Hiring a copywriter for the first time can be daunting. We’ve put together this guide to help companies, organisations and individuals find the right copywriter.
What kind of copywriter?
The catch-all term ‘copywriting’ hides a number of different skills and specialisations. Each copywriter offers a unique blend of abilities, which is likely to include some of the following:
- Marketing materials. Writing general marketing collateral such as leaflets and brochures.
- Advertising. Thinking up creative concepts for adverts to appear in print, broadcast or digital media, and writing the content for them.
- Websites. Writing content for online publication. Some copywriters may offer allied skills in website planning, considering usability and SEO (see below). Most copywriters will happily work alongside web designers and developers so that a site’s layout, content and functionality all work in harmony.
- SEO (search engine optimisation). Writing content for websites in such a way that it appeals to search engines, with the aim of achieving a high ranking in search results. Some copywriters may offer related skills in web page coding, site structuring, keyword selection, link building and other areas. The SEO copywriter often works in partnership with an SEO consultant, SEO agency or web developer.
- Public relations (PR). Writing press releases and other material designed to gain coverage in print and broadcast media. Some copywriters may also handle the distribution of the release, but most tend not to – this is usually the job of a PR agency or consultant.
- B2B. Not a discipline so much as a market focus, business-to-business simply means writing communications from one business to another.
- B2C. In contrast with B2B, business-to-consumer copywriting is about helping companies sell to the public.
Some copywriters focus exclusively on one of these areas, and this may be reflected in what they call themselves. For example, the job title ‘SEO copywriter’, unknown ten years ago, is now commonplace. However, two so-called ‘copywriters’ might have vastly different skillsets if one concentrates on writing websites for charities, while the other creates ad concepts for household care brands. Make sure you know who you’re dealing with.
Other copywriters describe themselves as generalists, or ‘jacks of all trades’. They still may have some areas that are stronger than others, but they can prove a good choice for the smaller businesses that need a range of things writing and will benefit from a long-term relationship with a single writer.
How much experience?
On the face of it, it might seem that the more experience your copywriter has, the better. But more experience naturally translates into higher prices, which could be significant for the small, young or highly cost-conscious business. Seasoned professionals, particularly those who can show they’ve delivered for major brands or top agencies, don’t come cheap and are unlikely to discount. So you have to ask yourself how much experience you actually need.
What kind of experience?
Similarly, you should consider what kind of experience is relevant for you. Consider your project as it relates to the skill areas listed in the first section of this page – are you paying for experience you don’t need? There’s little point paying top dollar for a proven concept creator if you’re going to ask them to write a press release.
Most copywriters list clients or projects on their websites, so you can get a sense of what they’ve done. This is an important page to visit if the copywriter claims to be a ‘jack of all trades’ – you’ll soon get a sense of where their real specialities lie.
You might be impressed to see big names like Coca-Cola or IBM on a copywriter’s CV. That certainly denotes strong writing ability, but such a copywriter may find it difficult to work with a small company.
What sort of feedback?
Many copywriters collect testimonials about their work, which they feature on their websites or in other marketing material. These give a good sense of their strengths. Look for endorsements from similar businesses to yours.
If you’re serious about using a copywriter, ask if you can talk to one or two of their clients. While few copywriters would fake a testimonial, they’re obviously not going to feature any negative sentiments on their site. And it can be reassuring to hear things straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were.
What kind of person?
So much for the ‘hard’ factors – skills and experience. But what will it be like working with this copywriter? Will you get on? Will they ‘get’ your business and the messages you want to communicate?
The easy way to find out is to pick up the phone, or arrange a meeting if they’re nearby. Talk is cheap, and most copywriters will be happy to chat about your business and your project. Listen carefully, as you’re likely to get a few pearls of writing or copywriting wisdom thrown in for free. But don’t wear out your welcome – remember, a freelance copywriter’s time is their most precious resource, and shouldn’t be wasted or taken lightly.
Working with a copywriter: what to expect
Copywriters charge in a variety of ways: by the hour or day, by the word or by the job. Some may use different charging methods for different types of work. Most are open to clients proposing a price for their work, if that’s the way you like to do business.
Although proper purchase orders are always appreciated, most copywriters will begin work on the strength of an email authorising them to go ahead.
Many copywriters will seek a telephone or in-person interview in order to get a sense of the project and the key themes to be communicated.
The text itself will probably be submitted to you in Microsoft Word format. Some writers will be happy for you to amend it directly; others may prefer that you give them feedback and they do the amending.
Sometimes, copywriters will stipulate a certain level of change that is acceptable before further charges are incurred. This is to protect them against clients changing the scope or focus of a project after it’s begun.
Most will accept normal commercial terms of payment on completion, or sometimes up to 30 days after date of invoice. Some may ask for a deposit before starting work or part-payments at project milestones, particularly on very large projects.