Can I be honest with you? Maybe share a little work frustration with you in confidence?
I hate it when people who are super smart and really good at their jobs say, “Oh, it’s just communications. Anyone can do that. How hard can it be?”
Unless your job is being a communications expert, chances are it’s going to be really hard for you to do it well.
Or to corrupt a Star Trek quote: “Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor, not a social media expert.”
One of the things I always loved about Bones was that he recognized he had a specialty. And that all the other jobs out there weren’t jobs he was good at.
As an entrepreneur, you’re probably used to doing everything yourself, or maybe with a small team. Maybe you think you can’t afford to hire a writer or that the return on investment won’t be worth it. Maybe you think that no one else knows your business like you do, and you don’t want to give up that responsibility or control.
However, writers can be a critical addition to your team; investing some time upfront to hire a good writer and give them the tools they need to do the job can pay off in the long run. Hiring a good writer can also free up some of your precious time to focus on other aspects of your business.
Writers are specialists. We use words to create worlds, tell your stories, and drive people to take action. If you’re looking to grow your business, build your brand, or get your message out, you need a writer.
No matter what your business model, writers can help you build and grow your business. They can play a critical role in developing a unique voice for your company, get your message across to your audience, build trust with your customers, and make you look like a professional organization.
Developing a voice for your business is another way of saying writers can help you build your brand. A writer can work with you to shape your brand’s story into a compelling narrative that attracts clients and customers.
For example, a writer can help you create blog posts that give customers or clients useful information or a behind-the-scenes look at your business. Giving your customers or clients useful information should be one of your top priorities; it’s the who, what, when, where, and why of your business, and without it, your customers won’t understand how and why they should be your customers. Giving them inside information helps to build that sense of trust and community, too.
Getting your message across clearly to your customers and clients is critical to growing your business. If your customers don’t know or understand what you want them to do, they can’t engage in business with you. Writers help you build trust with your clients and customers by clearly stating what you offer your customers and what actions you want your customers to take.
If your company communicates with your customers through email, that’s your best opportunity to tell your customers who you are and what you are offering them, and to then get them to take action.
For example, Penzeys is a spice company that sends out wonderful catalogs full of stories about local cooks and their signature recipes. They also send emails that are personal notes from their CEO. The notes are a little long, but they’re honest and real, and they’re on brand. Even if you don’t see the coupon or the logo or the email address, you know this text is from Penzeys.
Good writing makes your image, and thus your business, look polished and professional, and that goes for all written content, from web pages to blog posts to long-form articles to emails.
If a blog post on your website reads like a bad message on a dating site or a text message from a teenager, you’re not presenting a professional image. If you’re not presenting a professional image, you’re probably not getting the right customers.
At the very least, you want written products that are grammatically correct and error- and misspelling-free. But to put your best foot forward, you should aim for something that is engaging, pitched to the correct audience, and phrased well.
Not all good writers have a degree in writing or English or journalism. They might have a degree in history or public policy or science.
They may have experience writing for blogs, writing for a newspaper or magazine, or managing social media accounts.
Many writers are able to write in multiple media, but writers are not interchangeable. Just because you have worked with a writer in the past who created brilliant copy for you, doesn’t mean you can hire any old writer and they will be able to do the same exact thing.
In other words, you wouldn’t hire George R.R. Martin to write press releases for a newsroom that produces 10 or 20 articles every day.
Depending on the amount of work you need done, you might want to hire a writer as part of your team either full-time or part-time. Or you might find it more convenient to hire a freelancer by advertising on Upwork, a site like Freelance Writing or FWJ, or a job board. There are also sites like FlexJobs that can help you find a writer, especially if you’re looking for someone to work remotely.
Going back to the idea that anyone can write, there are a few other misconceptions out there about what writers do and how we do it:
Writing is an art, yes, but it is also something of a science. Words have rhythm and flow, but they also have a psychological impact on people’s brains.
Writing can create a sense of urgency (Buy now! Last one available!), a feeling of warmth and goodness (Hallmark Channel holiday movies), or a sense of fear and angst (lately, the news). So a good writer is something of a psychologist crossed with a data-driven wordsmith.
Some writers excel at one style of content and not another. Social media is a great example. Make no mistake: using social media for your business takes a good writer working as a specialist. Not everyone has the ability to distill your message into 140 characters.
Writers tend to be perfectionists. I love the craft of writing. The act of putting words to paper is one of the most fundamental things in the world to me. But it’s not always easy. Yes, sometimes I sit down and the words flow. More often, I sit down and type a few words. And then delete them. And then type something else.
I stare at one word for five minutes, trying to decide if it’s the right word, or the correct word.
When you’re communicating with your customers, you need the right words to connect with them. The right words engage your customer base by building trust with existing customers and attracting new ones. You need the right words to grow your business.
There’s also research that goes into each product, the amount of which depends on the subject of the article. And lest you think a shorter article needs less research, that is not the case.
While a shorter article may take less time to write, it may not be as much less time as you think. It can take almost as much time to write 500 words as 1,500, because you have to edit yourself down to fit the word limit, while fitting the same amount of information in the piece.
A well-crafted short social media post, again, may not take as much time as writing several hundred words, but it’s not something that can be dashed off in a few minutes, at least not without a whole team working on it.
One of the best examples of fast social media is the tweet from Oreo during the blackout in the 2013 Super Bowl. The whole thing was 11 words, but it took a team of around 12 people to come up with exactly the right 11 words.
If you’ve got one person writing your social media, they’re going to need more time to craft the right posts.
Working with a writer requires setting realistic expectations, both of what you expect them to do and of what you need to give the writer to work with.
When you hire a writer, you need to give them the right tools for the job. There are a few tools and best practices in particular that will make things easier for your writers.
Ideally, this is background work you’ve done before you hire a writer. You should understand your brand before you try to promote it. But if you haven’t done that background work, a writer can offer suggestions and guidance to help you codify this information.
Providing this information to your writer upfront may seem like it takes a chunk of time, but it’s more efficient on the back end. The more information your writer has, the fewer questions they will have for you as you move forward. Invest in a few initial conversations and creating this background material, and you will get better and faster work in return.
A voice and vision guide tells your writer who you are. It’s your brand and your story.
This guide may include things like your mission statement, vision statement, and other branding guidelines. It should include who your customers are, what you want your business to accomplish, and phrases or ideas you want to use in your writing.
If you don’t have this information written down already, your first step may be creating it (and if you need help with creating your guide, we can do that!).
A style guide gives your writer more specific guidelines for how to craft a piece of writing. For example, if it’s a press release, do you want them to use the AP Stylebook? If it’s an academic paper, would you prefer Chicago or MLA style?
Even more specifically, it sets up the dos and don’ts for your products. Should your press releases be no more than 500 words? How do you want your company’s name to be written each time it’s used?
I know it sounds like a lot of technicalities when you just want something written. But consistency is important in building your brand, your community, and your business.
If you read Tom Clancy’s novels, you know you’re getting a military or spy action novel. If you’re reading a paper published in the American Medical Association journal, you expect it to be well-researched and authoritative. If you’re reading a tweet from @EmergencyCats, that post better have a cute cat picture.
It’s important to have and to set realistic expectations when working with a writer. Part of your initial conversation should cover details of what you need and when you need it.
Are you expecting 200 words, 500 words, whatever works? When do you need it to be completed? Again, the more specific you are, the better.
Are you expecting a draft version or a final version? Are you expecting to give the writer feedback, following which they will send an updated version? Do you expect them to go through one, two, or no rounds of editing?
It’s also extremely helpful to be clear about any other requirements you have. If you’ve worked in corporate or government worlds, you’ve probably heard of “bring me a rock” exercises, where you’re given a task to create a thing without specific guidelines of what that thing is supposed to be. Is it a shiny rock? A big rock? A jagged rock?
For example, you ask a writer to create copy on your new product. You tell them what the widget is, but not how much it costs, where it’s going to be sold, when it’s available, or who can buy it. But you want them to create something brilliant that will attract customers.
Your writer writes something, and you hand it back, saying, “I wanted something with more words.” They add more words, and you say, “I wanted something with funny words.” So they add the funny, and you say, “I wanted something with all our URLs embedded.” And so on.
Sometimes, you don’t have all the information. But don’t expect your writer to create the perfect piece of writing if you haven’t given them what they need from the beginning. Writers can’t work miracles, especially if you’re not giving them solid raw materials to work with.
It’s critical that your writer knows who they are writing for, and it’s important to give your writer that information at the beginning of a project.
Different types of content will have different audiences. The customers you want to reach with a Twitter feed may be different than the ones you target with a long-form web feature.
The better you know your customer, and the more information you give your writer on that ideal person, the better the content your writer can create.
By the way, it’s okay if your audience is aspirational. You may not have the audience you want yet, but in this case, it becomes even more important to know who you want that audience to be. Writers can help you craft the right content to reach those desired audiences, too.
It’s also critical to give your writer a solid background look at your organization. They need a foundation for their work, and a solid working knowledge of who you are.
Many companies and organizations have some kind of boilerplate language explaining who they are that gets added to products such as press releases. It’s like the “About Us” page on a website (and should use the same language).
Boilerplate is important for two reasons. One, it may be included in your written products, especially for things like press releases. Two, it gives your writer some of that critical background information. It might include when you were founded or what your organization’s purpose is. It might include how many locations you have or the audience you serve, or it might include particular branding phrases.
When your writer takes on a project, they should ask you for this information. For example, I always ask clients three questions:
It doesn’t matter how simple or elaborate your product is, the starting point is the same: you need to know who you’re speaking to and what you’re saying to them. To use an example from the less complex end of the spectrum, I helped create a piece of content recruiting judges for a contest being held on a university campus. The brief was simple: get something out there that will attract volunteers so the contest will have enough judges.
The purpose was pretty clear: recruit enough judges. But the other questions needed some work. Who was the audience? Did the potential judges need to be from a specific department (in this case, history)? Or could students from other disciplines also sign up? Were they only looking for potential judges who would be available on a certain day, and who were willing to spend time in training? (Better to winnow out the people who were not willing, so as not to waste anyone’s time.)
And finally, what did they want the students to do? Were potential judges supposed to call someone for information? Sign up for an orientation session? Stop by the office and pick up a packet?
Once I had all that information, it was still a simple product, but it was also clear and actionable.
To build a good business, you need a clear, consistent, and strong message. A writer can help you create and deliver that message.
By using a writer to create strong content, you will build a community of clients and customers who know and trust your business and your brand, and who in turn attract even more clients and customers.
Having a writer on your team, whether as a freelancer or a more permanent team member, can free you up to focus on other important aspects of your business. It also ensures that you’re getting the best quality content from an expert who knows their job.
By hiring a writer as a specialist, you can grow a strong business.
Sarah Ramsey holds a M.A. in Science, Technology and Public Policy. She has spent most of the last two decades doing strategic communications work for space-focused organizations like NASA. She wishes she could write space-based, because if she could live anywhere else, Mars would be it. In her free time, you can find her working through a long to-be-read list and an even longer to-be-written list.