“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…

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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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