Finding a pro in any field isn’t easy. We’ve all been stung by the GP whose bedside manner stinks, the electrician who didn’t turn up when he said he would, the chartered accountant who gave crap advice.
But at least you know where to start with these guys — they have the right letters after their name, or they’re members of the right association.
With copywriters, it’s a bit different.
We don’t have a concrete career path. We don’t all head straight to uni to do a copywriting degree (it’s not really a thing — at least not yet), score an internship with an ad agency, work our way up and then start our own agency. Which makes it hard for you, as business owners, to know how to weed out the good ones from the bad.
Finding a long list of writers to choose from isn’t an issue. We’re everywhere. Seduced by images of copywriters working from a beach in Bali while making 7 figures a year, anyone who ever scored an A for an English essay (and plenty of those you didn’t even come close) thinks they have what it takes.
So how do you sort through your list? How do you know that they can actually deliver? I reckon there are a few clues for you to look out for.
They have the right ‘vibe’.
That sounds awfully ‘woo’, I know, but bear with me.
You are going to be working pretty closely with your copywriter so it’s important that you find someone you think you can get along with. In fact, anyone who thinks they can find the right words for your business without having spoken to you at length is not to be trusted!
To get a proper handle on your business, your brand, your goals and your personality — all of which is vital to producing great copy — you’ll need to spend some time together. So you want to know if this will be a pleasant experience or comparable to a tooth extraction.
The best thing to do is to meet them.
Since we tend to work remote, in-person meetings might not be an option but I’m a big fan of Zoom (not tried Zoom yet? Give it a whirl, I reckon you’ll love it) or Skype chats. If, after talking through the nitty gritty of your project, you don’t get the impression that you’ll enjoy communicating with that particular writer or they’re just not the right personality type to ‘get’ your business, don’t worry. Not every client is the right fit for every writer and, since your working relationship will hopefully last way beyond the initial project, it’s important to find someone you gel with.
Yes, it is time-consuming but once you’ve found a writer you like you can stick with them for life. They’ll be there to help you through every new product launch, every rebrand, every new email campaign and beyond.
They have insight.
Another thing to look for is the copywriter’s insight. While you’re having an initial meeting and talking through the details of your business and your project, it’s likely (desirable, in fact) that the writer does more listening — and note taking — than talking. But listen carefully to the things they do say. If they know what they’re doing, they’ll likely have a few insights for you right away (we can’t stop those cogs whirring, you see!). They might throw out a new perspective on your target market, your USP, or even help you clarify your business goals. Any of which will give you reassurance that they’ll hit the target when it comes to actually writing your stuff!
They’re big readers.
When it comes to sales copy, grammar is important (in my opinion, plenty of others disagree) — I reckon you need to know the rules before you can decide which ones to break and which ones are sacred — but it isn’t everything.
So you’re not necessarily looking for an English-class nerd, full of chat about dangling participles and Oxford commas.
That said, what you do want to know is that they’re voracious readers. Because if you want to learn how to write well, the number one thing you should do is read.
Firstly, a copywriter who thinks they know everything they need to know about copywriting is kidding themselves on. There is always something more to learn in any industry and ours is no exception. But a copywriter’s reading should go beyond the realm of books about copywriting alone. I’ve found useful insights from books on marketing, PR, general writing, entrepreneurship and particularly, psychology.
Secondly, reading non-business related books can teach your copywriter loads too. It’s how we learn to master different tone, cadence, structure and all of the other elements that make any type of writing shine.
Oh, and though it isn’t technically reading, I’m going to include listening to podcasts and such here as well. A good podcast can teach you a lot about storytelling, how to structure content and how to keep a listener’s interest — all vital components of sales copy.
They have relevant experience.
There may not be a clear career path for copywriters but a lot of us do hail from related fields.
You’ll find the marketing guys will have studied copywriting in some form while training, the out-of-work print journalists will write a cracking headline and the former advertising sales executives (hello!) have gone through ridiculous amounts of training on the sales process, including the psychology of why people buy.
All useful stuff if you want to write shit hot sales copy.
Of course, you shouldn’t necessarily dismiss a writer who comes from a completely unrelated industry, as long as there are plenty of other indications to suggest they know what they’re doing.
They come recommended.
If someone you know has recommended a particular copywriter, you’re probably on to a winner. That said, I’ve heard of networking groups where people recommend other members without having seen their work or used them personally.
So, recommendation or not, it’s worth checking your potential writer’s testimonials and portfolio before you make a decision. And while you’re reading through their stuff it’s worth noting how they’ve tackled writing for different industries and different tone of voice demands. If everything they write sounds the same, it’s not a great sign unless perhaps they’re writing for your particular niche.
What about qualifications though?
It’s always reassuring to see that someone has some letters after their name. And there’s a nugget of logic behind that. While my MA and post-grad certificate are not hugely related to copywriting, I gained plenty of transferable skills that help me do my job well: research skills, time management, editing, clear communication to name a few.
But qualifications aren’t everything.
Let me tell you a quick story. You may not know that I am a fully-qualified early education professional (i.e. I taught teeny tiny kids their colours, their shapes and how not to be arses to each other). And to be honest, I just wasn’t that great at the job. I may have had the right piece of paper but I didn’t have the right attitude, the passion or the desire to improve. All of which I have in spades when it comes to writing.
So that’s my final thing to look out for when choosing a copywriter: do they freakin’ love their job? Because if they do, no matter how many years they’ve been doing this, they’ll view every project as a challenge — and an opportunity — to be better than they were yesterday.
And that’s great news for you and your business!
Want to find out if I’m the right copywriter for your business? Then let’s talk. I can write your web copy, your blog posts, your newsletters, sales pages, email campaigns and your social media content. And if you need something I haven’t mentioned then I probably do that too — or know someone who does, so hit me up.