Ask These Three Questions Before Hiring a Copywriter

Person writing on notepad.

Your boss has had enough. He agrees with you that there’s too much writing work to do and not enough in-house peoplepower (combining men + women + power) to do it.

He asks you to find a copywriter. In the long term, hiring a professional will ease your work load, but in the meantime, you have a new assignment in your job description. Find the right copywriter. Your manager may make the final decision, but he’s depending on you to do the homework.

Who do you recommend to hire? It’s important to choose the right one, not only to look good for the boss. You’ll be the main contact for the copywriter, so find someone you prefer to work with.

Three Important Questions

Let’s look at the three important questions to ask before hiring a copywriter.

1. What’s your Commander’s Intent?

I’m rereading Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, a book that discusses six principles of making an idea “sticky,” in other words, memorable or interesting. The idea of “stickiness” was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point. Authors, Chip and Dan Heath, discuss how a concept they’ve copied from the U.S. Army is useful in making people successful in complex operations.

Will the concept help you get the best work out of a copywriter?

Yes, it will.

The concept is Commander’s Intent. “It is a crisp, plain talk statement that appears at the top of every order specifying the plan’s goal. Commander’s Intent manages to align the behavior of soldiers at all levels without requiring play-by-play instructions from their leaders.”

When you compose up your Commander’s Intent (CI), the copywriter gets the essence of what you’re trying to achieve.

Before you talk with a copywriter, figure out your Commander’s Intent.

The authors pose two questions to help a manager create a CI. I’ve adapted the questions for your use. Your marketing project may not possess the same complexity of a military operation, but as you can attest from day-to-day experience, some days can be fraught with headaches.

Answering the following questions will help you create your CI:

If we do nothing else with this project, we must …

The single most important thing we must do with this project is …

For example, your boss has decided to launch an email newsletter campaign to send to your clients. Some clients you serve every day, and for others, it’s been years since you did marketing projects for them. We need to do regular personal outreach to clients, your manager is thinking.

What’s your CI?

Answering the two questions:

If we do nothing else with the email newsletter campaign to clients, we must increase the number of clients who read and respond to the newsletter.

In the email newsletter to clients, the single most important thing we must do is communicate content that’s useful, unique, and focused on the clients’ needs.

Once you’ve written the desired outcome with clarity, what the writer produces will be more aligned with your expectations.

2. Has the copywriter done the work before and what was the result?

Find out if she’s done the work before and what results she has achieved. Ask to see similar work to the project you’re considering. Is the copywriter agreeable for you to talk to her clients to verify the results? If so, talk to her clients to learn what she was like to work with and how satisfied they were with her work.

How do you feel about her portfolio? Is this the style you’re looking for?

Now, you may have a referral of a copywriter or two. That’s helpful. You still want to know, however, what type of writing work they have done.

3. Will the copywriter provide a proposal?

When we’re dissatisfied with the results of a venture, if we pause and reflect, we can often trace the origin of the problem at the project’s beginning. We assume the contractor knows what we want, so we don’t clarify our needs and wants before he begins.

Copywriters are not mind-readers.

You may have points that are important to you, but the only way the writer would know this is if you tell them.

I was reminded of this principle recently when working with our reliable handyman to paint our deck. We’ve hired him for many house repair projects for a couple of years now and we’ve been highly satisfied.

One reason we like him is that if we’re not happy, he resolves to fix the problem until we’re satisfied. (Looking for handyman like this in the Central New Jersey area? Yes, I know, I know, a contractor who is responsible and responsive is priceless. Email me and I’d be happy to share his name.)

He painted our deck last fall and this February, the paint was chipping in chunks, randomly on the top rails and decking, and varying from size of quarters to dinner plates. Using a higher grade paint formula, he agreed to repaint free of charge. We talked about details such as the type of paint, a mutual date to do the painting, he didn’t need to enter my house to traipse paint flecks on the floor, and deck maintenance.

Details were discussed but not the key detail: the paint color. I did not request to approve the color before he ordered the paint. Plus, I didn’t confirm he was repainting the entire deck – not just the rails and decking. Yes, I made assumptions. And he made assumptions. Guess what happened? We have a two-tone deck of colors — dark ash brown and rusty red — and the contrast looks appalling instead of appealing.

Two-tone deck.

I’m sure he’ll remedy the problem and paint the areas to match the new rusty red rails and decking. But how much time could have been saved for his business, and have avoided a dip in my sanity if I had given clear expectations before he bought the paint?

Now, I’ll be living with the reddish-rust color for a few years – not the color I wanted – but how much more valuable is your business than a deck?

Do you want your investment in copywriting to improve your business? Then, communicate your requirements to the copywriter.

That’s why a proposal helps so much. It connects the dots, fills in the blanks, and shows both writer and client what information is still needed.

You Want Details, Details, Details!

Expect the copywriter to explain her process and make sure all your questions are answered. Do you need to talk over a proposal if the content is ten stories of 40 words each? Yes. Is preparation necessary for a 600-word blog post? Yes. The preparation to develop the words is necessary whether content is 40 words or 1,500 words. Conveying information in shorter word counts is more challenging.

But here’s the gist: Words matter.

And the ultimate one to decide if the copywriter can deliver the right words is you.

A Good Proposal

How can a good proposal help? A good proposal makes sure both you and the writer will be happy with the arrangement. Now, the proposal can vary, but I’d recommend good proposals have these elements:

  • The project – why is the project needed?
  • Goals – Commander’s Intent, what do you want to accomplish, and how will the copywriter help you meet them
  • The project scope – specify what the content is and timelines
  • The project deadline – the date and time completed project is done
  • Terms and conditions – communication preferences of client and copywriter, and number of rewrites
  • Payment
  • The best way to contact her with a question
  • Extra costs and details that will incur if there’s additional request beyond the project scope

Hiring the Right Copywriter Demands Doing Your Homework

When you’re hiring a copywriter, you want to know you’ll attain results that surpass the money invested. Yes, there is uncertainty. Overcome this by doing the preparation to think about what your end goal is, researching the copywriter’s past work and results, and understanding the proposal’s details before you hire him or her.

When you do your homework, your choice of copywriter will be closer to meeting your expectations. And increase the probability of exceeding your expectations.

Have you hired a copywriter before? What do you think are the most important questions to ask before you hire a copywriter?

What do you say?