We get it: sometimes outsourcing copy feels like more work than it’s worth. When freelancers aren’t hitting the mark, marketing teams may be left rewriting their content—and contending with less budget, more effort, greater delay, and failure of momentum. But, as inevitable as this situation can seem, it’s actually easy to avoid, once you align your criteria with what works.
If you’ve found yourself in this predicament, it’s time to try a new approach. By following our tips below, you’ll be one step closer to finding a copywriter who’s poised for success the first time around—without hand holding, repetitive onboarding, or exhausting rewrites.
1) Look for adaptivity vs. specialization and expertise
Say you work in a highly technical field. Your first instinct may be to search for a writer with expert-level industry experience. I can understand why you’d do that, but it can be a mistake to put all of your eggs into one subject matter basket. This is because the magic of effective copywriting has less to do with what writers already know—and more to do with the questions they ask, and how they’ll incorporate your answers into their work. After all, this isn’t hard-hitting journalism: it’s copy, with a hard-nosed business objective.
To communicate a complicated topic in a way that’s accessible to your target audience, you need a writer highly skilled at breaking down difficult subject matter, harvesting impactful insights from that information, and adapting these insights to create an on-brand message for whatever content type you need. This is always a challenge—but it’s one that can prove insurmountable for anyone resting on the laurels of what they know, vs. “solving” for each new and unique copy and business dilemma. These copywriters may have become rusty in—or never really developed—the art of radical inquiry and exploration: at every crucial level of audience engagement.
That’s why the best copywriters are adaptive. Backed with a sheen of industry familiarity, they can and do dive into new subjects every day—relentlessly driving toward core insights, such as knowing when to take something at face value—and when to push for further detail.
Bit by bit, these copywriters discover what audiences seek—and why their clients are the answer. They then take these insights to build a compelling story or message—and if for some reason their first draft isn’t right, they can instantaneously forge new approaches and rebuild: long before you or anyone from your team has laid eyes on it. If you find that your freelancer writer’s work isn’t getting to the heart of your message, it may be time to pivot to a skilled copywriting generalist who can strategize the best way to write, well, anything.
2) Focus on research vs. rote knowledge
Even the copywriters most knowledgeable about specific industries aren’t going to know everything, right? A technology-savvy writer will still need to read about the latest developments in 6G wireless, deep neural networks, or wearable AI. A healthcare-focused writer still needs to learn the viewpoint of your chief medical officer when it comes to telehealth, gene therapy, or new Covid strains—and support their POV with brand-appropriate citations. That’s what makes research the next crucial criteria: the ability to quickly find authoritative sources to support each prong of your argument—and lead to a thoroughly persuasive conclusion.
This ultimately saves you time, so you don’t have to supply every fact or statistic for inclusion in the finished work, or send something back to your copywriter for substantiating. While it can be productive for you to point them in the right direction, you won’t have to worry if you don’t have time to assemble an exhaustive list of information yourself. They can figure out which sources are reliable—and which ones aren’t—after doing this time after time.
3) Consider a team vs. a single copywriter
A third reason freelancers may deliver less-than-stellar work is that they’re a one-person team. You may have heard the phrase, “every writer needs an editor.” This is universally apt; it applies to novelists, academic writers, and yes, copywriters.
Writing requires a vast breadth of skills: from investigation to big picture understandings to a nose for narrative, flair and brevity to detail orientation. Everyone has blind spots; few have mastered every facet; thus a third-party perspective is gold. Copywriters and content marketers are no exception—but we’ll break down the need into a few categories here:
- Category 1: accuracy of message. Is the copywriter accurately reflecting your brand message—or is something off? This requires attentive listening (or an attentive read of a brand brief) to correctly represent all relevant components of your brand, from your mission and vision to your value proposition to your offering(s). Being off on these will lead almost inevitably to a rewrite. For purposes of clarity, we’ve pulled audience orientation and voice into categories 2 and 3.
- Category 2: accuracy of audience orientation. For example, content intended for executives may fall a few rungs short; instead of delivering the high-level summary (which busy executives crave), the content’s addled with unsophisticated explanations, unnecessary detail, and other muck. Content intended for specialists may miss a crucial level of nuance—treating as black and white something that’s actually entirely gray. Content intended for lay people might be too technical or jargon-filled—sailing right over their heads. It will all miss the mark, causing audiences to click off in impatience, frustration, lack of relevance, failure to connect, and other misalignments. And yes, you will find yourself rewriting—or sending the writer back to the drawing board.
- Category 3: accuracy of voice. Is the voice on par with the rest of your content? The copywriter should be able to channel your brand’s voice after reading examples of other content you’ve published. If it doesn’t align well, your audience will notice, leading to confusion about your brand and doubt about the quality and consistency of your product or service.
- Category 4: power of structure and approach. Simply put: is the copywriter taking the most powerful approach for this audience—to get them from point A to point B? Do they encapsulate all relevant and persuasive pointers, without dwelling too long on each one? Does the information adopt the right hierarchy—either putting the most crucial points up top (as in the case of website copy or a one-pager), or building curiosity, suspense, and momentum: layer by fascinating layer (as in the case of an effective blog title and post)? Content that falls short can be published anyway. But it won’t get the results you want.
- Category 5: adequacy of support. Just because your content isn’t hard-hitting journalism doesn’t mean your copywriter can make unfounded claims. Each point should be supported by information found through a reliable source online—or data gathered from internal software or surveys. Today’s audiences are sensitive to any content that comes across as overly salesy or inauthentic; substantiating statistics in your copy is an easy way to mitigate their skepticism.
- Category 6: word choice. This is the category people normally think of when it comes to editing. Here’s where editors go a long way toward clarifying confusion, reducing wordiness, eliminating awkwardness, adding texture, and setting everything to a rhythm that’s pleasing to the brain and spirit (as our founder says). These adjustments—little or big—further amplify power and effectiveness. The resulting content—easy to digest, follow, absorb, and understand—is consequently easier to act on.
- Category 7: clean copy (lack of typos and other errors). Apt editors also function as proofreaders, sweeping away typos and errors in grammar and punctuation. Compared to categories 1-5, we’d say this is fairly minor—but of course, you want polished work, not something that looks like it’s been thrown together with little time or effort.
All of these categories ensure that effectiveness isn’t a piece by piece accident or coincidence. It’s consistent, regardless of who wrote it.
When you find a writing team that has an internal system for editing, you’ll likely find your content hitting each of these categories without too much further thought on your part—and certainly without any rewrites.
MarketSmiths Case Study
Named a Cool Vendor in Human Capital Management by Gartner, PeopleDoc delivers end-to-end HR services and a document management platform. When work on the amount and variety of content necessary to engage customers and generate new leads began to overwhelm, marketer Jolene Nicotina decided to outsource. She tapped MarketSmiths to deliver a steady stream of blog posts that were at once light-hearted and on-target. Soon after, the benefits of a collaborative copywriting team made themselves known to PeopleDoc: traffic grew by 40% compared to the previous year, and one post was featured as a Google Snippet. Jolene herself was even able to save a staggering three business days a month—all thanks to the power of elevating copy.
4) Hold yourself accountable
If you find that after scouring your writers for the above, you’re still struggling to procure top-tier content, it might be worth taking a step back and evaluating whether or not you’re enabling your writing partners’ success. If applicable, have subject matter experts—such as your internal authors and authorities—made themselves available for interviews? Have you set parameters regarding tone, length, and format for the piece? Is your guidance and feedback consistent and helpful? Have you provided the writer with sufficient lead time? While an astute and effective copywriter should insist on a process that can set them up for success, it’s a marketer’s role as well to set realistic expectations.
Price can be another sticking point. If you find yourself delivering all of the right foundational materials, investigate whether you’re sabotaging your outcomes with a budget that’s too meager to procure quality. If that’s not persuasive enough for your boss or procurement team, see if you can price out the time spent searching for new writers, onboarding and instructing the writers you find, and ultimately rewriting their work. See if you can price out the cost of delay—and loss of momentum and growth. Once you factor in the impact of unnecessary effort and stagnation, you’ll likely be able to justify what your ‘real’ budget should be. Remember: you get what you pay for, and that might not be much.
So: don’t put all your copywriting eggs into one basket of supposed expertise. Learn about the writer’s research chops. And consider a team with a tried-and-true process—even if you have to pay “more.” At the end of the day, that “more” might translate into a daily weight off your shoulders—and the “miracle” of systematic growth and momentum.
Ready to stop rewriting? Get in touch with the writing team at MarketSmiths for high quality content the first time.