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11 Things You MUST Know Before Hiring a Copywriter

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11 Things You MUST Know Before Hiring a Copywriter

By: Alexandria Brown
So you're considering hiring copywriting help for your next
brochure, Web site, or marketing project. Congratulations! You should
get great results if you hire a pro to do it right.

Many business owners and marketing professionals have valid concerns
about letting an outsider develop their content. After all — it's
your business, you know it best, and your image is critical. However,
you're wrapped up in your business every day. A good copywriter
can see your business in a new light, draw out the key benefits of
your products and services, and communicate that excitement to your
clients and prospects.

Working with a writer isn't a complicated ordeal, however it will
benefit you tremendously to become familiar with how the relationship
typically works and ways to help the process move along smoothly. So,
here are my top 11 tips on how to choose and work with a copywriter:

1. Understand your mission beforehand.

A crucial factor in streamlining the writing process is determining
the principal points you need to communicate — before you bring in a
writer. Who is your target audience? What is your message? What is
unique about your company? In what type of tone do you want to speak
to your reader? What type of response do you ideally want the reader
to make? Having this information agreed upon before you get a writer
involved will save you unnecessary copy revisions and keep your costs
down.

2. Develop a realistic schedule.

Yes, you've heard this all your life, but haste makes waste. Avoid
hastily hiring a copywriter and dumping a rush job on her. Not only
will you not have time to thoroughly check her experience and
references, but, no matter how wonderfully talented she is, her first
drafts will not be "fully cooked." This is because copywriters need
time to let words and ideas simmer.

Most writers will request a few weeks to develop your copy, so set a
realistic schedule to give the creative process ample time. Count on
going through one or two revisions as your writer refines the piece's
angle and conveys the key benefits of what you're promoting.

3. Make sure the writer you hire has written for the medium you want.

Let's say you need someone to re-energize the copy on your Web site.
A freelancer who has only written magazine articles won't likely
have the skills to create content for a dynamic Web site. She's
probably not proficient at breaking-up copy into easily digestible
bits, integrating hyperlinks that entice your users to take action,
and keeping your end-user in mind to plan a friendly, easily-
navigable site. She may be able to learn how, but you'll be paying
for her slow ramp-up speed. Take time instead to find the right
person — it will save you many headaches down the road.

4. Experience within your industry isn't always necessary.

"So you've never written for a _______ company before?" I'veheard
many prospects say. Don't worry. A writer's ability to write well for
the medium is more important than her having prior experience in your
industry.

Many writers are true generalists and write just as well for an edgy
new media start-up as they do for a giant hospital network. They're
very proficient at diving into your business, learning it inside and
out, and churning out great prose to entice your target market. Now
of course, if you're producing a technically oriented business-to-
business Web site or marketing piece, you may want to hire a writer
with experience in both your project's medium and your industry. If
you find a good one, hold on tight. You've struck gold!

5. Ask for references, and contact them.

All writers can show you samples of well-written material, but how do
you know if they'll work to understand your communication needs, meet
deadlines, and act professionally in front of clients? Any great
copywriter should have an ample list of references that she can share
with you. Be sure to contact at least two of them, and ask them about
the writer's weaknesses as well as her strengths.

6. You get what you pay for.

It amazes me how businesspeople will drop thousands of dollars on Web
or print design and hesitate to spend half as much on great copy.
Pictures and design enhance your message, but jeez folks …the writing
IS your message!

Good copywriting does not come cheaply — you'll find writers
who charge anywhere from $50 - $150 per hour and up. You'll pay more
for an experienced writer, one with a particular specialty, or one
who's also a proficient editor. (Many writers are also great editors,
but not all writers are editors, and vice versa.) Some writers will
even arrange for your piece to get a final review by a professional
proofreader. (A very good idea, since there are almost always a few
errors that no one catches until the last minute.)

7. Work on more than a handshake.

True writing pros will give you an agreement they've drawn up for
you. However, you'll occasionally find yourself having to draft
an agreement for the project. This doesn't have to be complex — a
simple letter of agreement that you both sign should do fine. Be sure
to include the project size, number of revisions included (if
applicable), timetable, and agreed fee (this can be a flat fee or
hourly rate).

And don't forget to ask about what's NOT included. For example,many
writers charge extra for in-person meetings, research time, and
weekend or rush work. You should also expect to pay an upfront
retainer. Serious writers charge one-third to one-half of the total
project fee upfront, and many won't begin your project until they
have the signed agreement and check in hand. And if you have
sensitive or proprietary information, don't hesitate to have your
writer sign a non-disclosure agreement.

8. Give your writer background info at the start.

I've often heard the story of a writer being hired for a large
project, and the first thing she's asked to do is come in and
interview several principals of the company. After several days of
interviews, the writer is then handed the company's annual report,
previous brochures, and marketing plan.

If this background info had been given up front, the client could
have saved hours of time and money! At the beginning of your project,
pass on any and all previous brochures or sales kits, direct mail,
Web site URLs, annual reports, research results, or business or
marketing plans.

9. Appoint one person as your "project captain."

Appoint one person at your company as project captain. If you allow
too many people in your organization to work with the writer
directly, each of them will likely have a different opinion of the
copy and request different edits from your writer. She may be forced
to make many unnecessary revisions, adding time and cost to your
project.

If you need to involve multiple reviewers in the process, have your
project captain handle the internal reviews and edits and decide
which ones supercede others. Then give your writer one master copy
that includes all edits to be made. Also, be sure to involve your
final decision maker early on, be it your CEO or board of directors.
This gives your writer clear direction and avoids costly revisions
down the road.

10. Give constructive criticism.

Although copywriters have egos of steel and are accustomed to
criticism, make yours constructive for best results. "This paragraph
just doesn't work" isn't nearly as effective as "What we need to do
here is stress the benefits of the non-skid surface." Also, tell her
what parts you do like so she can emulate them elsewhere. And of
course, everyone loves to know when they've done a good job. If you
like her work, be sure to share that with her.

11. Don't discount "chemistry."

You need to feel comfortable with your writer in order to work
effectively together. Take the time to find a great copywriter whom
you truly like and develop a good working relationship together.
You'll get top-quality work that will help your business thrive. And
you'll have a skilled and knowledgeable copywriter on call for your
next communications effort.

About the Author

Alexandria Brown is president of AKB Marketing Communications. Her
FREE monthly e-zine gives "how-to" tips on writing compelling copy
for Web sites, brochures, and e-zines. Learn how to attract new
clients and strengthen your customer relationships! Subscribe today
at http://www.akbwriting.com or by e-mailing AKBMarCom-
On@lists.webvalence.com

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