How to Find and Work with a Professional Copywriter
by Dean Rieck
It's important for you to have a reliable copywriter on-call. If you don't, an urgent project will suddenly appear out of nowhere (as always), and you'll have to scramble to find someone at the last minute. Sometimes that works. Sometimes it doesn't. In fact, making a hasty decision on something as important as copywriting could be a disastrous waste of your money and time!
Remember, the time to choose a copywriter is BEFORE you need one. So here are two simple rules and lots of tips that will help you find and work with the right copywriter.
RULE #1: Hire a PROFESSIONAL copywriter.
There are plenty of copywriters out there willing to write your copy and take your money. But if you want professional results, don't settle for part-timers, moonlighters, and writers between jobs. Do you go to a "part-time" doctor? Would you hire a "moonlight" lawyer? Of course not. You want someone with the skill and attention your project deserves.
Here's how to find one:
- Decide what you need. Direct mail package? Annual report? Press release? Does your industry require special knowledge or experience? Do you want design with the copy? Come up with a short "job description" for your ideal copywriter. The closer you can match your needs with the talent and experience of the writer, the better your final copy will be.
Collect information. What's the first thing you do when you're thinking of buying a car, a refrigerator, or a computer? You collect brochures, pamphlets, and whatever information is available. Right? This helps you make an intelligent, informed decision.
Look for a copywriter the same way. Ask for a brochure or information kit that includes specific facts about the writer's background, services offered, fees, client list, samples, copies of articles, and so on. Most top writers will have this information on their Web site.Beware of those who decline to give you information or send you a "resume." This is a sure sign of an amateur. What a copywriter offers you up-front is an example of what you'll get later on.
- Ask around. Your friends, associates, and clients may have worked with or heard about someone who's perfect for your needs. Ask creative directors at ad agencies, graphic designers, communication managers at local businesses, and members of advertising and professional associations. Ask people whose opinion you trust and who have had success with their own advertising efforts.
- Forget geography. It's nice to work with local talent, but you shouldn't allow that to affect your decision. There are lots of copywriters, but only a handful of true professionals. And they're scattered all over the country. If there's a pro down the street, great. But put quality and results ahead of proximity. Besides, with phones, faxes, e-mail, and FedEx, what's the difference?
- Follow your instincts. Use your brain to evaluate the information and facts you collect, but pay attention to your gut reaction, too. It's important to find someone you can work with comfortably. That means having a writing style and personality that you like. If you're uncomfortable with someone, whatever the reason, move on. Your gut is right more often than you think!
RULE #2: Treat a pro like a pro.
Once you find someone you can work with, be sure to develop and maintain a good long-term relationship. True professionals are almost always busy and in-demand, so they don't have to put up with unprofessional behavior on your part.
Here are a few hints to keep your writer happy and make your working relationship smooth as silk:
- Decide what you want. Sort out the facts ahead of time. Be clear about what you want to accomplish, your budget, deadline, etc. If you have a problem and no clear solution, a copywriter may help you define your goals acting as a consultant. But that could be a separate project. If that's the case, expect to pay hourly for the advice you get. Generally, "free" advice is worth exactly what you paid for it.
- Discuss fees up-front. Many business people like to avoid talking money until the last possible moment, as if it's impolite. But this just invites misunderstanding and wastes time. A professional copywriter should be able to give you a written estimate if you provide specific information on the work involved.
- Provide background material. The majority of what a copywriter needs to complete any project is in your files right now. Brochures, letters, memos, ads, order forms, catalogs, and other printed material will probably have most of the raw data necessary for a project. New products and services are no exception. You certainly have marketing plans, reports, manuals, faxes, surveys, and lots of paperwork loaded with information. Good copy begins with solid information. Gather it up and hand it over.
- Put it in writing. It's unlikely that you rely on a handshake in your business, so don't expect this with your copywriter. A written agreement will spell out the exact nature of the project, fee, deadline, and other particulars. This will help avoid simple misunderstandings which can permanently screw up a good relationship.
- Let the copywriter write. Once you've worked out the details of the project, signed the contract, and handed over all the background information, stand back. If you really want to write the piece yourself, don't call in someone else. And never write by committee. It's irritating for a professional copywriter and will inevitably lack the spirit, focus, and persuasive power one good writer can achieve by working alone.
- Pay on time. The number one complaint from copywriters is slow payment or no payment. If you've agreed to pay a certain price by a certain time, do it. Pay in a month, and you'll go to the top of the copywriter's client list. Pay in two weeks or less, and you've made a friend for life. If you don't do it out of common courtesy and professionalism, do it because it's an investment in goodwill.
- Give specific feedback. Saying "This copy needs more oomph" isn't helpful. What is "oomph"? And how do you add more of it? Is your "oomph" the same as my "oomph"? If you're unhappy about part of the copy, tell the copywriter exactly what you don't like and how you want it revised. And when you like the copy, say it. Positive feedback not only helps your copywriter's ego, it helps you get better work in the future. For a writer, there's nothing more helpful than knowing exactly what a client likes.
A professional copywriter is an important asset. A pro can provide copy and counsel that will not only help sell products and services, but will also make your marketing projects (and your life) a lot easier. So take the time to find the right copywriter. It's worth it.
Copyright © 1994 Dean Rieck. All Rights Reserved.
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