4 Steps to Hiring a Productive Freelance Copywriter

Get the work ready before you hand it off

You hire a freelance copywriter for a few reasons.

Your team might:

  • Be at or over-capacity. But the work still needs to get done.
  • Have a sensitive project that needs more care than anyone on your team can afford.
  • Need outside expertise to reach a particular audience.
  • Simply need fresh ideas.

For decades I’ve written copy for all sorts of clients, from Fortune 500 companies to family businesses to bootstrapping startups. But when I see my client presenting these four practices, I want to shout for joy.

1. Decide on a budget. Say it out loud.

Some folks think they need to hide the budget because a freelancer will want all of it. But a good freelancer uses only what they need—for real. Our clients get happy when we come in under budget. But more to the point, the freelancer uses that budget information to gauge just how big a project will be. Is it a two-hour project? A ten-hour project? A two-hundred-hour project?

Budget is a big tell for project size. It also hints at the client’s expectations. Most of us have a number in our head, whether we say it out loud or not. You’ll get better, more transparent work from your freelancer if you tell them how much you have to spend.

Avoiding the guessing game is a good first step for ongoing relationships—not to mention the best work possible—when it comes to freelancers. The best work gets done when both parties are honest about what they expect and what they can do.

2. Write a brief. On paper. With words.

This is huge because it is a shortcut to getting close to what you want. Some of our clients will skip this and tell us verbally what they want. That can work, but only because we have a history of working together, and we know the backstory behind what they are saying and the audience they need to say it to.

The risk of verbalizing is a misinterpretation. We generally turn those conversations into notes that we send back with the question, “Is this what you were thinking?” Then the conversation gets deeper and more productive.

A good brief is typically, you know, brief. Maybe a page or so. In that brief is a statement of what the project is, who the audience is, what outcome you want from the audience, and the form the project will take. It’s worth writing all this down before you meet because your freelancer will ask these questions anyway. All sorts of ancillary questions will come later, like the context of the project, what the audience knows or thinks right now, how the project fits with your brand, what are your brand guidelines, by the way, and so on. But the essential starting points are the project, the audience, and what you want the communication to accomplish.

Writing a brief is also a good way to ensure you get the right parameters for a job. Every job needs boundaries, if only because unlimited budgets do not exist.

3. Have a wide-ranging conversation.

Working through the brief can be an easy and rewarding conversation. The copywriter will be listening intently for connecting words, phrases, and ideas, some of which they may trot out later as potential solutions you had not considered. They will also pick up on the emotion you feel and load that into the copy they write. Your emotion might even power their imagination!

            Encourage questions. Allow tangents. Expect amusement. This is the beginning of the process for the freelancer. It gets them thinking along productive lines and feeds the “Why” behind the project, which is essential for good work.

4. Include all the stakeholders.

All the people who can kill the project must be part of the larger conversation. Too often, we think all the right people are in the room only to find out that a boss’s boss had a special interest and did not have a chance to talk through the goals, purposes, and objectives from the original conversation. So, they say “No” almost automatically when they see the draft. This happens more often than you think.

Who has an interest in this project? Who has specialized knowledge the copywriter needs to hear? Or who has a particular viewpoint that will add to how the team understands the project? Include those people earlier rather than later.

Set Them Free.

Copywriters have a magical capacity to connect things that seem like they’ll never fit. And that is exactly what your freelancer will be itching to do next. That’s what happens when you fill up their brains with information, emotion, and a problem to be solved. It’s what copywriters do: they love to find a way into a new story or a new way to tell your story. A way that makes sense with what you have told them.

It’s a process they trust. You can trust it too.


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