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Why you don’t need a specialist freelance copywriter

Jonathan Wilcock

So What If Ltd

PRO

I may be a freelance copywriter now, but many moons ago I worked on a production line.

I was the drone that put metal tubes on the end of the axle spindles on rotary lawnmower blades, before they went through the paint spray booth.

At the end of two weeks, I knew all there was to know about being a metal-tube-putter-on-er. If I included it in my CV, I’d probably call myself an ‘expert’ or better still, a ‘specialist’.

Trouble is, I soon got bored of the job. As good as I was (seriously, I was spectacular), I would have been crazy to make a career of it.

Boredom, the enemy of creativity

That’s why I’ve never really understood creative people who spend years working in the same sector, or worse, on exactly the same account, day in, day out. How do they keep it up? Are they specialists or victims of circumstance?

Surely, half of the fun of being a creative, freelance or otherwise, is being able to dive into different worlds, learning new things and solving new creative challenges?

In the last few months, I’ve come up with creative concepts and written copy for: the oil and gas industry, dental hygiene, electrical engineering, health insurance, cider, a hospice, an international development charity, a 4×4, a Soho TV production company…

All of it stretching me in different ways and all fun to work on. Every brief completely different to the last and absolutely no chance of falling back on formulaic thinking.

Now, as much as I enjoy all of these creative challenges, I wouldn’t want to work exclusively on any one of those accounts for the next 6 months, never mind 6 years.

Is it that I never grew up? Am I impatient? Or am I just naturally curious about lots of different things?

All I know is, if I’m forced to work purely in one sector for too long I become an expert, but I also become stale.

Don’t insist on freelance expertise

That’s why, the majority of the time, I think clients who look for a freelance creative who has already worked forever and a day in their sector are making a big mistake.

In a trawl of online ads recruiting freelance copywriters, designers and art directors, this is the sort of painfully prescriptive candidate description that came up:

  • copywriter with sustainability experience
  • experience of writing tech articles, in particular cryptocurrency related
  • experience working in Poland and the UK
  • must have shopper customer creative campaign experience
  • can anyone recommend any freelance online casino copywriters?
  • must have worked on pitches for sports events/exhibitions

And the one that really made me smile:

  • you need to be available tomorrow, Saturday, Sunday and Monday

I think that’s known as specialising in not having a life.

It’s the same when Art Directors choose photographers. Trying to find someone who has already shot exactly what you’re looking for isn’t always the best way forward.

Look for the core talent, then get them to work just slightly outside their comfort zone. The energy and creativity that they’ll put into solving an unfamiliar challenge will blow your socks off.

A specialist, but not a specialist

Of course, when you hire a professional, you need to know they’re good at what they do. When I got a builder in to build an extension, I needed to be convinced that he knew what he was doing.

But I wasn’t concerned whether or not he’d built hundreds of single story extensions with the same footprint and finish as the one I wanted. I just needed to be sure he had the skills needed, wouldn’t let me down and that it wouldn’t fall over.

Likewise, you really needn’t worry whether or not a great copywriter has in-depth knowledge of purple sprouting broccoli, non-destructive testing or the history of WWF.

Are they really good at what they do? That’s the only ‘specialism’ you really need to concern yourself with. If the answer’s “yes”, then it’s part of their job to squeeze all the relevant information out of you/the brief/the market, and turn that into a stunning bit of work that gets results.

For many reasons, it’s probably a good thing if he or she has no pre-conceptions about what you do or need. The reality of that will only come to the surface with further exploration.

So my humble advice to anyone looking for a freelance creative, whatever the discipline:

  • check out their portfolio – is there breadth of thinking, creativity and craft skills there?
  • don’t worry that they’ve not worked in your sector (unless it’s massively technical and creativity is very low on your list of priorities)
  • speak to people they’ve worked with for a character reference
  • go with your gut instinct

Of course, relevant experience can be beneficial, but too much of it can end in tired clichés and lazy thinking.

Am I right?

This post first appeared on the So, What If… blog.

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