Hiring a Copywriter? Skip Writing the  First Draft—It’ll Save You in the Long Run

It might seem helpful to outside copywriters for your team to provide a first draft. Founder Jean Tang explains why that isn't so—and why it's better to start with a conversation.

skip the first draft 2
Why a blank slate is the best thing you can give your copywriter.

“Would it be easier for your copywriters if our team writes a first draft?”

That’s a great question—and one that I hear all the time. When it comes to writing content or copy for your business, it makes sense that your marketing team would want to deliver a first draft: after all, you know the subject matter best. Right?

Yes and no.

With every respect to your team, it’s precisely because they know your subject matter so well that your first draft will likely be long-winded, overexplaining, and generally unhelpful. Or, it will be the opposite: presumptuous, under-explaining, and (you guessed it) generally unhelpful.

Your first draft creates more problems than it solves

As owner of a copywriting agency, I encounter daily the belief that by delivering a first draft of either copy (a website page) or content (a blog post), your marketing team will:

  1. Save on budget
  2. Help us copywriters grasp complex subject matter
  3. In doing so, help us hone in on the right messaging

But these assumptions almost never pan out.

First, your draft kills efficiency—and less efficiency translates into team tedium (not to mention procrastination and misery), plus higher copywriting fees.

Timewise, let’s compare the two methods. Here is the time it takes to start with a first draft:

  • You: 3 hours to several weeks to pen a monstrous piece. We’ve seen treatises approaching 3,000 to 5,000 words—when only 1,000 words were needed.
  • Writing team: 45-60 minutes to read and digest that piece.
  • Both: 30-45 minutes to speak and learn about your objectives, logic, and insights.
    • Note: Because there is so much ground to cover, this conversation is much longer with a first draft than it would be if we’re starting from scratch.
  • Writing team: 2 ½ to 3 ½ hours to edit.
    • The editing time is naturally long, since we’ll like need to restructure, rewrite in some sections, and cut things down to, say, 900 words (for a blog post) or 280 words (for a copy page).  
  • Both: 20-30 minutes to give feedback.
    • Again, the probable length of the original piece makes this process more involved than it would normally be.
  • Writing team: 10-20 minutes to revise to perfection.

TOTAL: 4 hours to 3+ weeks for you. 4 ½ to a whopping six hours for your writing team. For you, that’s time better spent networking, forging a partnership, doing business development, making a sale. For your copywriter, the extra fee could purchase more content pieces for your marketing success!

Now, here’s what it looks like without your draft:

  • Both: 20-45 minutes to chat with your copywriter.
    • The conversation is short, focused, and very very sweet.
  • Writing team: 2-3 hours (on average) to perform research and produce a crisp, polished draft.
    • There’s nothing for us to undo. It’s just a clean, user-friendly structure, built directly on the substance you—or your subject matter expert—have passed along.
  • You: 10-15 minutes to review.
    • Again, the organic process makes for a shorter review—there’s nothing you need to compare this content against, no phantom limb (of totally unnecessary words) that got amputated en route.  
  • Writing team: 10-20 minutes to revise to perfection.

TOTAL: 30-60 minutes for you. 2 ½ to 4 hours for your writing team.

So in writing a first draft, you take on four times the amount of work yourself—and add anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours to your copywriter’s effort, and corresponding fee.

There’s a great reason copywriters do what we do. Not only do we explain things crisply—we are paid to find the shortest route from strange material…to sympatico. Not only is it faster (and easier) for you to leave the first draft duties to a professional, you’ll end up with a superior result that can draw leads and prompt conversions.

By starting with a conversation, your writer can nail the messages that convert.

Because your marketing team knows so much about your business, your big picture message—the one your prospect really needs to hear—is often buried in your first draft. It’s the curse of knowledge. And it’s a conversion killer.

Here’s an anecdote to illustrate my point: An elderly lady needs a new furnace. She goes to the HVAC store, and a sales rep begins telling her all about the latest model. He goes on and on about the innovative technology, the BTUs, the company history, and so on. After 15 minutes, she stops him and says, “Yes, but will it keep an old lady warm?”

Invariably, we find there are wonderful ideas and insights buried in the drafts our clients share. But these insights—and many more—are so much more effortlessly surfaced with an in-depth strategy call.

A good copywriter already has a foundation in your subject matter—and can leverage it to unravel that layered and complex onion.

A good copywriter has spent years developing the skill to hone in on a wealth of insights—and bypass the clutter that gets in the way.

By nailing the right messaging, you create a strategy that lasts.

A great copy and content strategy is like a well-built house. You can plan the flow of the space, fill it with furniture, and decorate—all with the full confidence that you have a sturdy space that meets your needs.

Your messaging strategy should give you the same confidence. Over time, you may want to try new words, rephrase certain benefits, or update things here and there. Beneath it all, you want that sound, strategic framework. And it’s something that’s not easily reverse-engineered. Better to build it from the ground up—so it can guide your content and copy as you continue to expand.

Like brain surgery or bomb disposal, crafting copy and content for your business is one job you definitely want to trust to the pros. So before your team puts pen to paper, give us a holler and let’s get it right together—the first time.

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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