you ever wonder what’s going on in their mind? Some of the pitches that you hear must make you curious. Whether the ideas are brilliant or substandard, the steps that lead a freelancer into a pitch are hard to follow.

Even the best content creators would struggle to explain the process leading up to the pitch. Sometimes, an organized brainstorming session leads to an idea. In other instances, a person may stand in the shower and suddenly think, “Hey, I have an idea!” The ideation process is that mercurial. So, what’s going on inside the mind of a freelancer? Read on to find out.

What Does the Client Want?


Image via Flickr by Sean MacEntee

In many ways, the first contact between a freelancer and a potential client is like a first date. The people involved don’t know one another. Both share enough curiosity about one another to keep the conversation going, but each one is ready to bail the instant the conversation takes a wrong turn.

In the dating world, somebody fakes a text about a family emergency and leaves before the waiter offers the dessert menu. During the ideation process, somebody’s always close to ending the conversation and sending all future correspondence into the spam folder. Still, the continued existence of shows that people can make a connection. The same is true during a pitch. Both parties want to make the magic happen. The only question is how.

Freelancers spend as much time wondering about what a client wants as daters spend wondering whether the evening is going well. A great pitch is the bridge to a second date or, in this case, a full article that could lead to future work. It’s the bridge between the parties. Freelancers treat the ideation process with reverence for this reason.

How Will This Idea Fit the Client’s Needs?

One of the tricks of the trade for content creators is matching a pitch to a client. A great idea is useless if it’s not something that someone will buy. When a freelancer prepares to pitch, the goal is to persuade a client that the article will match the company’s brand. This requires some thought. Freelancers are lone wolves by nature. If they wanted to work with other people, they’d take office jobs as copywriters or technical writers, both of which pay well.

The cost of rebellion is that an idea always has to fit with the client’s needs. It’s the same underlying principle as the customer’s always right. A freelancer has to mold an idea so that the person hearing the pitch will feel like it’s perfect for their brand.

Will Evolving the Idea into a Full Article Bring Personal Satisfaction?

A freelancer wants control over content. The writer knows that this can’t happen every time. The goal is to find enough clients that the content creation process never feels like work. Instead, writers get to do something that they love while getting paid for it. It’s every employee’s dream, and freelancers have the added benefit of working from home.

One of the tests a writer will perform on an idea is whether it’s important. Will the content creator feel passionate enough about the subject to write something amazing? Freelancers have a lot of professional pride. They have to embrace this sort of passion about the work. The ones who don’t have it generally don’t have long careers in the business.

For this reason, a good idea isn’t enough. The writer must know that extending the idea into a full article will bring a degree of personal satisfaction. Of course, a corollary to this premise is also true. When a writer isn’t passionate about an idea, they’ll still write it as long as the pay is good. A big payday brings a different kind of personal satisfaction. Hey, freelancers are human.

Which Sources Are Useful and Worthy of Citation?

Many clients, especially ones in the publication industry, aren’t interested in a pitch unless it comes with citations. Freelancers know this and plan for it. That’s why the research period comes prior to the pitch.

Once a content creator has an idea, the next step is to sketch out an outline of the idea. After that, the writer hones in on potential topics, fleshing out the subject matter. At this point, the writer starts looking for supporting content. The goal is to find resources that will underscore the argument.

During this phase, the pitch may change, possibly in dramatic fashion. The best content creators don’t get locked into a single viewpoint. They’re open to differing arguments. If the writer finds data that shows the original idea is wrong, they’ll modify the pitch. This way, the resources align with the content. With an outline and a set of reliable data points, a freelancer will find more confident about the pitch. The client will sense this confidence and become more receptive, too.

Will People Want to Read and Share the Article?

A content creator doesn’t want to write something that few people will want to read. A freelancer may know a lot about the Weimar Republic and want to share this knowledge this world. Few people are going to look at that the subject matter and think that it’s an interesting topic, though. Even German people who are over 100 years old wouldn’t find the subject interesting, and they lived through it.

Similarly, clients aren’t interesting in buying a pitch that has limited potential. No matter how good an idea is, it needs a hook. Otherwise, it won’t entice people to read. For better and for worse, the social media era has added an economic mechanic to content creation.

The best writers have a new metric to prove utility. Page views mean traffic for websites. Content creators who can generate higher page views have more value. Accordingly, they can charge more and get better gigs. For this reason, every ideation includes at least some thought about social sharing. The best freelancers strategize about this. Their pitches offer estimates about share potential. These statistics work as additional incentives for clients to accept the pitch. Who could say no to an idea that’s clearly viral in subject matter?

As a client, you should now have a better understanding of the steps a content creator takes in preparing for a pitch. The reality is that most freelancers love the ideation process. It’s a time of pure creativity, and it has potentially lucrative results.

About the author

David Mumpower