7 things to look for when choosing a copywriter

Copywriter. As a job title, it’s pretty lame, and you’d think we, of all people, would be able to come up with something better. We do a whole lot more than writing. But we seem to be stuck with it for the moment, so if a copywriter is what you need, how do you go about picking one?
We’ve asked a few of our clients why they choose to work with us, and here are their top 7 priorities. If you’ve got other ideas, please do add them in the comments, or email me.

1. Customer Service

That’s right. Top of the list WASN’T writing skills. So many of our clients have asked, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find a good, reliable freelance writer?”

Whether you’re an agency looking for specific extra skills, or a business hoping to build a relationship with a writer, you want to be sure they’ll be available, flexible and offer a professional, agency-style level of service. Take the time to ask them about how they work– and if you haven’t already seen client testimonials, ask for some. They should be happy to put you in touch with a previous client if you ask.

2. Credibility

What’s their track record? Can they show that they understand your business? It’s not always necessary for a good writer to have worked in your sector, by the way. A good writer should be versatile enough to work in more or less any industry. But just because your favourite dog-groomer recommends their social media content writer, don’t assume that writer will be a best fit for your corporate finance website.

3. Curiosity

Questions, questions, always questions. If your writer comes back to you with queries, it’s usually not because they don’t get the brief. (Unless it was vague–in which case, any writer worth their salt will get all diplomatic with you rather than swanning off to write something when they haven’t got a clue what you need.) Learning about new stuff is one of the joys of the job, and that curiosity feeds better writing and better results for you. Those killer phrases don’t materialise out of nowhere, though. That’s why they’ll ask loads of questions, and allow for research time in their quote to you.

4. Strategic insights

Brief a good writer and you shouldn’t be surprised if they come back at you with questions about your business or marketing strategy. In fact, if they don’t quiz you about what you’re trying to achieve, at least the first time you work with them, it’s time to get suspicious. To do our job properly, we need to understand your business and your existing and potential customers. We’re not creating masterworks of fiction here, we’re making words work for your business. How can we do that without strategic insights?

5. Brand savvy

Words remain at the heart of how you communicate your brand. Yes, imagery and video are vital in today’s world, but you still use language to define your offer and to have conversations with your customers. Your writer should understand how brands are built and sustained, with an instinct for tone of voice understanding how subtle nuances of language can strengthen, or chip away at, your brand’s core.

6. Creativity

Writers are storytellers. Whether we’re creating a world inside our readers’ heads, or shaping a brand, we’re telling a story. That takes a particular way of looking at the world, finding connections and using words to tease the senses. There’s a view of writers as solitary creatures hunched over a laptop–some are, it’s true, but a great copywriter is often a collaborator at heart, inspired by working as part of a creative team. How inspired by your brief does yours sound?

7. Writing ability

Surprised to see this one last on the list? I’m not. Loads of people can write, and many of them can write well. But it takes a professional writer to combine creativity with strategic insight, and the ability to get inside your customer’s head with a powerful turn of phrase, and prompt action.
If you think you need help from a writer, talk to us about your project and we’ll happily advise on the particular skills you’ll need to look for.

Follow our blog to make sure you don’t miss out on essential things to include when briefing a copywriter.

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3 things a copywriter can do that you can’t.* And 1 thing they won’t.**

What does a copywriter actually do, anyway?

I get asked this question a lot. And I mean a lot. But even if you think you know what a copywriter does, the answer isn’t simply: writes stuff.

Let’s start with what they won’t do. They can’t help you with the legal process of protecting your intellectual property against theft**. That’s copyright ©, and for that you need a copyright lawyer. So if that’s what you’re looking for advice about, it’s been lovely having you along for the ride, but you’ll probably want to hop off now.

Put simply: a copywriter works with words. They write the words that go into your website, brochure, catalogue, or email campaign. They’ll plan and implement a marketing campaign, write reports and case studies, and even write your industry award entry for you.

Anything that uses words to promote your business needs a copywriter.

These days, of course, that also means understanding SEO and writing all that lovely stuff known as ‘content’ – blog posts, social media, video captions and scripts, as well as product descriptions.

But to do any of that, we do a lot more than just writing. We research, interview, think, write, question, edit, think, edit again, and proofread. We learn about your business and your industry, craft and adapt to your brand’s tone of voice, and find the words that talk directly to your audience.

But I’m the business owner, and I can write. What can a copywriter do that I can’t?

Offer you a different perspective

A good copywriter will ask a whole lot of searching questions. That’s because they’ll want to understand your company, your audience, and your aims for whatever they’re writing. They’ll look at it in context (what will this sit with?) and from every angle. Because they are on the outside of your business they’ll challenge your perceptions and suggest creative ideas you might not have considered.

Be objective

It can be hard to critique your own work. A copywriter looks at every word from your audience’s viewpoint, and isn’t precious about cutting stuff out. The turn of phrase they were really pleased with? Ego doesn’t come into it. If it doesn’t meet the brief, out it comes. If you’ve tried writing, you know it can be a painful process. We will take that pain away.

Their job, rather than yours.

If you’re a business owner, your job is to work on your business. It isn’t to spend hours burning the candle at both ends and second-guessing your audience as you write your own brochure copy, web copy, blog posts, email campaigns, social media posts…

That’s a copywriter’s job. Using one saves you time, and gets better results for your business.

Let’s have words…

*probably.**unless they also happen to be a copyright lawyer.

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A wonderful world of words

This is one of my favourite charity shop trophies, picked up years ago in the Oxfam bookshop. It was originally published in 1874, and contains a treasure trove of archaic words. As the cover text suggests, it illustrates “the extraordinary roots and versatility of the English language. Charles Mackay…has bequeathed to us a wonderful literary legacy. For what was deemed ‘lost’ in 1874 may be reinvented for the twentieth century, and so prove and excellent, delightful and unusual sourcebook for verbaphiles, writers and every-day literary enthusiasts.”

My copy was printed in 1987, and I am as fascinated and amused by words which remain archaic as I am by those which, ‘lost’ in 1874, have indeed become commonplace once again. Then there are those words which are commonplace now – but with a meaning that appears to have evolved since Charles Mackay’s day.

I hope you will enjoy a few of them as I share some of my favourites with you, week by week. The old definitions are copied verbatim from Charles Mackay’s book. Modern definitions where used, are from the OED.

Aftermath } the pasture after the grass has been mowed; a second mowing or crop

more commonly used today in the sense of:

Aftermath } the results of an unpleasant or important event

Or how about this useful little fellow?

 

Alder } a prefix formerly used to intensify the meaning of an adjective in the superlative degree, as if to better the best and heighten the highest.

As in:

Alderbest } best of all

Aldermost } greatest, or most of all

 

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“I only want a few words. You won’t charge me much, will you?”

In a famous 1918 anecdote, US President Woodrow Wilson was asked how long he took to prepare speeches.

“That depends on the length of the speech,” answered the President. “If it is a ten-minute speech it takes me all of two weeks to prepare it; if it is a half-hour speech it takes me a week; if I can talk as long as I want to it requires no preparation at all. I am ready now.”

In my brand copywriting business, I’m often asked, “how long will it take you to write me a blog post?” Followed by, “it would take me hours, but you can probably knock them out in half an hour, right?”

Well, possibly. But more likely not. Not if you want something properly researched, original and engaging to your readers.

We’ve experienced a common misconception that, because someone is a professional writer, they have a superpower that enables them to dash off a few hundred words in the time it takes normal mortals to boil the kettle.

There is a grain of truth in this, because often, by the time we sit down to write, we complete a first draft pretty quickly. But to enable us to do that, we’ll also have spent considerable time on any or all of these other activities:

  • discussing the brief face-to-face or on phone, Skype, or email to understand your business, customers brand and objective
  • researching what’s already written by and about you – read websites, blog posts, watched videos and trawled your social media posts
  • researching your competitors
  • if you’ve provided a verbal brief, developing a written brief to confirm requirements
  • brainstorming ideas with other members of your creative team
  • sketching out ideas, sometimes dozens of them, looking at different ways of getting your message across to your audience
  • considering how those ideas fit your brand, tone of voice, personality…
  • researching the facts and figures relating to whatever we’re writing.

So by the time we get round to writing, the information we need has spent hours, or even days, percolating and buzzing around in our brains. That’s why, when we give you a price, we’re not charging per word (though there are some copywriters who do, bizarrely). We’re accounting for the value to your business of all the thinking we’ve been doing; all the strategy, research, planning and idea generating to ensure that what we’re producing delivers results for your business. Oh, and our rates also take into account the years (or decades, in some cases) of experience it took us to build up the expertise you’re investing in.

Of course, there are websites which offer to chuck out a blog post for a few quid. If you’re OK with that, I’m not going to try and change your mind, and, hell, everyone deserves the chance to earn a living. But, if you value your brand and respect your readers, you’ll understand why quality, bespoke content written by someone who has taken the time to understand what’s needed is worth the investment – as opposed to something possibly pilfered from somewhere else. Just as with anything else, it pays to invest in the best quality you can afford.

I’d love to know what you think. Let’s have words…

Word of the Week

Chang } the humming noise of the conversation of a great number of persons, or the singing of a great number of birds.

We’re looking forward to a good day of chang at #Maidstone #GrowKent B2B on Wednesday!

 

How often do we make a pig’s ear of listening?

 

Recently, I’ve been involved in an email exchange which has left me variously perplexed, amused and frustrated.

Someone I met whilst networking a few weeks ago sees me as a prospect.

Whilst I like to keep an open mind, in this case I’m pretty sure that I am not a prospect, and that it’s highly unlikely I ever will be.

I’ve been polite. I’ve explained that I’m already aware of their organisation. That, as a consumer rather than a business, I’m a customer, and that I’ve already declined opportunities to further the relationship. I’ve stressed that my business focus lies elsewhere.

The latest reply suggests that my options are:

i. be blunt to the extent of saying ‘I have NO interest in this’,

ii. block, or ignore, future communications.

Neither of which feels comfortable. And ii. feels downright unprofessional.

Would you agree?

Even less comfortable is the realisation that I may have put one of our own potential clients in a similar position.

It was a different scenario, in they had actually approached us asking for advice. And I did listen very hard to what they were telling me about what their business needed. Unfortunately, what they needed wasn’t what they wanted.

Having thoroughly digested all the information they gave me, my certainty that they needed ‘B’ (when what they were asking for was ‘A’), may have caused me to close my ears to what they were telling me they were ready to buy.

My dilemma was to either:

i. quote for, and provide, exactly what they were asking for, even though I knew that, on its own, it wouldn’t achieve the results they wanted,

or,

ii. write a proposal recommending an approach that delivered what my experience told me they needed, even though I knew they were unlikely to make the additional investment.

I chose the latter. They understood what I was getting at, but still just wanted ‘A’, and got a bit frustrated when I wouldn’t sell it to them.

Having listened to what they wanted, but heard what they needed, taking their cash to deliver something that I was sure wasn’t going to work would have felt wrong. We didn’t get the client that time, but we have had some positive subsequent conversations, and we’re still on good terms.

What would you have done?

Word of the Week

Backstand } resistance

That’s all Charles Mackay has to say about it, and a modern dictionary search turns up: a device for regulating machinery belt tension.

Today, as we take in the atrocity of the Manchester Arena bombing, our hearts go out to those caught up in it, and our heartfelt thanks go to those helping to deal with it – whether in the emergency services, or simply by having offered shelter and human kindness. I can’t help thinking that we’re all going to be doing a lot more backstanding in the months and years to come.

 

 

What’s acceptable at a B2B exhibition – are you poacher or gamekeeper?

Over the last couple of years of building up my brand communications business, I’ve been occasionally helping out on a stand for one of my favourite creative partners. It’s helped them out, got my business out there, and calmed the exhibition nerves to the extent that we’re ready to go it alone at Grow Kent in June.

It’d be lovely to see some friendly faces, but that’s not why I’m here right now.

I’m puzzled, and hoping you can help.

You see, yesterday, at the Kent B2B in Ashford, a couple of chaps from another creative agency (delegates, not exhibitors) rocked up to the stand I was partnering on, hung around eating the sherbet lemons, fiddling with the literature and awards and generally blocking the stand, and then started handing out their own business cards to people we were having conversations with.

We didn’t like to cause a scene at the time, but, erm, hello…?

What I’d like to know from all you seasoned exhibitors is:

  • Do you consider this acceptable behaviour either from delegates or other exhibitors?
  • If your answer to the above is ‘no’, how would you deal with it?
  • If your answer to the above is ‘yes’, it’d be interesting to know why you think so.

Thank you for your time and thoughts.

Let’s have words…

We love words

We love using them to tell stories, to engage, delight or provoke. We love having conversations with our clients, and helping them to have better, more productive conversations with their customers –  developing more meaningful relationships and helping them build stronger brands.

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