On paper, finding a freelance copywriter is easier than ever. Marketplaces like Upwork and Fiverr and social networking sites like LinkedIn and Instagram connect companies with thousands of writers in a single search.
How are you supposed to know if the copywriter you choose will deliver the results you're hoping for?
There’s no magic bullet, but there are certain tells like in poker that offer some indication of a copywriter’s skill and relevant experience.
These tips are broken down into two categories of copywriters—experienced and emerging—because how to discern a good-fit copywriter varies based on your budget.
Working with experienced copywriters
Copywriters with a solid portfolio could start charging around $70-90/hr and go up from there. Rates vary a lot depending on the writer's location and industry.
Experienced copywriters typically charge based on value, not time.
Copywriters with more experience usually graduate to fixed-price projects versus hourly rates. A copywriter might charge $2000 to write a sales page, but that’s because a sales page could generate $10,000+ in income for your business. So while $2000 might seem like a lot for a single campaign landing page or sales page, consider the value of how many more qualified leads or sales you could generate with rich, targeted copy.
Projects like sales pages and websites require a good amount of upfront customer research. You’ll typically find that experienced copywriters spend more time on research before writing a single word. Part of what you’re paying for is the strategy and time spent mining for the gold that will eventually make it onto your page.
As copywriters become more efficient, a project may take less time to complete, but the copy will be of higher quality. This is another reason why copywriters choose fixed-price projects over hourly. Why be penalized for getting better at your job, right? These copywriters might still use hourly rates, but they’re typically reserved for ad hoc work related to project overages or extra requests.
Ask about their writing process
Experienced copywriters can get pretty excited talking about their writing process. They love speaking with your customers, conducting surveys, and pursuing the right message that ignites a spark. An experienced copywriter knows success won’t come from kicking off a project and starting to write immediately.
If you’re paying a higher price tag for copy, keep an ear out for:
What services the copywriter offers in terms of getting to know the voice and concerns of your customers
How they incorporate this knowledge into your copy
More leadership in project management (i.e. they’ll manage the schedule vs. you).
Experienced copywriters are more strategists, less order takers
A common mistake is to invest in a copywriter and dictate the words you’d like on the page. Embrace any creative pushback from the experienced copywriter you hire.
That said, an experienced copywriter should be able to justify why they wrote something a certain way. As the client, you deserve to know every bit of strategy that went into writing a piece of copy.
They may be more strong-handed with deadlines
Since a copywriter’s brainpower is their sole commodity, they depend on well-defined schedules to deliver value to clients and keep their businesses going. Experienced copywriters have learned what it takes to deliver a successful project. They also might have a waiting list or get to pick who they work with. If a client isn’t responsive or following through on requests in a reasonable amount of time, more experienced copywriters might draw the line because they have other potential clients who’d value their services. Lower tolerance for schedule waffling doesn’t come from ego but from knowing how important focus and momentum are to the overall quality of a project.
More experienced copywriters usually offer input when it comes to design, too. They’ll likely deliver copy in wireframes and agree to work closely with a designer on the final look of the page. They know that the copy's visual experience plays a huge role in its overall effectiveness.
Commencement fees are common
Experienced copywriters commonly require an upfront payment before the project starts. This is so they can turn away other paying work and put your project front and center on their calendar. It’s typically 50% of the overall project cost.
Do they have an easy payment system?
A copywriter who commands higher rates should be able to explain quickly how they’d like to be paid. If they stumble through an explanation, it may be a hint that they don’t have the experience to match their rates. But take this with a grain of salt. Some copywriters can be word wizards and not systems superstars.
Experienced copywriters often specialize
This isn’t always the case, but as copywriters take on more and more projects, they hone in on the ones they like and are best at. Their niche may be based on industry, e.g. eCommerce or SaaS, or related to a specific kind of content like emails or websites.
Working with emerging copywriters
Based on my own pricing when starting out combined with what I’ve seen in the industry, emerging copywriters may charge anywhere from $20-$50 per hour.
Set realistic expectations with yourself
With a lower budget, you’ll likely be working with someone who’s still learning and taking on projects to gain experience. You can bet there’s a newer copywriter out there who's eager to work on a project just like yours.
If you want a project done well and fast, it won’t be cheap. If you want a project done well for less money, it’ll take time. If you want a project done fast and cheaply, you’ll compromise on quality.
This Venn diagram sums it up nicely.
Ask for testimonials
Keep in mind emerging copywriters might not have any testimonials yet, or they may not be relevant to your industry or the form of content you need. Instead of testimonials, you could ask if they’ve taken any courses or what type of copywriting interests them most. This could give you a sense of how serious they are about learning the craft.
Does it seem like they have a process?
Emerging copywriters might not have all the details ironed out, but try and get a sense of how thoughtfully they approach writing copy. Ask them what they believe makes for strong copywriting, how they prefer to receive feedback, and how they go about managing a writing project.
Ask about their natural writing style
Newer copywriters are usually still building the writing muscle that enables them to match the tone and style of your brand. It’s a tough skill to learn—even experienced copywriters charging higher rates continually work on it. This means a newer copywriter’s style will likely come through more in their first draft. It might help save you extra edits if the writer you choose has a natural writing style close to your brand’s.
So, should you hire an experienced or emerging copywriter?
Are you in a rush?
If you are, think back to that Venn diagram. Fast + good = more expensive. If you try to hire for work that’s fast, good, and cheap, you’re setting yourself up for copy heartbreak. Experienced copywriters rarely say yes to rush projects because crafting persuasive copy takes time and research. It’s impossible to skip all the early steps and still write copy that resonates with your customers. That said, when a copywriter has more experience, their muscle memory is stronger and they can likely get you higher quality work faster. Some copywriters may charge an additional rush fee (~25%) to shift their schedules.
If you need good copy fast, do yourself a favor, outsource it to a pro, and vastly improve your ROI.
Are you in a highly specific niche?
If you’re in an industry that uses lots of insider language, you may want to consider looking for a copywriter that specializes in that area. It’ll be more challenging for a newer writer to use your industry’s language in a convincing way. On the flip side, if you have a limited budget but are looking for a long-term relationship with a writer, you could decide to work with a junior copywriter knowing their experience in your industry will grow. Taking the time to provide valuable feedback can make a big difference.
Do you just need someone to write solid first draft copy?
You could hire an emerging copywriter knowing you’re going to need to give the copy a little extra TLC. Having someone else take care of writing a decent first draft could be a great way to save a ton of time and stay within your budget. Plus, new copywriters are eager to build their portfolios. This serves as a big incentive to do their best work on a project for you.
Do you need tech skills to implement your new copy?
If you’re looking for a copywriter for content like Facebook ads and emails, it can be advantageous to hire a more experienced copywriter who also has the skills to implement the new copy (assuming you don’t have ad management or email marketing specialists in-house).
Many copywriters are pros at copywriting but don’t include the backend setup in their services—this is very common. Be sure to ask what services are included in the project cost.
Start small if you’re still unsure
Hiring a copywriter can be one of the most rewarding investments you make, especially if you’re ready to take your business to the next level. But as you can see, copywriting is not a one-size-fits-all service. If you find yourself hopeful but uncertain about a particular copywriter, consider proposing a smaller paid test project to evaluate their skills before committing to a larger investment.
Annie Obergefell is a B2B messaging & brand voice strategist, copywriter, and founder of Copy Salt. Her specialties include brand messaging and voice development for clients, advertising agencies, and consultancies.
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