I’m no mind reader, but I bet I know why you’re here.
You’ve recently hired or are thinking about hiring a copywriter for your business, but things just don’t seem to be panning out the way you thought they would. The writer seems frustrated or annoyed by your questions, the feedback you’re receiving is overwhelming, and/or nothing seems to be working on your schedule. Plus, you’re watching dollars fly out of your bank account without really seeing the results you’re looking for.
Or maybe you’ve heard horror and/or success stories from fellow entrepreneurs who have hired copywriters, and you wanna know how to learn from their mistakes/follow their lead.
Even if you’ve got a stellar working relationship with your business’ content or copywriter, there are always ways to make it better or ready yourself for hiring a writer in the future.
A good place to start is by listening to seasoned copywriters.
At CYC we work with lots of writers, editors, and clients. It’s well… kinda what we do. We see (and hear) firsthand how the relationships between these groups flourish or falter.
So we took some time to chat with some copywriters and other content professionals to find out the secrets they wish they could tell their clients — but often don’t.
Peek into the minds of some savvy pros in the biz, and make your current or future working relationship with a copywriter an even better one.
1. Get Clear on your Business Identity and Mission Before Hiring a Writer
Answer the following question in 30 seconds or less:
What’s your business all about?
If you don’t already have your business’ brand and mission distilled down into an elevator pitch, you’re probably not ready to hire a copywriter yet.
Before you go slogging through a freelance hiring website for someone to write your blog posts, ask yourself: What makes your business unique? What is your mission? What are your most pressing concerns, or short-term and long-range goals for the company? What do you want your content to accomplish for your business?
If you’re having trouble coming up with answers to any of these questions, take some time to figure them out pre-search.
By firming up the answers to these big-picture questions before you bring a new person into the fold, you start the relationship on solid footing. From there, initial conversations with a copywriter can be more targeted and productive.
This is not to say that you can’t ask a copywriter for their thoughts/suggestions about your content plans (no one likes a steamroller client — we’ll talk about that later), but recognize that they are not a business coach, and their job is not to analyze the complex components of your five-year plan.
When you start talks with a copywriter with those ideas in mind, you can better surmise how she or he can work with you to reach your goals, which alleviates role confusion and sets the tone for a functional working relationship — more of a collab than a one-directional brain dump.
(Psst — if you’re not sure how to get started figuring out that grandiose stuff, check out our 10-Day Voice & Vision course. We wrote it just for this purpose.)
Our copywriting friends in the biz have some suggestions to help you start finding that clarity you need.
Jamie Wallace, Suddenly Marketing:
“Great content is only possible if the brand invests time, budget, and brain cells in getting super clear about who they are, the people they serve, and what they are (really) trying to say/accomplish/deliver/be.”
Sarah K. Peck, Writer & Vice President of One Month:
“I think that some people hope that outsourcing writing also means outsourcing your thinking. I can’t make up ideas FOR you. You have to do the hard thinking. Then I can help you communicate. I can’t tell you how much it bugs me when I hear people say ‘oh, we’ll just hire a copywriter,’ and assume all the work is done at that point. You should plan on spending an ample amount of time telling your story and vision to your collaborator.
One of my jobs as a writer is to find what medium works best for you and help you articulate yourself. A great copywriter captures your voice and your vision in a way that represents you as authentically as possible. Some people are great orators or visual thinkers. So I sit with them, hear their ideas, ask lots of questions, and then put together an outline or a structure. It’s a back-and-forth collaboration process. I don’t disappear in a black box for hours and magically come up with answers. We work on it together.”
2. Know Who You Are Talking To.
Within a couple of seconds of perusing your website, skimming a blog post, or glancing at an ad, people should know who your business’s target audience is.
That is quite the undertaking.
Copywriting pros take target audience demographics into serious consideration; they wax poetic or type plainly based on who they know will be reading it.
Industry insiders? Laypeople? Teenagers? Parents? Robots?
Knowing the readers for copy is an absolutely crucial element of the process that many folks forget about analyzing or view as an afterthought. But before the pen hits paper (or fingers touch the keyboard, as the case may be), a writer needs to know their reader.
Otherwise, they are writing for anybody, which sadly means that they are reaching nobody.
You might think that your business could be attractive to almost anyone, so your copy should be suited for a general audience too. But that assumption probably means you need to revisit point 1, friend.
Get a firm grasp of your audience’s pain points — what they complain about, what they want, and what they love and hate. Figure out demographics: how old they are, what they are interested in, what they care about. Paint a detailed picture.
Know them, and help your writer get to know them, too. Write up customer avatars or share data you’ve collected about your past readers or clients.
A comprehensive understanding of your audience leads to better-written copy with targeted language that can motivate people to take action when you would like them to.
Susan Landry, Freelance Copywriter:
“Sometimes business owners and marketers don’t have a good grasp of the audiences they’re trying to sell to, which can make my job challenging. Knowing your target customer and what keeps them awake at night—as well as how your product or service can make their life easier—is a vitally important step in the marketing process. It’s really the foundation of effective copy.”
3. Recognize That Writers Are Not Wizards
We all know the joke about the lipstick and the pig. There is a reason for that — while pro writers certainly have a lot of awe-worthy skills, one thing that they truly cannot do is take a bad idea and turn it into a good one.
That’s right — no amount of linguistic gymnastics can turn a fundamentally poor quality concept into a masterpiece. It just doesn’t happen.
Whether you are asking for a rewrite or for a new item from scratch, the quality of the final product will be drastically influenced by the initial ingredients. If you have a half-baked concept, unclear starting point, murky direction, or otherwise less-than-ideal starting point for a project, well… nowhere to go but down.
And that isn’t your copywriter’s fault — it’s yours.
So think your ideas through before you spit them at your copywriter. Set the project up for success by having a plan in mind with some specifics that your writer can go off of.
Before meeting with a copywriter, do your due diligence: generate some ideas on your own, turn up the volume, and get your hands dirty. Thinking through your ideas will not only save you time in meetings with your copywriters, it will also save you dollars you would have spent bouncing ideas around without a clear purpose.
No one can or should polish a poo. Don’t make your copywriter do it.
Derek Murphy, Founder of The Book Butchers:
“Usually when I’m editing, the thing that I can’t tell them is that the story is weak and won’t sell. I can focus on making the writing tighter and fix the typos and errors, but it won’t matter if the story doesn’t hold readers’ interest. That’s why I’m usually resistant when people hire me to edit. I tell them to read a few books on plotting (Story Grid, Story Fix, Plot Perfect) and make sure they’ve really told a good story that makes sense. But it’s hard to say that to someone who’s already committed to editing and are expecting someone else to clean up their story so it will be successful. I don’t like taking thousands of dollars from someone if they are counting on a big-earning bestseller… though I love to take great stories or ideas and make them better.
Often authors get really excited when they finish the first rough draft of their first novel, and are ready to hire an editor and put it out into the world… but if you’ve only written one first draft, you still don’t know anything about writing. Most of the magic happens in the first several rounds of self-editing, when you figure out what’s essential to the story and what’s fluff that has to be cut out.”
Maggie Patterson, Co-Founder of Scoop Industries:
“When you work with a copywriter, the end result is only as good as the raw materials you give them. If you’re unclear or unsure, your copywriter can only do so much, and you’re leaving them to put lipstick on the proverbial pig. Before you engage, it’s up to you to nail down your target audience, their pain points, what you’re selling, and all the details of your offer. A copywriter is a writer, not a coach or a marketing consultant, so you shouldn’t rely on them to help you make critical business decisions that impact your business results. Let them do what they do best — crafting your copy.”
4. Be Clear About What You Want
There is probably nothing more vexing for a professional writer or editor than the words, “Could you just look this over real quick to see if it sounds ok?”
Whether it’s a friend tossing a resume your way or a client asking for a full-scale review of their website, a lack of direction when requesting feedback, making changes, or writing something from scratch often ends with wasted time and frustrated people on both ends.
Requests such as “make this sound more fun” or “liven up the word choice here” are vague and do not actually convey what it is you are wanting out of the copy or edits.
An easy way to think about reframing your direction is to think in terms of outcomes (see: point 1). What is the desired result of what is being written or changed?
Are you building a relationship with potential clients through an email newsletter? Are you calling them to action in a blog post? Are you educating them about your offer? Building your brand authority?
Define your goal first, then work backward. It will be much easier to communicate the subtle nuances of what you want the writing to look like to your copywriter if you know the ultimate objective for the piece.
Start by establishing the key takeaways — what is the info/feeling/main point you want readers to come away with or know about your business? From there, consider the tone most appropriate for your desired goal — is this serious informational copy, playful social media blurbs, or educational blog content? Make sure to relay this information to your copywriter.
Again, knowing your brand goal and voice here is absolutely key for copywriters to be able to create content in keeping with what you are looking for. They are not mind readers (unfortunately), and so cannot crawl into your head to conceptualize your vision.
Do your best to articulate in concrete terms what you want out of a given assignment or project, and be open to and designate time for follow-up questions. In other words, don’t be confused by your copywriter asking what you mean by “make this piece more engaging.”
This is also a great moment to lay out your expectations for deadlines and communication about the project. Agree upon these parameters before moving forward.
Leif Kendall, Freelance Copywriter:
“My main frustration doesn’t happen very often, thankfully. But I hate it when clients give vague feedback along the lines of “can you make this more businessy?” or “can you give this a little more zing?” Feedback like this is meaningless. So if I get vague feedback, I just call my client so I can figure out what they mean and what they’re really hoping to achieve.”
Matthew Bostock, Freelance Copywriting:
“Receiving bad briefs is always a headache — this not only makes the job harder, especially if you can’t get the material you really need, but it can become a real time sink. This is often the result of a client being too familiar with a project; they fail to zoom out enough and can’t see all the separate moving parts.
Vague feedback is another, albeit more humorous, frustration. Would you tell a designer to put more design into the design? No, of course you wouldn’t. Occasionally clients will ask you to change copy for reasons only the telepathic can understand, such as to decrease the ‘standardness’ or make it more funky, and if they do, I don’t fret. I interpret the feedback as best I can and, if I’m still unsure, ask them to provide more concrete direction.”
5. Let Go and Let Us Do Our Job
By this point, you’ve done a lot of the legwork to set the stage for a successful project. Congratulations, you’re already four steps ahead of many folks who hire copywriters. Pat yourself on the back, friend.
Now, here comes the fun part — are you ready?
Make like Elsa from Frozen and let it go.
Yes, we know that your business’s website/newsletter/sales copy/blog is near and dear to your heart and matters a lot to you, but if you’re so enmeshed in the writing process that your writer doesn’t have room to breathe, you’re doing something wrong.
So ease up. Take a step back, and allow for someone else’s alternative style or method of working. A hands-off approach doesn’t mean you’re accepting subpar work. If you’ve followed the previous steps, you’ve already instituted some clear-cut elements that will guide you toward success. Trust the process, and allow the writer some time and freedom to work their magic (so to speak — remember that writers are still not wizards).
Letting go also means respecting the timeline and workflow established at the outset. If you asked for the first draft at the end of the week, don’t go poking around on Thursday afternoon to “see how things are going.” Likely, your copywriter is not a hired employee and is working with other clients besides you.
Adding pressure by trying to look at their work early or asking for constant updates will only tire and/or frustrate your writer, making them less likely to want to work with you in the future. On the flip side, showing that you understand and respect their time will forge better working relationships that could lead to longer-term benefits (like a copywriter you know and trust sticking around to work with you on future projects).
Chances are, their process is different from yours, and hell — it might even be better. Consider it as an opportunity to learn something.
And if it totally doesn’t mesh, you’ll know better for the next time.
Elisa Doucette, Owner, Craft Your Content:
“The more you micromanage the project so that it is done YOUR way, the less professional and creative your work will be. In fact, you probably hired someone else because your way wasn’t working. If you just want words you can throw on a site, this may work; not so much if you want something that reflects your unique voice and vision.
Take a deep breath and let the process take its course — whatever drew you to your copywriter will show through. I promise!”
Jeff Pecaro, LTV Machine:
“Your copywriter wants to do a great job for you — their reputation depends on it — but that means they’ve put a lot of pressure on themselves from the get-go.
Contrary to popular belief, more pressure doesn’t make us work faster, and it definitely doesn’t make me write better. I give all my clients a best-case date and a worst-case date. If that doesn’t work for you, don’t agree to it.
Asking to change the dates, nagging, worrying, complaining, or changing the specs — before the deadline, of course — will only freak out your writer and slow things down.”
6. Prepare to Get What You Paid For
Depending on how you gained your relationship with your copywriter or how much research you’ve done, you’ll probably notice that there is a healthy range of pay rates for copywriters.
You might see some quotes on Upwork or Fiverr and wonder why anyone would pay hundreds of dollars for copy when you’ve found people willing to hammer out blog posts at 10 bucks a pop.
Well, it doesn’t take a long time working with low-cost writers to understand the tradeoff: lower pay rates often correlate with lower quality work. Notice that I said often — I’m sure there are diamonds in the rough, penning beautiful pieces for pennies, and deceiving scheisters overstating their experience and sending hefty invoices.
Understand that the industry is a marketplace, and just because you can get a blog post written for a super cheap rate, doesn’t mean that you should. Nor should you pressure or shame the writers you work with into lowering their rates because you “could” find someone else to do it for a fraction of the price.
There is also a difference between being budget conscious and a cheapskate. If you’re wanting dozens of blog posts going up every week at rock bottom rates, you’re the latter. When it comes down to it, value quality over quantity and witness the difference that it makes in your business.
Just like any other kind of freelance job, writers set their prices based on a variety of factors that often revolve around their experience, quality level, type of work, and other considerations.
As you sift through writers to hire, don’t just look at prices, look at the evidence. Does this person have a strong portfolio of past work? Has this person been rated well by former clients? Does their experience and interests make them a well-suited candidate to write for you?
Those elements matter much more than simply their hourly or project rate.
Also, consider your location and that of the person you are hiring. If they are a local copywriter, the rate should be somewhat similar to that of other professionals in your area. Check around sites like Glassdoor, LinkedIn, and Upwork to get a sense of the range of pay rates for a given area.
As you will quickly discover, you get what you pay for, so if you are looking for quality work that delivers results, be prepared to pay accordingly for that.
Bob Bly, Direct Response Copywriter:
“Clients who buy on price and shop for the cheapest copywriter they can find without regard to quality and who treat copywriting as a commodity (is frustrating).”
Jason Pedley, Freelance Copywriter:
“Too many clients (and potential clients) see writing as a commodity. They’re of the opinion that, because they see writers offering ridiculously-low rates for their writing, EVERY writer should be similarly-priced, regardless of the quality they deliver. Typical: client hires a $10 writer, LOVES the $10 price, and HATES the $10 quality. But the client thinks the problem is the writer and not the price. Who can blame clients for thinking this, given the number of writers who price this way?”
Let’s Talk: Build a Relationship
Do you feel like you’re in the know? You should.
Now that you’ve crawled inside the heads of some copy pros, you should be much better equipped to go out and find a suitable partner-in-writing who can help you achieve the desired goals for your business.
With these points in mind, you can consider how you might not merely find a one-off or pinch hit writer, but someone with whom you can have an ongoing working relationship built off of the respect and trust you established from the outset.
If you’re in business, you know that a lot of times it’s about the long game, not the quick sell.
Apply the same thinking in your new and potential relationships with copywriters. As you build those relationships, you will likely learn even more ways to ensure that the connection is authentic and functional for both parties.
It’s not rocket science — it’s mostly about emotional intelligence. With some forethought and empathy, you can find copywriters that you love working with, and who love working with you, too.