Do you remember the last piece of writing that made you do something?
Maybe it was a bar’s chalkboard sign with an alcohol pun that made you stop in for a glass of wine. Maybe a sales rep sent you an email that resonated and made you schedule a demo. Perhaps you came across a big red sign with four white letters that made you stop.
Words are powerful. They communicate what a brand is about, what a service gives you and why you should do (or not do) something. Alongside serious leaps in technology, the power of words is only increasing.
That’s why the demand for copywriters remains high. Good content and clever writing is key for inbound marketing campaigns, viral social media ads, user-friendly apps and even print and broadcast advertising, especially in a noisy world where every app, device, screen and billboard is screaming for our attention.
Simply put: without good copy, your message is lost. Without a good copywriter, your message doesn’t have a chance.
Many companies don’t have the bandwidth for a full-time copywriter on staff, however, they recognize the importance of copy. There are email campaigns and print ads to write, mission statements to make and social media posts to craft. A company’s copy is how their consumers and investors perceive, digest and assess what they sell or provide. It makes sense to tap into the world of freelance copywriters for the flexibility and expertise they provide.
My earliest exposure to freelance copywriting didn’t involve me writing a word. In fact, I worked for the largest creative staffing agency in the US where I helped my clients hire the best and brightest creative freelancers out there. I had a behind-the-scenes look at the steps and processes companies went through to find the right talent and quickly learned what fostered a successful freelance experience versus a rocky one.
Now, as a freelance copywriter myself, I’m seeing a new angle of the business. Despite having a number of steady clients, there’s still a salesperson inside of me who enjoys hunting for new projects. That means I read far too many job postings looking for copywriters. It also means I read far too many job postings that will never get a second look from decent writers— and the person hiring for the project will, unfortunately, never know why they couldn’t find the right help.
With this unique perspective from both the client and freelancer side, I’ve assembled a guide for startups, companies and entrepreneurs who see the value of great copy— but need an honest inside look at how to get the expert they need.
Do your research
This is one of the most critical pieces of a successful freelance project. Start out by understanding your project inside and out. Understand the goal of the project, the timeline in which you need it completed, any software or tools that might be necessary and investigate the typical rates of someone with this skillset.
The best projects I have worked on always began with a well-defined plan. When a client knows what they want, when they want it and are open to feedback and ideas to make the project better, that’s the holy grail of client and freelancer relationships.
It’s worth visiting Reddit, UpWork and LinkedIn to investigate your project and the required skillsets. Ask questions, understand pricing and have a thorough understanding of what you want before you ever begin advertising the job.
Write a great job description
If you could build the perfect copywriter for you project, what would their portfolio, experience and style look like? The job description is your chance to attract and write to that exact person.
Importantly, this is also where you establish two important traits freelancers look for in a client: you know what you’re looking for and you’re enjoyable to work with. Your job description needs to describe and qualify while attracting talent. I disqualify projects that seem to be written without a plan or best intentions in mind.
Consider a few things:
• Do you need a topic expert or can a generalist writer take on the project? Consider your audience. If you’re writing an eBook for cryptocurrency experts, for example, you’ll want someone with extensive knowledge in the space.
• What are you looking for in a portfolio? Are you looking for someone who matches your existing copy, or someone who can shake up your style and tone? Can you identify a brand or campaign whose style you appreciate?
• Do you need someone who is senior or junior? Is this a project that requires serious research and an expert’s guidance, or can it be accomplished by someone who has a portfolio of good work and is merely taking direction?
• Do you need someone else in addition to a copywriter? I often bypass job postings that look for a developer/designer/copywriter because I don’t code or design. If your project reaches into areas of unrelated expertise, hire separate freelancers whose specialties can really shine.
• When do you need this finished? Find a due date and, for larger projects, set milestones to ensure the project is on track.
• What’s your budget? Some projects are paid hourly while others are a fixed project rate. If this is an ongoing project, like social media copy, an hourly rate can make sense as long as the freelancer knows the hourly limit. If this is a one-time project, a fixed budget may make sense. Be competitive in your pricing.
• Do you need this person on-site, or can they work remote? If they’re working remote, do they need to be located in a specific country or timezone?
Keep in mind that we may be reading a few dozen job postings each day. Write a concise job posting with keywords and deliverables clearly shown along with any software skills or writing experience you’ve deemed necessary.
A good job posting may look something like this:
Do you write for conversion? A SaaS startup is looking for an email funnel copywriter with private equity and finance experience for the following project:
• 8-10 sales emails for new prospects
• 3 subject lines per email
• Conversational, casual style
• Add emails to our Mailchimp account
• Make suggestions about how to best position our product benefits
This one-time project has a $300 budget and must be completed by July 12th following a 30 minute Skype call with the startup’s founder.
Please send your portfolio and relevant email funnel samples to us at email@example.com. We look forward to partnering with you!
It’s important to be complete and thorough with the job description, however, don’t fall into the trap of writing every detail of the project! Sure, you may prefer to collaborate in Google Docs and have twenty-seven content ideas, but the job description should be reserved for vital information.
Get the word out
Once you have a powerful job description, advertise your opportunity.
There are a number of popular resources for finding freelance copywriters, from UpWork to PeoplePerHour to Reddit groups. If you have a considerable budget, LinkedIn also offers job postings.
Additionally, there are staffing agencies and recruiters who can help you find talent, although usually at a premium price. The bonus? They’re often pre-vetted candidates who have a history with the agency so you know their track record.
Alternatively, social media is incredibly powerful for finding talent. A few months ago, I needed help from an SEO expert. After posting on LinkedIn and Twitter (using relevant hashtags), I had four introductions and two cold messages before the day was over.
Review applications and conduct interviews
Assuming you’ve crafted a great job description and posted it to the types of places where freelance copywriters look for work, you have a pile of applications and a new question: how do I choose the right copywriter?
If you had a massive response, choice paralysis can be a real barrier to moving forward.
The way to go about choosing the right freelance copywriter? Deciding who isn’t right for the job.
You can generally disqualify candidates who:
• Didn’t follow the directions of the job posting. If you asked for their portfolio and they’ve attached a PDF menu of their local Chinese restaurant, pass.
• Have little to no relevant experience. A portfolio of children’s education print ad copy may be great for Disney, but it’s not right for your SEO blog post project on asbestos disposal.
• Submit a budget that is much higher or lower than others. If they submit a low bid, they may not understand the full scope of the project or they’re simply not qualified or skilled enough to ask for higher rates and are competing on price alone. If they submit a high bid, they may be overestimating the project, are too senior — or you need to double-check your offered rate.
• Don’t match your brand’s style or tone. Someone who has written dry but well-done content for a FinTech startup may not be right for a women’s yoga retreat. If you’re on the fence, ask for samples that they feel more closely fit the style and tone you’re looking for.
• Don’t pass the social media investigation test. You may notice they appear to be more interested in Hemingway’s use of alcohol than his use of language.
Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few candidates, you can further define who is right for the project with an interview. Ask about their vision for the project, understand how many similar projects they’ve worked on and see if you’re able to attach any conversion stats or KPI’s to their past writing, if it’s relevant.
It’s not just about hard skills and writing ability. My favorite clients to work with are the ones who I enjoy speaking with and whose communication and feedback style best matches my own. When you speak with a freelancer, do they seem to match your style and personality? Do they respond in a reasonable timeframe to your emails or calls? Do they seem focused more on payment than on the success of the project?
Extending the offer
When you feel comfortable in choosing a freelancer, extend an offer with defined expectations. In writing, list the timeline, deliverables, your contact details and any information that sets a clear and established working relationship. Communicate how and when they’ll be paid.
Keep in mind that the best freelance copywriters are busy. Projects and opportunities can come our way at any moment so, if you’ve found a freelancer you love, move quickly. If you’re still on the fence, start with a small paid project to assess whether or not they’re right for a large project or continued work.
If you do one thing after hiring a freelancer, do this: conduct an exploration call.
This is something I now insist upon before starting work. While it may seem inflexible, especially when there are deadlines, having a conversation about the project is vital. This is the time to brainstorm, suggest ideas and listen to their expert guidance on what to do to make the project a success. It’s the ideal moment to mention those twenty-seven content ideas you have, establish the voice and style you’re looking for and help the copywriter understand all that you know about the project, from your ideal customer to the path to purchase or even the idea behind the project.
Even after the exploration call, be available for questions. Copywriters who ask loads of questions aren’t clueless or ignorant, we simply need to understand the project and the details so we can deliver an awesome final product.
Working together on the project
While some clients are content to hand everything off to me and walk away, I enjoy creating a collaborative relationship throughout the project.
Give us your honest, constructive feedback when we submit work. Our first draft is unlikely to look like the final draft, so don’t worry if the first attempt needs editing. This is where your feedback is key. It’s impossible to get a great final result with vague feedback like “I don’t like it.”
Tell us specifically where you see room for improvement. If the tagline has a double-meaning in your industry that we may not be aware of, let us know that’s your concern. If you’ve tried similar messaging without results, tell us. Really, we can take the feedback.
At the same time, be open to pushback and guidance. While I’m happy to work with my clients’ expertise and guidance, I also understand best practices or techniques that they may not. It’s fair to ask for an explanation of our pushback— and I’m eager to explain my reasoning. Copywriting is collaborative.
An awesome partnership
One of the best parts of being a freelance copywriter is the ability to work with clients you love on projects you enjoy. I’m grateful for the relationships I’ve built with my clients and I’m convinced that every startup, business and entrepreneur has untapped potential simply by communicating more effectively with copy that has been crafted and obsessed over by a freelance copywriter.
Clients and copywriters have an important symbiotic relationship and, by making it easier to work together with these best practices, my hope is that we’ll all benefit through less frustration, more clarity and copy that inspires people to do.
For those who may hire copywriters, what questions do you still have?
Copywriters and other freelancers, what do you wish clients would do differently when working with you?
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