5 Ways to Get Web Content from Your Client on Time

It’s an all-too-common problem we designers face. You’ve laid out the brochure, or built the website, set up the database and integrated your CMS of choice, but you’re still faced with page after page of “Lorem ipsum…” where the client’s copy should be.

This then impacts on your next project, since when the copy eventually does show up, you need to revisit a job you should have put to bed weeks ago.

In terms of your income, it can have a negative impact too since you may have agreed not to send out that final invoice until the website was live, or the job’s gone to the printers.

In an ideal world, before we even launch Photoshop or Illustrator, we’d have a nice Word document sitting open containing all the copy we need. Unfortunately, in 15 years of working, this has never happened to me.

So, how do we get that all important Word document from our dear clients? Here are a few pointers:

1. Explain That Content Can Influence Design

Have you ever laid out a homepage design where your introductory placeholder text sat nicely alongside a lovingly chosen photo, in perfectly balanced harmony? You show the designs to the client and they love it.

Four months later they provide an entire page of A4 with their “welcome to my website” message. You explain that on the designs you’d allowed for something short and snappy, three or four paragraphs max–but they insist they need to list all these other services that they completely failed to mention at your original meeting.

The result: you need to revisit the design. Drastically edit their text. Or, bite the bullet and put their life story in there, which then knocks the entire page out of whack.

With the content up-front, this wouldn’t have been an issue.

2. For SEO Purposes, Timing Is Crucial

Clients love this. Any mention of SEO and you’ll put the fear in them. Explain that time is of the essence, and there could be any number of competitors out there, launching their carefully crafted sites in a direct attempt at winning the race to page one and edging your client to the sidelines.

Come on! Type! Faster! More keywords! Go!

3. Issue Contracts with Fixed Dates

If you issue contracts to your clients, it should list all the delivery milestones. By setting a date for content-delivery you’re more likely to receive it on time. If you have a clause in there regarding missed deadlines and how this may affect the ultimate delivery date of the project, this can usually prod them into action. Explain that you’re a busy person and you will have to move onto the next project if they can’t deliver on time.

The client will always prefer to see the job completed before handing over the money, and if you have a final invoice date set in the contract, this should prompt them to keep their side of the bargain.

4. Offer an Incentive

Everyone loves a discount or a freebie. Try to encourage your clients to provide copy on time by offering them something in return. Explain that it helps not only your workflow, but your cash flow too, and dangle them whatever carrot you can.

If you offer hosting, you could give them the first year free, or at 50% off. Or what about an optional extra that was on their project “wish list,” but out with their budget–it might be worth spending a couple of hours on this rather than spend the next four months sending out reminder emails.

5. Hire a Professional

Finally, the simplest (and best) option. Ask them to hire a freelance writer and explain the advantages:

  • The client won’t have to stress over the copy
  • They’ll get text that works far more effectively for their business
  • It’ll make them look bigger, and cleverer

They’ll be putting food on the table of another freelancer, and you won’t have to cringe at another introductory paragraph that ends–“Why not let (insert company name) provide your (insert product or service) today?”

Your Turn

I had hoped to make this a “10 ways…” list, but without including threats of violence, or emotional blackmail/breaking down in tears, I’d struggle to make up the numbers.

Any further suggestions would be very welcome!

Image by Charles Williams


  1. says

    Great tips!! I agree with the fixed deadlines and milestones, but obviously these tend to wash away when a client has an emergency that takes them away from focusing on their content responsibilities. You should have a milestone in your contract that lets you bill up to 90% or some other nearly-complete figure if all you’re waiting for is content.

    I’ve found that breaking your content needs up into small chunks can be extremely helpful. Then, it becomes something you can call on (or even do yourself, and ask for a review) quickly and move to the next part. We had a “to-do” list of about 10 items once — all really little stuff — that stalled us out for over a month because the list looked daunting. I took it upon myself to sort through as much as possible and ask for clarification from the client one-by-one…we turned around the entire list in a couple of weeks!

  2. says

    As a writer I struggle with this from the other side. It’s a bit of a chicken or the egg situation here. The writer is waiting to see the design, but the designer is waiting on the writer to send the copy.

    If I’m working with a client that already has a designer I always stress the importance of the three of us sitting down together so everyone is on the same page. That helps me get a feel for how much content I’ll need to provide for each section of the design. It helps me to “fill in the holes” so to speak.

    I find that one meeting with the designer can get things moving forward pretty quickly. So designers, don’t be afraid to reach out to the writer directly (hopefully your client has one). It makes things much easier than going through the client everytime. That’s just a headache for everyone involved.

  3. says

    Good points:
    @stephan – I like the 90% milestone idea and I’ll certainly start using that in my contracts. Breaking it up into manageable chunks would also make it more bearable for clients too.

    @write now indy – I’m with you 100% on the importance of everyone sitting down together at the start. Even in my agency days though, this didn’t always happen, and we were all in the same room! I do try to explain the benefits of using a writer every time. Budgets being what they are though, sometimes the client insists on writing their own copy. In much the same way some of them are going down the “build your own website” route.

  4. says

    As someone with 4 completed websites waiting for content so they can launch, I thoroughly appreciate this post! I’m not sure if any of the techniques would work. Websites often go alongside a new business or an expansion of an existing business so the bottom line is people are busy and the website is often one of many things they are sorting out.

    I think the best bet is just to make sure you get a large chunk of the payment made before the final content is added.

  5. says

    @alex – fair points. Some may work with some clients, some may not. The one with a guaranteed success though is number 5 – hire a pro.

  6. says

    I absolutely LOVE this post…it’s so true and is happening to me as we speak w/ a couple of projects…those that GAVE me a wireframe to build-but w/ no content, and then one that doesn’t understand the Internet at all anyway. It is tasking because my plan of action is to get 1/2 up front and the rest when the project is finished. Two years later and one of the projects still isn’t done because of this…

    In conclusion-thank you for a) relating to these general issues and b) expressing some solutions to our issues with this

    Love you FF!

  7. says

    Great post and suggestions! This is my number one issue with my business.

    I have as standard text in my contract that I get the final payment when the project is completed or 90 days after the start date.

    I will also spend ten minutes and write a bunch of business babble to put on the pages. Often having a target will help motivate the client to replace my text, although I admit there are a few sites out there that still have my babble on them.
    : )

  8. says

    @ alex we sure are in same situation. i just went off the phone with a client requesting for contents, which being sent in pieces. Going forward, your suggestion of large chunk of the payment works. I am working at a 70% upfront payment.

  9. says

    Use contracts with fixed dates, stating penalties when milestones and asset delivery dates are missed such as:

    • More time required for completion of project that is equivalent to the period of such delay(s).
    • Increased cost of project equivalent to the period of such delay(s).

    Don’t give any incentives or make up any BS.

    If they need a writer, you could potentially sub-contract this work out.

    Ask before the project starts as to what assets they have ready.

    If you absolutely cannot get the assets you need for the project and it’s getting in the way of other projects, site breach of contract and move on.

    So it goes…


  10. says

    @DC Media – thanks, glad you like it. Two years for content?! Wow, that’s a long wait, beats my record of 7 months anyway.

    @paula – 90 days till invoice is a good option – there are so many clauses we can add to contracts IF we use them, and sometimes I’m guilty of working on a handshake, especially if I’m busy. I try to avoid writing any of my own babble. But months after going live, some CMS sites I’ve launched still have “contact form intro goes here…” and suchlike.

    @david – your contract sounds bulletproof – depends on the client though, sometimes that can scare them off – especially if they think ‘project creep’ is likely to incur more charges. I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. Keep yourself covered with your contract, but remain on good terms as much as possible.

  11. says

    This is a nice article, I am going through the process of acquiring content from a client and am sure to use some of these techniques to speed along the process next time. I had no idea that I would be waiting this long for a paragraph or two.

  12. says

    Love it, Craig–all good points, not just for web designers.

    As a freelance writer, I obviously/selfishly support #5, haha. As an additional incentive, my web designer clients are the first ones I call when I get a prospect who needs a website. Referrals make the freelancing world go round!

  13. Catena Creations says

    Something important I learned this year: some financial planning companies MUST have their copy approved by their broker/manager before it can go live. The process can take weeks — it took one man six weeks to get his business card approved! With these folks, start with the copy and design while you’re waiting for approval.

  14. says

    @jake – good man, spread the love (and money!)

    @brett – it’s amazing how long a client can spend over a couple of paragraphs. The problem is, most of them aren’t writers. We should do all we can do suggest they hire a pro.

    @catena – good old beaurocracy – makes me appreciate the fact I’m freelance and no longer tangled up in corporate red-tape like this!

  15. says

    It’s true, contracts can make clients nervous.

    Therefore it’s important to remind them that a contract is pretty standard when working with a freelancer. You could also use the term “agreement” instead of contract which would help. You can also let them know that you can tailor it if there’s something that is troubling them about it.

    And you don’t have to be a stickler about it either. If a client is 1 day late with their assets, you DO NOT need to refer them to the contract. The contract is for gross negligence and getting paid.

    A contract makes you look professional and will give you piece of mind. It’s impossible to be creative while wondering if you’ll ever be paid.

    For small projects for companies that you have a history with, a contract might not be required. However, always have a paper trail of emails for any size project.

    So it goes…


  16. says

    Thanks for the great tips! Content is always an issue. I specialize towards a particular target market so I have the ability to put in generic content. It doesn’t take me a lot of time since it’s already pre-written. Seeing the generic content sometimes helps kick the client into gear.

  17. dpi says

    This is a nice post and has valid points on website projects. Content is the vital part of the design and most of the clients never understand this.
    @DC Media – i completely agree with you

  18. says

    As both a web designer and a content writer, I find it most helpful to schedule “content meetings” in advance. I’ll ask the sales people or owners to give me their “pitch” and I’ll usually transfer that into web copy. Most business people can much more easily talk about what it is they do, what they want their customers to know, etc., than they can write about it. And having these meetings set up in advance lets the clients know how important content really is. Plus, it takes the burden off their shoulders!

  19. says

    Ali, that’s an awesome approach, great tip! As I’ve gotten better at this over the years, I, too, have found myself asking way more questions up front to extract those talking points, values, and all the other great stuff that will shape up the site. Never thought to have someone “pitch” me, though!

  20. says

    Paula has a good point: just write something and throw it in there as a placeholder. That will usually get the client to move off a spot and give you some real copy. Also, set it up so your billing is monthly for all the work done that month; when they are writing checks, they usually want it to get done. If you don’t bill until the end, they have no incentive to get it finished, and they can always make it look like you’re the one dragging your feet.

  21. says

    Superb article. As a small design agency, we too are often faced with the same thing. Sometimes I wonder if the clients are ever aware they’re the ones who need to write their own content, for their own business. More than often, we carry out points 1 and 3. right at the beginning. This almost gives them ‘no right’ to delay any kind of payment due to content unavailability.

  22. says

    Great post. Certainly, methods suggested by Charles will work out in most cases.

    We used to face the exact same issue with most of our clients, later on we started collecting payments based on milestones. Usually 25% percentage of total payment as advance, 25% upon finalizing the design, etc., Also, we started publishing the websites with partial web content, Most of the times this approach forced the client to provide the data as the website is already live. All clients may not agree for launching the website without complete content, but we always make an attempt to convince the client to launch the website with partial data when there is a delay.

  23. says

    There is an easy remedy to this situation. Tell the client that nothing begins until all (or most) content has been provided for the website. If they aren’t sure about what content they want, then tell them that you will be happy to write content for them for a price so they don’t have to do it. Has worked quite well for us.

  24. says

    This is a great/short article.
    5 ways should definitely be enough to please the client.

    I had heard about the incentive way, I have also heard about the opposite: give them a penalty (money or other). They’re already on budget anyway: if they want to write themselves that’s mostly because they can’t afford to hire a copywriter. If you give them the pressure that they’ll have to pay more (stay firm of course) apparently it can work!

    I do like the incentive better, as long as it doesn’t take too much time on our side.

    If we’re able to show them how much money/ potential clients we’re missing by not launching the website on time, they might also realize that time = money.

    Thanks Craig!


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