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Developing Content

Daniel's Advice on Finding the "Write" Copywriter

Who Will Develop your Site Content?

To create a useful and visible Web site, you need well written copy that speaks to your audience and hits your keywords and search terms. If you own a small business, good copy can lure someone into your store. If you're in marketing, good copy can spark the office phone to start buzzing again. When you're on the Internet, good copy can boost your site ranking and make a wider audience aware of your product.

Finding a good copywriter is a big responsibility and not always easy. Someone who claims to write copy isn't necessarily a copy-writer. Casual writers who've wandered into a copywriting gig sometimes do all right. Nevertheless, under the pressures of deadlines, re-writes, and demanding employers, many fledgling writers discover a core unpleasantry: quality writing is work and time intensive.

Most professional writers spend years slugging it out in menial writing jobs, often for little pay. They start in other fields: technical writing, reporting, public relations, marketing, speechwriting, greeting card writing - you name it. They've had their share of good jobs and bad ones. They've been through lean times, so they appreciate the individual or group that pays them to do what they love.

Should you choose to outsource your writing, you'll want to get the most for your money. You'll need someone with a good command of language, someone who values deadlines, and who prefers what sounds effective to what sounds pretty.

Famed American copywriter Bob Bly explained the copywriter as "a salesman behind a typewriter." Not much has changed since (except now we use word processors). The copywriter is not out to break the rules; although creativity, if used well, is welcome. Copywriters are largely businesslike; they focus intently on the audience. They think strategically. They are your company's best advocate.

Overall, copy that's clear and persuasive will separate you from your competitors. However, there are some specifics things to watch out for when interviewing and hiring a freelancer for the job.

  • Don't hire old friends. Many relationships have been stressed or have ended over someone avoiding responsibility because two people grew up together, or because their kids play on the same little league team. Save the friendships for the backyard barbecues and keep the projects professional, in an office setting.
  • Talent agencies can help. Agencies such as Paladin Staffing, Aquent, Swingshift and Boss Staffing specialize in creative services recruitment. Most agencies require applicants to go through a screening process that tests experience and ability. Some agencies charge a fee, but it's a small price for quality help you can keep hiring for subsequent jobs.
  • Ask for writing samples. You'll be looking for company reports, news articles, editorials, advertisements, press releases, marketing brochures, white papers. Read the text closely; look for word choice, grammar and overall flow. The more samples, the better. Do not accept unpublished manuscripts, unfinished novels, plays, screenplays, poems, personal journals or things written by hand. It's the sign of the amateur.
  • Avoid wanna-bes. Some kind-hearted business owners give aspiring novelist/artists a crack at writing copy for them. Often times, the inexperienced writer tries to impress with beautifully written sentences that are ineffective. Ultimately, you'll burn up too much time coaching them how to write to your audience, or worse, have re-write it yourself.
  • Pricing. This is where things can get messy. Resources such as the Writers Market (www.writersmarket.com/content/charge.asp) are good in determining an average market rate for writing. If the writer undersells his or her services, it might be a sign he or she is just starting out. If the writer asks for too much, they may be bogged down with other assignments and won't get to your project in time. Either way, be sure to discuss pay and deadlines up front before any work begins.
  • Diversity is key. Chances are slim that you'll find a copywriter who specializes in writing about cabinet handles, if that's your business. So, it's helpful if the applicant has had several years experience writing in many different fields.
  • Writer Web sites. If you're an aspiring copywriter reading this, get one. Some employers don't hire without it, especially when paper is cluttersome and easy to throw away. With a single point-and-click, the copywriter demonstrates several things: 1) reliability, 2) appreciation for efficiency, and 3) marketing savvy. Who would hire a writer to sell products when the writer can't even sell his or her self?
  • Referrals work best. Someone who has written for big name clients such as Microsoft or Nike doesn't necessarily make them the match for you. Ask your Web designer for potential candidates they've worked with before. Word-of-mouth is usually the most reliable means of finding a good writer.
  • Be clear. Writers generally aren't good mind readers. The seasoned copywriter will turn down projects that sound half-baked or directionless. It's best to send a writer a proposal including all important materials and Web links prior to the meeting instead of during or after. This will ensure the writer has time to plan and share in the vision for what you want.

Time is money and finding the right copywriter can be a lengthy process. But it's worth the hunt if in doing so you find someone who’s talented and reliable - someone you can keep returning as assignments come up.

Ultimately, the ideal copywriter values results over aesthetics, understands your company, and maintains professionalism in all they do. In the writing business, accuracy and credibility are all you have.

Daniel C. Bartel is currently a freelance copywriter. He's also written marketing copy for JCPenney.com, hotels.com, American Airlines Publishing, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. A former newspaper reporter, he's also written articles for the Dallas Business Journal, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Fort Worth Texas Magazine.



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