The Definitive Guide to Hiring an Online Copywriter

With Google’s profound mobile web algorithm update due in week 3 April 2015, it’s more important than ever to create brilliant digital content that fulfils people’s needs as well as those of the devices they use to access information on the internet and the search engines delivering it.
In an ideal world, unless you’re a seasoned online copywriter yourself, you’ll need to find someone you can trust to provide what you need, at a reasonable cost. But where on earth do you start? There are thousands of freelance copywriters promoting their services online. Some charge a fortune for a single direct response sales letter, some charge a fiver. How do you know who will do the best job, at a fair rate, and won’t let you down?

The ultimate guide to hiring a copywriter

Here’s my ultimate guide to hiring a copywriter who knows how to write content for seo, how to write website content and most importantly, how to write content that converts.

First, what is a copywriter?

A copywriter, sometimes ‘copy writer’, writes marketing-focused commercial materials for businesses.

Essential copy creation skills

What skills should you look for? It depends on your project but if a copywriter has all these, you’re probably onto a winner.
Familiarity with search engines – Anyone writing content for the web needs a thorough grounding in the way search engines work, keeping up with the latest algorithm changes and using the knowledge to inform their work.
Classical DM skills – Ideally they’ll have a good grounding in the principles and practices of direct marketing. Direct marketing is any marketing initiative that demands an immediate response, for example a landing page or direct mail postcard, an off-the-page advert or anything else with a call to action, digital and print. Any decent online copywriter will also be able to write press releases which actually get published, authoritative and compelling blog content, web pages, white papers, ebooks and eguides, sales materials, internal communications stuff, brochures and brand-led projects. In short any and all kinds of written business materials.
Cross-sector abilities – An experienced writer will be capable of writing about any subject, for any sector. All the knowledge, information, insight and news they could possibly need is freely available on the internet. As long as your writer has the right amount of grey matter, they’ll do an excellent job.
Business savvy – It also helps if your copywriter has actually worked in business, someone who understands how the corporate world operates, who can navigate the commercial landscape with confidence.
Creativity – With a bit of luck your chosen writer will also have a creative edge, everything from helping set an appropriate tone of voice, faithful to your brand, to waxing suitably lyrical and making your products and services irresistible. If they write prose, short stories, humorous stuff or poetry, even better. As a general rule a good all-rounder is a fair bet. And because enthusiasm and verve are important ingredients, it helps to find someone who genuinely loves the written word.
Excellent idiomatic and formal English – You can get ridiculously cheap content written overseas. The quality varies enormously but as a general rule, when you pay peanuts you get monkeys. If a writer’s first language isn’t English, make sure they have a full grasp of the formal, business and colloquial aspects of the language in all its wonderful eccentricity. If not you can still get a good deal: commission overseas content then get a UK-based professional to embellish and edit it into a state of perfection.

Hiring an online copywriter – How to build a shortlist of candidates

The best way to find a great writer is by word of mouth. Can anyone in your real-life networks and social media communities recommend a content provider? If not, it’s time to get methodical.

  • Decide whether location matters. You might prefer to work with a local writer you can meet person, or be perfectly happy doing things by email and telephone
  • Find 8 copywriter websites you like the look of. If you enjoy reading the home page it’s a good sign. You’ll know when a site strikes the right note because you’ll feel compelled to find out more. The site should contain the information you need to take the next step, answering all the basic questions anyone trying to hire a copywriter would want to know. If they have the skills and experience you need, put them on your list
  • Send each of them a short email about you, the project you have in mind and your deadlines, and ask for a quote
  • Ideally they’ll respond quickly with either a quote or a bunch of questions to ask first. Leave it 24 hours and ditch the writers who haven’t replied to your email yet. And remove anyone who sends a badly written or otherwise unprofessional reply
  • Ask your shortlisted writers if they’ll write you a short test piece, say 300 words on a subject of your choice, to help you decide
  • Choose the writer whose work you enjoy reading most, whose skills and capabilities dovetail best with your needs
  • If you’re not 100% sure, ask a few trusted people and choose your copywriting partner by consensus

What about references and samples?

Any confident, experienced copy creator will provide client references when you ask, or at least include customer feedback on their website. The same goes for copy samples, which should be available on request. It’s really useful seeing real-life content that’s already in the public domain, doing its thing.

Do you need to know how to write a content brief?

Ideally your copywriter will be experienced enough to know more about what you need than you do!
My digital marketing agency clients provide great briefs, but other than that I rarely get a detailed content brief. And a lot of business owners don’t really know what they want until they see it. It’s part of my role to help figure out the best way ahead, based on many years of marketing experience. Do you need a writer with the same level of background knowledge and marketing nous, a self-starting, point-and-fire type of person? Or will you be OK with someone less experienced?

The money bit – How much does online content cost?

It’s important to bottom out the financial side of things from the start. The cost depends on a writer’s experience. Some charge by the hour, some a day rate, others by the word. Personally I think it’s fairest to be flexible, basing my quotes on the specific circumstances in each case.
Some freelance writers charge extra for copy amends, others don’t. I don’t, since it’s my job to get the quote right in the first place. Some charge the quoted amount even if the job doesn’t take as long as expected. I don’t – if it takes less time than I predicted, I charge less. Some writers ask for money up front, I don’t. You don’t pay me a penny until you’re 100% happy and the job is complete.

The copy writing process

This is how I manage copy projects. It’s a really simple process based on trust and respect.

  • A new client approaches me with a project. I quote and give marketing-led feedback, asking questions if I need to
  • Once everything is clear and the quote is agreed, I diary the project and email the due date to my client
  • On the agreed day I send draft 1 of the content by email
  • The client either comes back with amends or signs off the copy (simply by replying to my email) at D1 stage – usually the latter
  • I tackle any feedback and send D2. Nobody seems to need more than one set of changes, so that’s usually it
  • I send an invoice at the end of the month

If you prefer a more formal approach there are plenty of admin-heavy writers who’ll ask you to fill in lengthy briefing forms, sign agreements and agree complex contracts. It’s horses for courses, another choice to make when you’re choosing your ideal content creation partner.

Contact me

Do you like what you’re hearing? If you’re looking for a commercial copy partner who knows how to write digital content, how to write content for mobile devices, how to write evergreen content and how to engage readers in every and any marketing circumstance, let’s talk.

  • Professional freelance copywriter services for any and every marketing or communications project
  • Online copywriting services bearing the interests of search engines and people in mind
  • A website content provider with almost a quarter of a century’s marketing experience across blue chips, SMEs and start-ups as an employee, contractor and freelancer
  • A totally reliable, highly creative and extremely businesslike copywriting service


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