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How to hire a great copywriter (and avoid the bad ones)

Mar 01, 2021

By: Abby Wood

Filed Under: ,

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Hiring a copywriter is a long and difficult process. I’ve been working as a copywriter for the last 10 years, and when I created my own content agency, I soon found out just how difficult it is to find a great copywriter. 

A great copywriter will streamline the content phase of your website projects and remove the need for you to manage ongoing content marketing for both you and your clients. They can make your life (and your clients’ lives) so much easier.

A bad copywriter can bring a project to its knees. They can bring your company to a grinding halt and seriously screw up your workflow. They can damage your reputation and get your clients’ backs up.

Despite what a quick Google search may tell you, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to ‘how to hire a copywriter’.

You have to find the right fit for your company.

A copywriter that I think is brilliant, you might find a nightmare to work with. A writer you think is the best thing since sliced bread, well I might not think they’re up to the job. 

You’re probably thinking: “Wow Abby! Thanks, that’s so friggin’ helpful.” 

I know, I know, you’re looking for a simple answer - which I don’t have - but I can help you figure out how to hire a great copywriter for your company.

Today we’re going to be looking at how you can find the right copywriter for your agency, how to get the most out of your lovely new copywriter, as well as what to avoid when hiring a writer for your company. 

How do you find a great copywriter?

When hiring a copywriter it’s important to remember that just like every agency is different, every copywriter is different too. There will be a perfect writer to suit your business, most likely multiple ones, you just have to find them. 

So, how do you go about hiring a copywriter?

First, know what you want

I’ve used the term ‘copywriter’ throughout this blog so far - but there’s actually multiple job titles and skill sets involved in writing for the web (it just gets better and better doesn’t it!).

When choosing what kind of writer to work with, you should know exactly what kind of content you need. This will help you choose the right writer to work with. 

A super high level intro to the wonderful world of writing for the web:

  • A copywriter will generally specialize in writing conversion copy for websites/emails/ads
  • A content writer will be more familiar with writing blog posts, articles and long form emails. 
  • A content strategist will be used to doing the strategy work behind your content, figuring out what each piece needs to achieve, and probably be a mixture of the other two. 

Depending on what type of writer you decide to work with will influence how much you’ll have to manage them. 

If you hire a content strategist, they’ll already be working out a strategy for your content so they’ll need minimal guidance. But a content writer who’s coming in to write two or three blogs a month will need to be given a push in the right direction when it comes to what to write about.

As web design agencies all have their own ways of working, you’ll need to figure out exactly what you want your writer to come in to do. 

Do you want them creating online strategies and delivering written work to fulfil that? 

Or do you want someone to implement your own plan? 

Maybe you just want someone to come in and write a quick blog once or twice a month. 

If you’re not sure what you need, a content strategist may be the best option for you. If you want a pair of hands for hire, a content writer might be best. If you want concise, converting website copy then you want a copywriter. 

Ok, so you know what kind of writer you need - or at least a better idea of who you’re looking for anyway. 

Now it’s time to look at how to get the best out of your copywriter once you’ve hired them.

1. Communicate and give them a detailed brief

Communication is important for any relationship, including the relationship between you and your writer. 

If you’ve hired a white label content agency or a freelancer, you’ll want to keep them informed about what’s going on in your agency and possible incoming work so they know they have the bandwidth to deliver the work on time. 

If you’ve hired an in-house writer, well they’ll still need to be kept in the loop, but you probably chat to them everyday anyway, so communication should be a given.

Kickstarting a new project with your writer should include:

  • Sharing your project discovery notes (for either your client or your own business)
  • Interviewing the client with your writer so they get a clear image of what the client is looking for and how the client talks about their work
  • Scheduling a content workshop so you can lay out exactly what type of content you need and when you need it by
  • Providing your writer with detailed briefs. This is especially important if your writer isn’t in contact with the end client.

If you’re uncomfortable with allowing your writer access to client documents you can ask them to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement). Any professional copywriter or content writer will have no issues signing an NDA.

Setting a deadline is incredibly important to communicate with your writer. If you’re working with a professional company, they should provide you with a date to make sure it fits in with your overall project timeline. 

Pro tip: if you’re trying out a new writer, be sure to leave plenty of wiggle room between their hand-in date and the date the client is expecting the draft by. This way, if things don’t go how they’re meant to, you can get someone else to complete it.

2. Understand their process

Figuring out what your writer’s process is like will help you figure out how you’re going to work together going forward.  

How do you know what their process is like? 

You ask. 

Not only will this make you more comfortable with the writer you’re about to hire, but you’ll also have a better understanding of what to expect from them. 

Usually, a writers’ process will include:

  1. Gathering research
  2. Creating a strategy
  3. Producing the copy and getting it reviewed and revised
  4. Presenting it to the client (if it’s not you) and getting it reviewed and revised
  5. Publishing the content 
  6. Checking in for results

If your writer doesn’t have a set process, that’s a huge red flag (more of these incoming). Either they’re not organized (which is painful to deal with) or they don’t have experience delivering professional content (the quality might not be great).

3. Check-in with your writer

Check-in with your writer regularly, even if you don’t have work on at the moment. Your writer is an essential part of your team and keeping them in the loop about what’s happening in your business can make it easier for them to produce work in the future. 

So, check-in regularly with regular emails, or schedule a Zoom call to have a quick chat. I Zoom with most of the agencies I work with on a weekly or monthly basis - it’s good to talk and nurture that mutual relationship. A writer that feels like an integral part of your team will be more inclined to go that extra mile for you, it’s just human nature. 

If you’ve hit a project milestone, landed a new project, or received excellent results in your last project be sure to let your writer know. They’ll be delighted to hear about what's going on with your business and it’ll make them feel more included as a member of your team. I absolutely love to see a website I’ve worked on go live - a quick email to say ‘hey, check it out’ is all it takes. 

4. Give feedback (and make it helpful)

Giving feedback to your writer will help you get the most out of them. 

Feedback is an essential part of a cohesive working relationship with a copywriter. It helps them learn from their mistakes and allows them to grow and become a better writer for your agency. 

Try to give your writer SMART feedback so they can make the most out of what you’re saying. 

What is SMART feedback?

It’s feedback that is:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

This type of feedback will give your writer something to work towards and make it easier for them to understand exactly what you’re looking for when it comes to your content. 

Constructive criticism is also an important part of working with a copywriter. If you criticise a writers’ work and don’t tell them how they can improve to better suit your company’s needs, they won’t be able to provide you with the standard you’re expecting. Give them more than ‘this sucks, you suck, everything sucks’ - be clear in what you don’t like.

Professional writers will always be ready to take constructive criticism, because every good writer knows that there’s always room for improvement. 

When you’re giving feedback don’t forget to focus on the positives as well. Share any results you get with your copywriters so they know that they’re helping your business (or your clients’ companies) improve. 

Lastly, you should reward or show your appreciation to your copywriter if they do a good job or continue to provide you with excellent work. 

Now, most writers don’t take bribes but they are partial to a good cup of coffee and a nice biscuit. Just me? Ok then... 

Well, now you have a few tips to help you hire (and keep) the right copywriter for your agency, here are a few things to avoid. 

What red flags should you look out for when hiring a copywriter?

When hiring a copywriter there are a few red flags you should look out for to make sure you’re hiring somebody who can deliver high-quality work when you need it. 

1. If you think they’re crazy, they probably are

Writers are usually quirky people, but occasionally you get one who’s just a bit too crazy. As a professional writer, I can say this. We’re an odd bunch. 

If a writer seems to be a bit of a wild card then they might not be the right fit for your business, which could lead to some painful complications down the line. 

If something’s just off, trust your gut. 

2. Do they charge per word for website copy?

Charging by the word for website copy is a massive red flag, and if you’re thinking of hiring a writer who does this, I’d suggest considering somebody else. 

Charging by the word for blog posts is standard practice for many in the industry, but website copy is an art form in itself. It should be concise, to the point, engaging, and persuasive. 

If a writer charges by the word for website text, your website could end up being full of unnecessary words and useless paragraphs that will look like a hot mess. Sometimes (not always!), some writers will use this word stuffing technique just to raise the price of a piece of content. 

3. They don’t know how long work will take them

An experienced, professional writer, will know how long it would take them to write a piece of content. They’ll be able to give you a rough guide at the very least. Why? They’ve done it hundreds, if not thousands, of times before and they know their own capabilities. 

If they don’t know, there may be two reasons why:

  • They’re not very experienced in the type of work you’ve asked for and genuinely don’t know how long it will take
  • They might want to take their sweet time with it and charge you for an excessive amount of hours

4. They won’t let you speak to referrals

Referrals are so important when looking for the right writer to join your team and if they don’t have any, consider going elsewhere. 

Lack of referrals can either mean that they haven’t had a lot of work yet and are inexperienced, or their previous clients were not happy with their work. 

5. They don’t have examples

No matter what type of content you’re trying to buy, get examples. An established writer should be able to provide you with at least one example of each type of content they’re being hired to write. 

If they can’t provide examples then they’re either inexperienced, or their work is low quality. 

6. They don't know the lingo

If your potential new writer doesn’t know what a meta title is, has no clue what CTA stands for, or looks puzzled when you mention CTR, they may not have much experience writing for the web. 

Writing for the web is a completely different discipline than journalism or novel writing - and with it comes a different set of rules, standards, and expectations. If they don’t appear to know the basics of SEO, your content won’t be able to do its job.

Phew! We ran through a bunch of tips in this article, but I really hope it helped you in your quest to find a fantastic writer. 

One thing to remember is that, unfortunately sometimes hiring just doesn’t go to plan. But when it does go right - well that’s when the magic happens. Your life is easier. Your workload is lightened. Your clients are happy. Ultimately, as digital agency owners, isn’t that what we all want?

Have a question? Think I’ve missed something seriously obvious and important? Let me know, I’d love to talk about content with you!

abby wood

Abby is a content strategist and founder of The Content Lab, a content agency that helps digital agencies save time, increase profits, and keep customers happy through high-quality content writing. She also loves tacos, coffee, and chocolate (not at the same time though...well maybe).

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