Put the words “Somerset copywriter” into google and the search engine will give you pages of people to choose from.  But how do you figure out which one is the best fit for your business?

Caveat emptor

The internet is awash with people who can talk a good talk and write a good profile.  But can they genuinely deliver everything they promise?  Sorry, I’m not trying to run anybody down here – just reminding you that we live in a world where appearances are often better than the reality.

This especially true of people in marketing who work with words.  Of course they come across well!  However, just because they are good at promoting themselves that doesn’t guarantee they have what it takes to do the same for you.  My first word of advice.  Don’t hire someone just on the strength of their “Home” or “About” page.  Do your due diligence.

Are they really based in Somerset?

It’s not a bad idea to find a copywriter who is local – because it’s easy to meet face to face.  A chat over a coffee is extremely valuable for both parties.  It’s the best way to gauge whether you want to work together, the best way to brief someone, the best way to build an understanding and a relationship, the best way to progress the work.

However, a lot of those who pop up on searches for Somerset copywriter are actually a bit further afield – in Bristol and Bath, in South Wales or Gloucestershire.  That’s the way SEO seems to work (or the way some people work SEO).  So, at the risk of stating the obvious, if you want local check the address!

Are they appropriate for your particular job?

There are many different types of commercial writing.  Creative copywriting, content writing, article writing, press release writing, writing for the web, writing landing pages, sales letter copywriting, blog writing, SEO copywriting, case study writing, technical writing, bid writing, ghost writing, strategic copywriting, brand story writing, script writing…

Some writers specialise in a particular niche.  Others, who have been at it a long time, may have expertise and experience that covers a lot of different areas.  And there will be a few jack of all trades who are masters of none.

Your challenge is find out which category they fit into and decide if they are truly suitable for your particular project.  Start by reading their website carefully.

If their experience is in corporate communications, and their clients are big blue-chip companies, then they are probably not first choice if you are a small business.

Want to run some press ads and need sharp and surprising creative concepts that are really going to grab attention?  Someone who spends all their time writing websites for accountants, lawyers and structural engineers is not going to crack it for you.

If you are in B2B, and selling professional indemnity insurance, subscriptions to a trade magazine or performance measurement software, then don’t hire someone who is happiest writing about consumer products, fashion or travel.

Looking for a series of light-hearted blog posts for your lifestyle brand?  Don’t hire the guy who gets off on preparing case studies for pharmaceutical companies or writing about the latest cybersecurity products.

We’re talking common sense here.  But it’s not always obvious where a particular writer’s skills and interests lie – you might have to read between the lines a bit.

How new are they to this?

Copywriting is an occupation that looks pretty appealing from the outside.  And plenty of copywriting course providers talk it up as a great way to earn a living!  There’s a feeling that copywriters are in high demand, the work is well paid, yet the necessary skills are quite easy to pick up if you have a basic way with words.  You can do it from home, from a villa in Spain, or sat in your local coffee bar.  And some of the projects can be quite interesting, fun and glamorous.  So what’s not to like?

Leaving aside whether that is true or not, this preconception means that the copywriting game is never short of fresh entrants.  Some of these are probably pretty good.  And eager, which is a plus.  But a bit of experience doesn’t go amiss either.  It makes sense to hire someone who has learnt on the job.  Rather than someone who is learning on your job!

Where’s the work?

Ignore this bit of advice if you like – but I bet you live to regret it.  Make sure you see examples of actual projects the writer has completed.

This is the acid test.  If they don’t show finished/published examples of work for real clients then you have every right to be suspicious.  Either they don’t have any.  Or they are too rubbish to show you.  If the writer is good, and has the work to prove it, they’ll be only too keen to let you have a look.

Some copywriters (and several quite big copywriting agencies are guilty of this) try to gloss over their embarrassing lack of completed jobs, or jobs they are proud of, by just listing company names or logos.  But what did the job entail?  Were they creating full page ads for international magazines or writing two lines of product description?  You need to know!

Is the work any good?

Let’s assume you do get to see examples of finished work.  The next problem is judging it.  This is especially tricky if you are not an experienced marketing person yourself.

It’s not a matter of whether you subjectively like or dislike it.  It’s whether the work was fit for purpose.  Working this out is not as hard as it sounds.  You just need to know what the strategy was, then see if the writing delivers against that.

This is a great test.  Because you’ll quickly discover that some copywriters have no idea about strategy.  They just write some nice words that sound good.  If that’s the kind of writing you want, then fine.  But if you want writing that’s going to help you overcome a specific business challenge then you’ll be disappointed.

To decide whether you are talking to a wordsmith that merely uses words for decoration, or a strategic copywriter with a deeper understanding of the business context, problems and objectives, interrogate them and their work.

Get them to show you a completed project and ask these questions:

  • Give me the background – what was going on in this market, where does this product/service sit in it, tell me about the competitors, what was the client trying to achieve?
  • Can you give me some relevant information on the target audience – and show me how you used this information to write something that was likely to have the desired effect on them?
  • What are the main product/service features and benefits and how did you work those into what you wrote?
  • What was the main message you were trying to convey and why did you express it this particular way?
  • To what extent did you use logical argument and emotional appeal to create the desired effect?

If they can’t give you well-reasoned answers to these questions then they really don’t know what they were doing, or why they were doing it.  Is that the kind of copywriter you want?

Nb, if you want to explore these questions in greater detail get my book “The Authority Guide to Creating Brand Stories that Sell”.

How busy are they?

This is a useful indicator of the quality of the work and how well they get on with clients.  If they are available right now, and haven’t completed a job in the last few weeks, what does that tell you?  Ask them straight out “what are you working on right now, what sort of jobs have you completed in the last month, what have you got coming up next week and do you have any regular clients that use you again and again?”

Do they offer good value for money?

If a copywriter ticks all the above boxes are they going to be expensive?  Well, they’ll almost certainly charge more than someone who doesn’t!  But cheap copywriting, like so much else in life, tends to work out more expensive in the end.

From my point of view quoting for a job is a bit of a nightmare – it’s really hard to be sure how long a job is going to take until you are half way through.  What’s more, different clients have very different expectations when it comes to costs.

One way to get around this is to say, upfront, “My budget is £xxx – can you do it for that?”.  Personally I find this helpful, so don’t be shy about naming a figure if you have one in mind.  The worst I’m going to say is “Thanks, but no thanks.”

If you have no idea what it is likely to cost I’ll have to estimate the number of hours, then multiply that by my hourly rate.  However, I’ll be totally frank with you, my hourly rate varies.  If you are a big corporate with a valuable brand that is used to paying London agency fees then my hourly rate is probably double what I charge a small business or a start-up, with a mid-sized company somewhere in between.  Also, if the job is really mentally challenging (writing web pages on decision support software for buyers in the military) I’ll want more than if it’s something relatively light (a blog post of tips for summer weddings).  Partly it’s about paying a fair rate for my time and effort, partly it’s about paying what the job is worth to the client.

My problem (again being frank) is that I have lots of work on my website, much of it for relatively big and successful brands.  A number of times prospective clients have said “I’m afraid to ask you for a quote – you look expensive”.  Then, when I do quote, they are pleasantly surprised.

Another way to solve this is by getting the writer to produce a small part of the job, and bill you for it.  If you are happy that it represents good value then let them do the rest.  I often suggest this approach to clients – “Why don’t I write you one blog post for £xx and then we can both decide where to go from there?”

Last but not least – do you like them?

Some people are great at what they do but a pain in the arse to work with.  The last thing you need is some prima donna with a massive ego and a creative chip on their shoulder who responds to feedback, suggestions and requests by spitting out their dummy.

Meet them for coffee and see if you get on.  Are they genuinely interested in what you are trying to achieve, do they have a sense of humour, are they grumpy and negative, do they genuinely have the experience you are looking for, will they be amenable if you ask them to make changes?   If your gut feeling is good, and they tick the other boxes, then they could be the one for you.

Picture credit:  Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash