7 Smart Questions to Ask Before You Hire a Copywriter

Last week I was chatting with Joe, a new business owner. He was just getting started with online marketing and had a lot of questions about adding a copywriter to his team.

He brought up a problem that many business owners and content managers face when it’s time to hire a copywriter.

“I’d like to outsource to a writer,” he said, “but it’s hard to find the right person.”

He explained that the last writer he’d hired was eager to start, but dragged his feet during the project and turned in a product that fell short of expectations. “Now I’m behind because I have to start over on the content. How do I make sure that doesn’t happen again?”

My advice: Clarify your goals and needs before approaching a writer.

When we’re getting ready to add someone to our team — whether it’s a copywriter, designer, or assistant — the natural inclination is to jump on Google or LinkedIn, ask colleagues for recommendations, browse portfolios, and maybe set up a few Skype meetings.

That’s what I’ve done in the past when I’ve hired help with my business, too.

But I want you to do better.

There’s actually a lot of internal dialog that should happen first (whether it’s between you and your business partner, you and your team, or just you) before you invite a freelancer to meet about your project.

And if you already know the answers to these questions when you sit down with your potential freelancer, it becomes a simple “yes/no” conversation.

So before you even start looking for copywriters, here’s what I’d ask you to consider:

1. What do we need written, exactly?

Don’t rely on your copywriter to tell you which pages or pieces you need. Do you want a short- or long-form sales letter? Do you want a page that sells all your products in one place, or do you need a separate page for each product? Are you looking for a whitepaper or an ebook?

Map out how readers will get to your content — ads, social media, referrals, etc. — as well as what action you’d like them to take on each page.

2. Who will be responsible for planning, organizing, editing, publishing, and promoting?

You should expect your writer to provide an upfront quote for your project. Keep in mind that this price doesn’t typically include extras like topic development, publishing blog posts, and social media promos — unless you specifically ask for them. However, many writers are happy to offer these services at an additional cost. Consider all the pieces you’ll need to plan and promote your content from start to finish, and ask your writer to clearly define what is and isn’t included.

3. What is our budget for this project?

Good writing doesn’t come cheap. Of course, you can snag a copywriter on Elance for $1/page…and a few of those cut-rate copywriters are talented freelancers living on ramen while trying to “get experience”. But frankly, if a copywriter knows he or she can bring in $10,000 in sales for your business, don’t expect to pay $10 for it.

That’s not to say that expensive=quality. You’ll find plenty of shoddy copywriters charging exorbitant rates. Bottom line: know how much value professional copy can add to your business and how much you are willing to pay for it. (You can find AWAI’s guidelines for general copywriting prices here.)

4. How soon do we need this?

Most writers will require at least two weeks lead time. Many will have a backlog of clients. Plus, it takes time to find the right person. Ideally, you should start vetting writers a few months before your project needs to be done.

If you’re having a new site or content piece designed, I strongly recommend hiring a copywriter before hiring a designer. For the smoothest user experience, your copy should dictate your design — not vice versa.

Additionally, most designers will want your copy before they start work — so if they design it around your old copy, you may end up making (major) changes. Skip the hassle and hire your writer first.

5. Are we going to be available for the briefing process, revisions, etc.?

Hiring a copywriter can save you hours (read: more time for the parts of your business that need you). But it still requires a time investment on your part.

Every copywriter works a little differently. Some may ask you to fill out a written questionnaire, others will complete a brief by phone. Be wary if a writer says they can start “right away” without a brief. That will only end in misery for both of you.

Once your writer starts working, you’ll need to be available by email or phone for questions and revisions.

6. How will we keep our efforts consistent?

Many businesses have an ongoing need for copy and content. If that’s true for you, think about how the writer will fit into your business for the long term. Does he or she offer a range of services that encompasses your needs, or will you have to hire multiple different people to all the work you need done? (That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s worth considering.) How will this fit into your big-picture goals and budget?

That said, it’s smart to start your relationship with a small, paid test project to get a feel for working together and make sure you’re a good fit. .

7. Do you trust your new copywriter?

Spend time looking at potential writers’ portfolios, reading reviews, and getting to know their style and process. Once you find a copywriter who’s seems like a good match and make it clear what you want, give him or her room to work.

Most writers are open to input and revisions (note: it’s a vital part of my process), but prefer that you leave the actual writing to them. If you’re feeling uneasy about letting go of the reins, you may not have found the right copywriter yet.
If you’re thinking of working with a copywriter, what’s your biggest hesitation? If you’ve worked with a copywriter before, what would you add to this list?

-Christine

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  • Cara July 10, 2015, 12:57 pm

    This is really good advice, applicable far beyond even copy writing. 🙂

    • Christine Lellis July 10, 2015, 2:05 pm

      Absolutely, Cara- I bet this is true with hiring a graphic designer like you, or any creative pro. Thanks for stopping by!