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Employing a copywriter

Letters on a typewriterA professional copywriter can deliver highly persuasive, effective copy that helps to sell your products and services. But how do you choose the best copywriter for your needs? Business writer Rachel Miller offers some guidance

Why employ a professional copywriter?

Good copy — whether it’s on a flyer or a website — sells products and services. Using a professional copywriter can be an investment that pays off fast.

Drawing up a shortlist

There are plenty of freelance copywriters around. Start by Googling the word “copywriter” and search in your area to narrow the field. At the same time, ask friends and colleagues for their recommendations. You could also contact your local business support body or industry association to get some contacts.

Interviewing copywriters

A face-to-face meeting or phone interview is essential to enable you to choose the best writer for your needs. Ask plenty of questions but make sure you tell the candidates about your requirements as well so you can allow them to listen and ask questions of their own. It’s worth showing them your marketing materials and asking for their own off-the-cuff thoughts on how they could be improved.

Finding a good match

There’s more to finding the right copywriter than simply picking someone who knows your sector. In fact, expert knowledge is not always the most important criteria. A good copywriter will relish researching and writing about a new area. It’s more important to find a copywriter with the right style. Copywriting comes in all shapes and sizes — the direct approach of a sales letter, the authority of a brochure, the clarity of a website or the personality of a blog. While most good copywriters can turn their hand to different styles, they will usually have their strengths and it’s vital that you find the right match. Can the writer provide the right tone of voice for your customers?

What does good copy look like?

It’s vital to know what makes good copy before you make your final choice of writer. When you are assessing examples of work, look for the following:

  • The copy is easy to navigate and divided into digestible chunks
  • The headings are compelling and make you want to read on
  • You can understand the message quickly, without having to read every word
  • There is no waffle or dull copy
  • Jargon is at a minimum
  • The USPs of the product or service are clearly spelled out
  • The copy highlights the benefits not just the features
  • There’s a clear call to action
  • There are compelling reasons to buy, such as testimonials
  • All web links are working
  • The style is consistent and the spelling and punctuation are perfect
  • All the key details are included — contact details, opening hours and so on.

Checking the copywriters credentials

Ask to see examples of work and check out web copy. How good is the copywriter’s own website? Ask for references and check the writer’s reliability.

Finding a copywriter you can work with

Getting on with your copywriter is essential. You need to be able to communicate your needs clearly and offer constructive criticism. At the same time, a good copywriter should be a good listener and be willing to spend time understanding your needs. It’s a good sign if a writer asks lots of questions. But watch out for anyone who agrees with everything you say. A professional copywriter that has the right experience and expertise should be able to advise and guide you.

Dealing with practicalities

To avoid disappointment, it’s worth focusing on the nitty gritty from the start. The devil really is in the detail. Missed deadlines, sloppy mistakes or escalating fees can be avoided if you draw up a simple agreement with your copywriter. This agreement should cover the following: the nature and size of the writing assignment, all deadlines, any meetings required, the fee and when it is to be paid, assignment of rights and a non-disclosure agreement. When it comes to creating a schedule, ensure you allow time for research, writing, proof-reading, corrections and final checks.

Talking money

It’s always good to shop around but when it comes to copywriting, you often get what you pay for. Ask all your candidates for quotes. That way you can see what the average fee is. As long as you don't move the goalposts, copywriters should stick to the price they quote. One way to keep costs down is to do the writing yourself and ask the copywriter to tighten it up and optimise it for your website.

Working with a copywriter

Working with a writer is very much a team effort. You need to make sure they have a clear brief and all the resources they need to start work — such as background information, marketing materials, product specifications and your marketing plan.

You need to brief your copywriter on your business image and the unique selling points of your products and services. What is your position in the market, where is the company heading and what is the target market? Make sure your writer has access to everything they need including useful contacts within your firm or beyond. At the same time, tell the writer where the copy is to be used, what tone is needed, what the call to action is and what response you are hoping to get.

Without a brief, a writer will be working in the dark and the chance’s are, you will be disappointed with the results. Even with a good brief, however, you should expect to work with the writer on revisions to check and polish the copy before it is ready for publication.

Writing for websites

Writing for websites is a skilled balancing act. If you need web copy that is going to help get your site to the top of the search engine listings, you need a copywriter with relevant experience. Ask for URLs of websites they've written for. You can assess the writing first. Then try and spot the keywords (they should be obvious) and search for them on Google or Yahoo to see where the website ranks.