This is a question I’m asked a scarily large proportion of the time when I tell people what I do. I think most people don’t really think about where the words on websites, adverts, or spoken in TV adverts come from. That’s the art of copywriting.
A copywriter can be specific – such as only writing scripts for radio adverts – or broad (like me). Copy is simply our name for written content. That’s why you’ll often find a large crossover between ‘copywriter’ and ‘content marketer’ – the main difference between the two only really being how involved in social media the freelancer is. A content marketer tends to be able to deliver more strategic elements on social media whereas a copywriter will (usually) only write the words. That’s not a hard-and-fast rule, however, and the crossover makes the writing field very blurry indeed.
Why does my business need a copywriter?
Whether you have an in-house writer or hire freelance copywriters for certain projects, it’s highly advisable to employ the specific skills of a writer for your marketing and branding campaigns.
I’ve covered this in detail here, but the quick version is this: you’ll pay people to look after your health, you might pay a personal trainer, you definitely pay council taxes for services like refuse collection. All the roles which have a specific skillset will have people trained to deliver a high standard of those skills.
It’s just the same for writing. Being able to construct a sentence does not mean you are a writer. Content marketing often falls through the gaps because marketing teams don’t have the experience or resources to spend time developing effective copywriting skills.
A hired hand, or in-house content marketer, has trained (often over many years) in the art of writing effective copy that sells.
Why does copy need to ‘sell’?
It’s the whole point of your business communications! Even if you’re a non-profit or a charity seeking to raise awareness of a cause, you still need to sell your ideas to the public. Making people sit up and listen is the art of selling: that’s where effective copy has the most impact.
What counts as ‘copy’ then?
Everything a business puts out in the written word is definitely copy. This also branches out to the spoken word for TV and radio adverts, but for simplicity let’s focus on written content.
This means any:
- Online guest post
- Print advert
- Social media post
- Press release
- Direct mail
- Website product copy
If it had to be written, it’s copy.
Does every copywriter do every type of copy?
No, and for good reason: every type of copy requires a different technique to be an effective sales tool.
Many copywriters are technically able to cover all types of copy, and will likely have covered each channel within their portfolio at some stage. However, the more experience a copywriter becomes the more likely they are to specialise.
This does mean one thing: higher rates. You’re paying for a niche specialism, so you should expect to pay higher rates for greater experience.
(As an aside, my key areas are online: social, blogs, guest posts, articles, e-books, and such like. I do other stuff, too – get in touch to find out if I can help your business.)
What can I expect when I hire a copywriter?
A good copywriter will give you a free consultation to understand your business needs and help you create a specific brief for the project. Once a brief is confirmed, the copywriter will usually send over a contract for the project – once signed, the writing can begin!
Some copywriters will request a percentage fee up-front prior to starting work – this is common practice and does not reflect a lack of trust in your business! Freelancers need to eat too, and large projects that would take months for payment will often be split into three or four stages: up-front fee, one or two mid-project payments on delivery of agreed KPIs, and the final payment.
A copywriter will also include an agreed number of revisions and edits in their contract with you. This is not for entire re-writes or hugely changed briefs: for that, you need to re-negotiate. However if you feel a message has been missed, or the tone isn’t feeling quite right, that’s something that counts as a revision. A good rule of thumb is that a revision should take no more than 10% of the initial project time.
What if I change my mind after hiring a copywriter?
This happens very frequently, and it’s something copywriters are very used to. They understand that business needs are fluid and change all the time. However, that doesn’t mean you can just drop a project. You need to expect to pay for ‘time served’ on a project as it were, and you should also be sure to check your contract with your copywriter to see if there is a cancellation fee also required.
Is it better to have a freelance or payroll copywriter?
This really depends on many factors. The size of your business, the type of product or service you produce, and your marketing budget all count towards this decision.
You may find it more cost-effective to take on a part-time copywriter on payroll than a freelancer – and if you’re looking at long-term work with a particular writer, it’s worth having this conversation with them. While it reduces their overall fee, it’ll often work in both your favour and theirs: they get regular guaranteed work, and you know that you can call on them on their set days and have their undivided attention.
A freelance copywriter is ideal for ad-hoc projects, or if you don’t have the budget for an in-house content marketer but understand the need for regular blogs and e-shots for your customers. If you establish a good working relationship with a freelancer, you’ll often benefit from reduced rates and preferential deadlines as they’ll know you’re a guaranteed route of work (and that you pay on time – that’s important too!).
If communications is a huge part of your business, it’s essential to have a content marketer or copywriter in-house as full-time as you can afford. It’s not just the marketing department they’ll be able to help out: I’ve often worked with every department in a business in my employed roles, to train the art of business writing, tonality, and social media etiquette. Your business will benefit from having someone always there to check in-house communications as well as all outgoing material, and you’ll feel that brand tonality is consistent across the board.
Where do I hire freelance copywriters?
Well, apart from me (hellooo! You can hire me here), there are many sites for freelance copywriters. A word of advice: avoid cheap content mills such as Fiverr. You might think you’re getting an absolute bargain, but really you’ll end up with sub-par content. A writer will charge what they’re worth – so if they charge pennies, don’t expect the next War and Peace landing on your desk any time soon.
Upwork is the marrying of former Elance and Odesk sites, and this is a place where writers can bid for work. There are many sites like this, with Guru being another popular one in the UK. Again, don’t always go for the highest bid: check out their portfolio first. You can also post freelance jobs on recruitment sites – especially if it’s a longer contract, regular work, or very niche.
Finally: ask around. So many people I’ve known haven’t even realised I’m a writer until it gets mentioned in conversation, and this is how many projects are secured. Word of mouth is a powerful sales tool – so ask your friends and colleagues if they can recommend someone. Good testimonials alongside a portfolio are a sign of a reliable and competent writer.