Ignore flashy resumes and forget the MLA manual. If your brand is in need of attention grabbing headlines, compelling product descriptions, epic email campaigns and more, you need to focus your energies on much more than a fancy CV.
There are thousands of great copywriters in the world. There’s probably hundreds that could do a decent job writing for your brand. But why settle for mediocrity when you can put the right steps in place to hire a copywriter that’s the absolute best option for your business.
Here’s my proven seven step process for finding a mind blowingly good copywriter and convincing them to stick around to help you grow your business.
Step 1: Figure Out What You Want
Copywriters are like doctors—they all have specialties. The question is do you need a chiropractor or a podiatrist?
The first problem most people make when they look for a copywriter is to hire someone that can do everything, since they don’t know exactly what they want a writer to help them with.
Before you can hire a great writer, you’ve got to know what you want them to write. Most can do it all, from tackling abandoned cart emails to product copy. But if you know the biggest thing you need tackled are blog posts, you’ll want to make sure you find a copywriter that is really good at doing just that.
Make a list of the priorities your intended copywriter will take on once they get the job. If you have a clear idea of the types of content you need created, you’ll be able to better narrow your search.
And hey, if you want someone that can do it all, that’s fine too. But be prepared to pay up for it.
Step 2: Decide on the Skill Level You Need
Not every writing gig needs the top copywriter in his or her field. Once you’ve decided on the different areas you need copy for you can streamline the different types of writer to hire.
For a one-off project, consider looking for a freelance copywriter or contract writer. You can try venues like oDesk and Elance for simple writing gigs, say product bullets or some SEO work. If your one-time project is something that might come up again in a few months or might turn into a series of projects, you’ll want to find a writer that you can keep on retainer.
One of the perks for freelancers is being able to pick who you work with – especially if you’re good at your job. If you can entice a writer with the promise of fairly steady work over time, you’ll have a better chance of nabbing a great one.
If you have regular copy needs on an ongoing basis, you’ve got two options. The first is to hire someone full-time. This isn’t always the most affordable option, but the bonus is that a copywriter gets even better as they dive into a brand’s identity. It’s an investment, but if words are important to your business, it’ll be worth it.
If a full-time hire isn’t in the cards, you’ll want to keep someone on staff with a monthly stipend. Another win-win. The steady income each month is a great incentive and it’s ideal to have someone on call to help with copy projects as they pop up, especially one already familiar with your brand’s voice.
Step 3: Don’t Hire an SEO Pro
Hiring a solid copywriter with knowledge of SEO is better than hiring a self-professed SEO writer. You need someone that has SEO knowledge, yes, but that focuses on content and not on keywords.
The days of copywriters touting SEO expertise are over. In fact, they’re long dead. I’ll even go a step further and tell you not to worry about SEO at all when you hire a copywriter. If there are keywords that need to be included in certain product descriptions, then hand off a list of those keywords and tell your new writer to “keep them in mind”.
Hiring a solid copywriter with knowledge of SEO is better than hiring a self-professed SEO writer.
Nothing is an inspiration killer more than a long, strict set of words that a writer simply must adhere to. If you’re looking for awesome copy, don’t hog tie your writer with a long laundry list of SEO requirements. Apart from working in a single keyword phrase at some point, give them the creative freedom they need to produce incredible copy!
As far as your brand’s copy and strict SEO is concerned, it’s a breakup that was a long time coming.
Step 4: Don’t Ask a Writer About Conversion Rates
Or ROI. Or A/B testing results. Or anything else analytical. Copywriters write – they don’t analyze data. In fact, a freelance copywriter hands off content well enough in advance to ever know how well it ends up performing for a client.
Remember that you’d hire a chiropractor for a backache, not for a sprained ankle. Copywriters are fantastic at writing, but don’t expect them to have specific data to back up all their work.
Step 5: Ask For Client Before & Afters
Want to find a copywriter that really wows? Ask for the before and after of some of the work they’ve done.
This isn’t something every copywriter will easily have on hand and it might require a bit of digging on their part. But a great ways to see what a copywriter can do is to look at the difference he or she made to a brand. Even if the copy they created is killer, seeing where they took a brand’s voice is often even more powerful.
At the very least, ask them to describe the changes they brought to the copy. Whether it was staying true to the existing voice or completely refreshing a website’s prose, finding out how someone can transform another business will help you see how well a writer can change yours.
Step 6 & 7: Conduct a Two-Part Edit Test
The First Test
It’s essential to give a copywriter a test that offers a real-life example of what they’ll be doing for your company. You’d be surprised at how many hiring managers don’t do this.
Tests don’t have to be a series of hoops that a writer has to jump through. It doesn’t have to be complex or super taxing test either. The edit test should be a practical application of what you’re hiring someone to do.
If you plan on finding someone strictly to handle email campaigns, there’s no need to have them write product descriptions, come up with ten unique product names and create copy for a homepage banner in an edit test. By focusing on specific tasks you’ll need done, you’ll get a better handle on how strong their skillset is for what you need.
The Second Test
I’ve only ever had one company take this second step when finding a copywriter. But it’s a step that will make all the difference.
A great copywriter is key. A great copywriter, editor and collaborator is even better.
Once you receive a completed test back, offer feedback on what they can do better. Have them go back to the drawing board and see how they can alter their writing according to your suggestions. Can they execute against your instructions? This is a great test not only for their writing but to see how they deal with (and respond to) constructive feedback.
A great copywriter is key. A great copywriter, editor and collaborator is even better. After you’ve been able to bat ideas and suggestions back and forth with a possible writer, you’ll get a sense of how well they can write and how well you can work together.
Interviewer Cheat Sheet
Copywriters come in all shapes and sizes. There’s those of us that love storytelling. Some of us have experience writing video scripts. There’s even a few rare writers that love analytics, if you can believe it.
The following are interview questions every copywriter wishes they’d get asked on an interview. Use these instead of the classic lockup questions the next time you’re hoping to hire a writer that wows.
Have you ever come up with a line/story/headline that you thought was brilliant but the company you worked for didn’t love?
Every writer has “the one that got away” story. This is a great question to ask! It helps you get a sense of the kind of writer they’d be without any constraints.
How did you get into copywriting?
Seems like a no brainer, but very few writers dream of becoming a copywriter when they’re 16 and obsessed with Hemingway. It’s interesting to hear how a writer got into this field and this question will shed light on their general writing background.
What’s your favorite brand for copy inspiration?
Every copywriter has that dream brand that they could write for. (Mine is Filson.) Ask them what brands do content and copywriting well. You’ll get a sense of the writing style they like based on their answer.
Is there a product category you prefer to write for?
A lot of the answers you get here will surprise you. I think most hirees would assume I’d say something like fashion or women’s clothes based on my resume. But in fact, I find those to be the hardest to write about. Instead, I tend to love writing about manly products – kayaks, axes, a stuffed moose – because it’s more of a challenge. I also get to put myself in someone else’s shoes, which is why most of us fall in love with copywriting in the first place.
You are officially all out of hiring excuses. Storytelling and content is crucial to the success of any eCommerce brand or business. If you can find a writer that can engage a customer, educate them and get them to buy, then you can focus all your efforts on just getting them to the site. And once they start reading all that great copy, you’ll have plenty of new customers and shoppers for life.
Laura Serino is the Content and Community Manager for eCommerceFuel. To chat with Laura and other eCommerce professionals, join our private eCommerceFuel forum.