A Foolproof Guide to Hiring an Effective Copywriter…the First Time Around

It may not be obvious what differentiates a good copywriter from a bad one. But here are some essential questions to help you and your team in your search.

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Everyone writes. But not everyone is a copy or content writer. While it can be tempting to “cut corners” and write your company’s copy or content in-house, poorly chosen words—on your website, email campaign, corporate brochure, even a sales proposal—can reduce your prospects, gain apathy vs. intrigue, impact closed revenue, and delay business growth.

But hiring an outside writer isn’t easy. Great writers are difficult to come by. Guidelines are sparse, and evaluation seems subjective, arbitrary, even impossible. This may result in inertia, or prompt a hasty, expensive choice because you heard the words “professional writer” and assumed that the person could do the job. Not every writer knows how to produce results–or even please the client with his writing.

Fortunately, identifying the ideal copywriter for your company is a task that’s well within your team’s reach.

  • Does he or she (we’ll use “she” for simplicity) seem to “get” it? 

The best copywriters start with two crucial traits: insight and curiosity. One (curiosity) drives the other (insight), and then feeds back to produce more (curiosity).

When talking to a copywriter about your website copy, do you sense comprehension for the bigger picture? During your starter conversation, is she asking the right questions, listening attentively (this is key!), and exploring further at points that matter most? Did the conversation drive things forward? Has she grasped your value proposition? If you can answer yes to two out of these three questions, that’s a good sign!

  • What is this writer dedicated to? Does she work daily to master her craft?

Mastery comes with repetition and practice, so yes: experience matters. A copywriter who is seasoned in delivering effective copy or content—in the format you require (website copy, blog post, email campaign, etc.)—will handle your copywriting needs better than one with only a few projects under her belt.

But be careful! Don’t judge based on quantity alone. Ask her about one or two favorite projects. Does she speak about it / them with confidence, passion, and pride? She doesn’t need to wear these emotions on her sleeve, but confidence about past work–and pride in methodology and result–is a strong sign of continued success.

  • Do her samples hold up under scrutiny? 

Ask for samples–and then read them. Forget about style, tone, and word choice, just for now. Instead, evaluate the most important element: strategy.

Are you engaged from the get-go? Do the titles and main headings capture your attention? Do the initial passages then hold on tight?

Is the content organized in a way that makes it easy for a reader to notice, read, and digest? Or is it scattered and confusing?

Does she frame her subject matter with care—and cause you to believe what you read? Or do you spot logical loopholes, over-glibness, structural disorganization (like points half-made and then returned to, like an afterthought), unnecessary repetition, or other barriers to trust?

Is it crystal clear what makes the company unique? Can you instantly grasp the value to the customer? Or does she throw in the kitchen sink, naming everything as great—but losing your trust and belief along the way?

Do the words motivate you to take the required action? Do the benefits seem real and tangible?

If you’re answering resounding yeses, this continues to be a great sign—even if you’re not a fan of the topic or specific style of writing! This writer is capable of moving the needle for your team!

  • Can she maneuver and channel different tones? Do you see a healthy range of voices and styles? 

The best copywriters are Method actors: on paper. They’re able to shift nimbly from one style to another. (They can shape-shift among formats, too—see #6.) They can shape-shift voices, too—and channel a style that identifies specifically to your brand.

Then, if required, they can turn up the playful, luxe, or snarky. They can censor themselves for the ultra-serious, oozing sophistication, cleverness, subtlety.

If required, they can write short, medium, and long—and doctor the message just so. They can even dial the grade level up or down—simplifying when needed, or building out complexities.

Do you see ample evidence of this range in the provided samples? If yes, score one for the writer!

  • Does the data back up her claims?

As mentioned in the second test, a great copywriter confidently believes in her abilities—and sells you accordingly. But don’t just take her word that she’s a pro. Any copywriter can claim that their copy brings results.

Before signing any contracts, ask to see hard data, like a rise in traffic, a high email open rate, or a sale that can be traced to the strength of a written piece. The best copywriters have strings of ROI examples–and can tell you how they got there.

If she’s got it, ask for details. If she doesn’t, find out why.

  • Bonus: Is this writer schooled in multiple formats and industries?

Great copywriters can be format specialists. Perhaps they only ghostwrite books, pen email content, or blog. That’s not a bad thing. But if you are looking for a copywriting to carry you through the year, you might want more of a generalist.

It’s our contention that the best copywriters are industry generalists, too. Rather than memorizing knowledge or leveraging what they already know, they’re experts at scouring for insights; diving into new industries, ideas, and concepts; and zeroing in on the points that matter. Since their key role is to build a bridge between your audience and your service(s) or product(s)—and coax readers to cross, it’s not a bad thing if they undergo this journey themselves.

For more tips on how to make copywriting your most powerful marketing weapon, sign up here.

Jean Tang

Jean Tang

A champion of high-end content, Jean is a living tribute to copywriting for humans. In 2012, at a TEDx talk, she declared her now widely viewed “War Against Bland.” The visionary founder of MarketSmiths, Jean leads her growing team to captivate, inspire, and motivate readers. She has helped thousands of global clients generate revenue from words (up to 12,000% ROI), and transformed the writing of hundreds of seminar attendees at the SXSW Interactive Festival (2014 and 2015), SXSW V2V (2014), the Small Business Summit (2014, NYC), and other venues.

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