5 Situations That Demand You Hire a Professional Copywriter

image of red telephone

We write a lot of posts on Copyblogger about how business owners can apply the techniques used by professional copywriters.

Strong calls to action, compelling benefits, fascinating bullet points, magnetic headlines.

With all of this information, no one should ever need a pro, right?

Well … I wouldn’t say that.

Sometimes it can make sense to do it yourself, and sometimes it’s a very good idea to call in a professional writer. Today we’re going to talk about five scenarios when you’ll want to bring in a pro.

1. You just aren’t any good at it

Talent is about 90% a function of putting in the work. But it’s hard to put the work in for something you don’t feel any connection with. And sometimes you have a pressing need, but not enough time to get good enough to do it yourself.

Lots of people hate to write. If it’s just a phobia about hitting those keys, you can try speech recognition software, which can be a fantastic time-saver. But if the thought of writing is about as appealing as dental surgery, you’ll never put the work in to get good.

Do more of what you’re good at and less of what you hate. If writing isn’t for you, hire or partner with a really good writer to make sure that part of your business is getting the attention it needs.

It doesn’t matter how fantastic your product or service is if you can’t communicate that to customers. Every company needs to communicate a powerful message — and that means you need strong writing.

2. You don’t have the bandwidth

Even if you love writing, there’s a limit to how many words we can consistently get onto the page or screen every day. Marathon writing sessions can work for some people, but they can also lead to burnout and sabotage your productivity in the long term.

Copyblogger Media is a writing-based company. All of our founding partners have written their own content at various points in our business lives. And of course, Brian Clark built Copyblogger in the early days purely on the strength of his own writing.

But as our business has grown, we’ve needed to grow our writing staff with it. We pulled in a team of terrific writers to help us out with the sheer volume of content and copy we need to create.

Professional copywriters know “the more you tell, the more you sell.” And that’s even more true in the content marketing world — the more high-quality content you can create, the more authority and customer connection you can build.

Just realize that you need to understand the strategy behind the content you’re creating. Don’t add a writer for the sake of getting more words generated. Understand the business purpose behind all the copy you create, whether or not you do the actual writing.

3. You need particular expertise

You may create really good daily content for your blog, but you need a persuasion specialist to write sales letters that convert fans into customers.

Or you may need a subject matter expert to write a white paper.

Or a strong SEO copywriter to write content that both serves your business needs and can rank well in search engines.

Realize that you’ll pay more for a copywriter with specific expertise, rather than a generalist … just like you pay more for a Mercedes mechanic who’s been in business for 30 years over some kid at the quickie oil change who’s always wanted to try fixing a Mercedes.

4. You’re too close to the topic

The reason it’s so hard to move from features to benefits is that it can be really tough to be objective about your own business.

You know all the blood, sweat, and tears you put in to make your product or service great. (In other words, the features of your business.) You understand the details behind the scenes.

But your customer may have no interest at all in those things. In fact, they might care deeply about something that’s barely on your radar.

Sometimes a pair of outside eyes can be just what you need to communicate your most important benefits. Your winning difference could even be something you take for granted, but that your customers find wildly impressive.

Just make sure that your writer is looking at real customer feedback. This could come from survey responses, from social media listening, or from conducting interviews with customers. The very best feedback of all is interviews with your existing customers — the ones who have shown they’ll invest in what you have to offer.

Your copywriter needs direct access to real customer language about why people like doing business with you.

5. The stakes are high

If you’ve got a big launch or an important marketing campaign, you need to make sure your copy is making a great impression.

  • That means a terrific headline that gets attention immediately.
  • It means well-structured content that conveys your authority.
  • It means writing that gets to the point without a lot of fluff or verbal clutter.
  • It means customer-focused copy that clearly conveys valued benefits.
  • It means making sure you know the difference between your and you’re.

Professional copywriters are perfectionists about language. They’re obsessive about tone, subtle shades of meaning, copy structure, and the finer points of grammar and usage.

If that’s not you, you may want to bring in some help. Clunky, error-filled writing is a serious credibility killer.

But … the message still belongs to you

While a talented, well-trained copywriter can help you find your strongest possible marketing message, ultimately that message does need to come from you.

You know the customer you want to reach. You know the little details that will make your copy more interesting. No one will ever know your business like you do, and you need to recognize the hidden remarkable benefit that becomes your best marketing story.

That’s why it pays to study copywriting and marketing even if you turn over every word to someone else. A terrific copywriter can make you sound fantastic — but as the business owner, you’re the one who’s ultimately responsible for your story.

About the Author: Sonia Simone is co-founder and CMO of Copyblogger Media. Share your charming, colorful, vivacious self with Sonia on twitter.

Print Friendly

Smarter is Better Solutions for Smarter Content Marketing

Here’s what we’ve got for you:

  • 15 high-impact ebooks on content marketing, SEO, email marketing, landing pages, keyword research, and more.
  • A 20-part Internet marketing course that lays out a comprehensive path for your own online strategy.
  • An organized reference guide to the “best of the best” of Copyblogger.com, and how it all profitably fits together.
Free Registration

Take The Conversation Further ...

We'd love to know your thoughts on this article.
Meet us over on Google+ or Twitter to join the conversation right now!

Comments

  1. Well said, Sonia! The jelly to my peanut butter! (:

  2. Sonia:

    I do like it when Copyblogger posters talk about either technology or copywriting – two of my favorite topics. You have given the business entrepreneur some food to think about. Nobody is a master of all trades. Having said that, it’s good to have a working knowledge of other areas (i.e. SEO, Internet marketing, Viral marketing, copywriting, etc.). If for no other reason, it gives a basis for hiring the right professional. Good stuff today.
    Randy

    • The best copywriters I know offer design and SEO as part of the pack/additional services, not just writing.

      Also, skilled copywriters are not born, they learn how to research in depth then write for the right target audience.

  3. A copy blogger / Copy writer is definitely worth it. The words flow out so much better.

  4. You said it. It’s never worth cheaping out in the DIY version of web copy to save a few dollars when a few thousand are at stake.

  5. Excellent stuff, Sonia, although I’m not sure I agree with “try speech recognition software.” Good writing is not the same as speaking — it’s far more complicated than that. Yes, it should SOUND like speaking, but that’s part of what makes our craft unique and worthwhile. Pouring over the words, deleting the unnecessary ones, adding juicy adjectives, making it sound right, and massaging the whole damn thing are all critical elements. It’s not the same as improv — if someone blathers into a microphone and it ends up as text, I’d bet that 99% of the time, it’s going to suck.

    (Now if they’d like to send me that text so I can clean it up and really make it sing — for a nice fee, of course — then fine.) :)

    • You’d be surprised at how many highly successful marketers and copywriters use it.

      You do need to edit it, of course. It’s not a substitute for writing knowledge, it’s just a very fast way to get a lot of conversational copy onto the page so you can start to shape & edit.

      If you don’t know Jon’s work (he did that speech recognition post), he’s one of the strongest writers we have on CB, and he works exclusively with speech recognition. He’s also one of the most obsessive editors I’ve ever known. :)

      • I agree that editing is important, but that being said, the better the writing, the more it sounds like natural speech (but it takes tons of editing to get there).

    • Writer and creativity coach Mark McGuinness, who also writes excellent poetry, started using speech recognition software after a wrist injury, and he liked it so much he still uses it. Doesn’t work at all for me, but for some it clearly does.

  6. I am a creative writing major/marketing minor. How does one become a copy writer?

    • I started by studying copywriting, and looking for people who would pay me to do it. :)

    • If you like or are comfortable selling, you’re ready to take next steps.

    • Graduate the program you’re in and apply to the VCU BrandCenter. Your life will never be the same. You will become a professional and, if you have talent, you’ll make millions of dollars while becoming rich and famous as a world leading copywriter. I’m actually being serious.

    • Three things Doug:

      1) Keep reading Copyblogger.
      2) Start a blog and sell something on it (even if it’s a free something)
      3) Be ready to forget a lot of what you’re learning in Creative Writing. Not all of it, but a lot of the technical stuff. And start learning AP Style instead of whatever they’re teaching in schools these days.

      bd

  7. I’m hitting unsubscribe today because of Sonia’s seeming ignorance of the full scope of reasons to hire a professional copywriter. I didn’t feel it important to get involved with this discussion when she was talking about how clients can write their own copy. But her reasons to hire a professional copywriter fall far short of reality. Professional copywriters see strategy on a higher level than perhaps any other individuals in the client/agency marketing environment. Professional copywriters see benefits more clearly, and edit out irrelevant content much more easily than clients or amateurs. Most importantly, professional copywriters focus on the one thing that’s critical to communicate and they drive that point home. Amateurs consistently seek to talk about myriad points, cause everything seems important to them. Professional copywriters structure their copy like closing arguments in front of a jury. Indeed, great copy is a powerful closing argument that convinces the jury (the target audience) that YOUR point is the correct one, and you should buy this product or service. Professional copywriters are objective. Amateurs and clients come in with personal baggage and subjective opinions that have a negative impact on making the case that must be put forth in the advertising. I started copywriting over 30 years ago. I’ve won my share of awards at the highest levels from Clios to One Shows to Tellys and whatever is silver or gold. More importantly, I have consistently delivered results for my clients. I have, however, had to endure the perpetual obsession clients have, big and small, that they can write or even edit copy at a high professional level. I once leaned over a conference table and got right in the face of a big client with a major computer manufacturer because he was marking through and revising copy on a brochure to such extent that he was destroying the content. I said to him, “Listen, if I brought you a computer and asked you to fix it, what would you say if I told you that the green wire connects to the red wire not the blue wife, and take out that chip you just put in, cause I don’t think it’s needed? How would you feel if an amateur was giving you advice on how to fix a computer? You’re doing the same thing to this copy. It’s put together as a compelling argument with a precise structure and wording that you are fouling up with subjective opinion. Go with the original copy unchanged. That’s my professional advice.” Despite being president of a major computer manufacturer, and disregarding the account executives about to go into shock around the table, the client put down his red pen and simply said, “You’re right. You’re the professional. Let’s go with the original copy.” I worked with that client for 10 years and he never changed another word. Before Sonia so recklessly tells amateur writers that they can achieve the high level of professionalism, effectiveness and creativity, she needs to connect to the real world just for a few moments. This blog has become something less than credible with the last few posts. I’m out.

    • John, in all fairness, I don’t think you’re giving the post a fair reading, for a number of reasons:

      1. The audience of this post is probably not the executive at the fortune 500 company with the budget to hire a top-level copywriter.

      2. While the executive at the computer company shouldn’t be monkeying with the copy (I agree, and I’ve had frustrating experiences like that as well), they do need to have the ability to at least recognize the value of what has been created, and to validate that it is in fact on message.

      Do you disagree with either of these points?

      • I don’t disagree entirely, Danny. I simply refuse any project without a creative brief up front that clearly spells out the points the client wants to make, and then I write copy based on that input. At most of my agencies, we’ve typically even had a requirement that the client must sign the agreed upon brief so it becomes contractual. Then, as long as my copy answers all the questions on the brief and covers every point, then the client can review copy based exclusively on the creative brief input and must leave subjective decisions relative to persuasion to the persuasion professionals. Clients still seek to make subjective changes, and AE’s will routinely accept them. That’s when the professional copywriter must lean across that conference room table, and stand up for what is best (in the long run) for the client who just doesn’t get it. Of course, everyone thinks they can write advertising just like everyone believes they can write the great American novel. That’s why vanity publishing makes so much money off naive people who write books that routinely don’t sell 20 copies. Heck, I’d even contend that a vast majority of people working as copywriters aren’t that capable. But, they’re likely better than the average amateur client. What people, including clients and the author of this blog apparently, don’t get is that copywriting a high level art of persuasion that should be highly regarded as a profession. It’s not something amateurs can undertake effectively based on a few tips in a blog. Today, with professional copywriters struggling to make a living, the small client can likely find someone willing to do a great and professional copywriting job on Craigslist for pennies compared to what they’d have had to pay a few years ago. Never before has there been a time to honor and respect the art of professional copywriting, and perhaps encourage the community of clients and advertisers to hire professionals. And it’s not just about the economic survival of professional copywriters. It’s about the immense affordability of professional copywriters today and the propensity of so many amateurs to think they can do it themselves. The end result of amateur writers replacing professional copywriters is amateur advertising. I see far too much of it, and it makes me sad.

        • It makes me sad as well, which is why I publish posts like this one.

          It puzzles me why you don’t think we hold copywriting as a profession in high regard. Is it because we tell people that a business owner, with a lot of dedication and work, can write their own copy? That may not be a nice reality for a professional copywriter to face, but I see it every day — *if* someone has some ability with language and the willingness to put the work in.

          However, even in that case, there are times to call in a pro. Hence the post.

        • If you want a brief run-down of our beliefs about persuasion and writing, take a look at this post:

          http://www.copyblogger.com/the-writer-runs-this-show/

        • John, I’m interested in your views (though I don’t agree with some of them, but that’s cool) – they’d be easier to read and discuss with some paragraphing, though…

        • John,

          1. I don’t think you actually read this post. Skimmed maybe. The title “5 Situations That Demand You Hire a Professional Copywriter” might as well be an ad to hire people like you. Your comments read as if the title was 5 Situations That Demand You NOT Hire a Professional Copywriter.
          2. I’d bet $100 you won’t unsubscribe. Let’s be honest here. You put up a good front, but you know Copyblogger didn’t cause the global ecomonic downturn that’s hurting copywriters.
          3. No way are you a regular reader of Copyblogger, considering you use a full flash-based website with no SEO or copywriting present.

          • Already unsubscribed, and I currently work primarily with a Fortune 500 client along with a few smaller clients. That site hasn’t been updated in years, and it’s not my primary website. It’s just the site and e-mail address I use for public blogs here and there. I have indeed hit unsubscribe for the record, but I fully appreciate the gravity of your assertion that I’m falsely representing my intentions and/or will not follow through on my statements. I’m not sure where you were able to conclude that I’m somehow full of BS, and I don’t appreciate the negative assault on my integrity. Copyblogger can document that I unsubscribed this morning prior to my first blog entry.

            What offended me in this post were suggestions that people could use speech recognition software to overcome their lack of desire to hit the keys on the heels of suggesting one should hire a professional. Please. Speech recognition software does not make a creative and persuasive copywriter. Topping it all, however, was the comment that clients still need to study copywriting and marketing even if they hire a professional. Amateur client/writers who’ve “studied” copywriting on the side can make a professional copywriter’s life a nightmare. When you’re dealing with a powerful client in a major corporation or a smaller client you value, you don’t need or want to put the account at risk by telling the guy his reading of a couple books on copywriting absolutely does not give him the insight or expertise to make this or that subjective copy change which you know to be a mistake.

            As well, by definition, originality means you do not repeat that which has already been created. This makes it inherently difficult for legitimately creative professional copywriters to get original work approved by clients who consistently seek out that which is comfortable to them because it seems familiar. It likely seems familiar because it fits within the little box of work previously done, and thus routinely doesn’t pass the test of legitimate originality.

            The reason I hit unsubscribe, and I am off the list for real, is because I found the article contradictory with the headline. It claims to give you reasons why one should hire a professional copywriter, but then encourages clients to consider speech recognition software, study copywriting on their own — it was not consistent with the message proposed and actually serves to make life more difficult for professional copywriters should clients follow the advice of this reckless and (in my opinion) poorly thought out post.

            In many ways, this blog WAS opening the door for many reasons NOT to hire a professional copywriter. That bothered me. The contradictions in the writing and thinking on this entry were so amateur that I simply decided I can no longer read this blog. The post even revealed that big secret of professional copywriters that there is a difference between features and benefits? Really? Really?

            So yes, I’m out if that gives you comfort that I stand by my words. If nothing else, that is something I’ve done my entire professional life.

            As for my website, the relative merits of my work and whether or not I put up a good front, I would submit that SEO is done for reasons of increasing traffic on the web. That is not my goal with that site. I have a loyal base of customers and prospects who know me and my work. I don’t solicit work from a large audience, so I don’t feel SEO is important on that site. Indeed, it’s for those who already know me or to whom I introduce myself directly.

            I have another website out there for my company, but it’s an entirely different look and feel. It is promoted absent what might be strongly opinionated posts on blogs like this one, and we did optimize our other site for what it’s worth. Still, we get more sales results by directly driving traffic to our site through marketing/advertising versus SEO, and I’d contend boutiques and freelance copywriters are likely going to enjoy more success directly marketing themselves versus relying on hits via SEO.

            I have known a lot of marketing directors in the past 30 years, and I’ve yet to meet one who initiated a business relationship with an agency or creative group absent some nature of prior communications that first established a relationship and trust. Knowledge of how things are sold is essential in this business, and SEO doesn’t bring us business in the field of creative persuasion. Sales initiatives bring us business. Direct contact with prospects brings us business. We’re not selling cell phones or cars that come up on a Google search thanks to SEO or AdWords, and then the consumer seriously considers a purchase. We’re selling a highly specialized personal service called persuasion, and that requires more direct communication and relationship building to open the door with prospects.

            You are entitled to your opinion and I respect it for what it’s worth. Maybe I’m wrong about SEO. Perhaps you’ve built a huge ad agency centered on tons of Google search results. Kudos to you if that is the case. I haven’t found this to be the path to profitability in my experience relative to my advertising business. SEO is essential to many business categories. Advertising and freelance copywriting are sold primarily through more direct methods of relationship cultivation in my past observation.

            I just wish you would confine your argument to the merits of points I’ve made here versus attacking me personally or the merits of my website as if that is a definitive argument as to the validity of my expressed opinions. That’s an example of poor debate tactics and lack of talent in the art of persuasion. You make assumptions, my friend, and that is recipe for failure and how to lose your $100 wager.

    • John, I’ve got to agree with Danny. Copyblogger seeks to educate people — some on how to writer better themselves, and some so they can better work with professional writers. Hiring a writer shouldn’t be an act of blind trust, but rather an educated business relationship based on mutual respect.

      I also agree with you about the strategic skills of great copywriters (although I still see copywriters who say “I just write, I don’t do marketing” — well then, you’re not a copywriter). If I never wrote another word of copy, I would still credit copywriting as the most valuable business skill I’ve ever acquired (yes, more than law).

    • As a professional writer for many years who’s had plenty of struggles of my own with executives on this issue, this post is exactly what I’d put in front of them if I had it to do today.

      Does it cover everything? No, not at all. But executives don’t want to know everything, they want a manageable number of bullet points.

      You’re probably skilled enough at persuasion that you can convey the full range of benefits to your clients. I wrote the post because I saw a lot of copywriters (particularly in the comments of the last post) who seemed to be struggling to get some of the main points across — who weren’t able to articulate solid business reasons to hire them.

    • Of course an amateur writer can achieve a high level of professionalism. Every professional writer started as an amateur. It takes a tremendous amount of work and focus, I don’t think I ever said or implied otherwise.

    • I see now John, you’re simply an elitist. How dare we try to help the great unwashed masses learn your craft … the nerve!

  8. Sonia,

    How do you go about finding a copywriter for a specific niche market?

  9. Great article! I’m an article writer who creates content for different websites.I’ve been successful because I do an excellent research before start writing down my ideas on a piece of paper.Then I pick the most interesting pieces of information.I mean information that matters for the target audience.The next step is to write in a simple way about a rich content.Simple doesn’t mean poor.It means convey your message clearly.I’ve been creating articles on a daily basis and thank God I’ve got an increasing number of clients. And I can’t complain how much money I’ve made recently!

  10. I believe a “Copywriting Makeovers” series is in order. I believe many people don’t know the benefits of a professional because they’ve never seen before and after comparisions. Same with editing. I did some edits inside Jon’s Guestblogging program and people said they’ve never had anybody do such a thing and didn’t realize how much they could tighten their writing. I’d love to see some copywriting breakdowns here.

    • I second that – I think that would be very valuable!

    • Roberta handled a lot of that with her Landing Page makeovers — she worked on both copy and design issues.

      Makeovers are always useful, though — it’s one thing to see the principle and another to see an example of the principle in action.

    • Most people don’t even know what a Starch Readership Study is, and how it can be one benchmark of professional versus amateur. I was measured by Starch results for the first several years of my advertising career. It taught me a lot about getting to the point, but also how even long copy will be most read if compelling, relevant and structured. As a junior copywriter, I’d even diagram a brief ad’s copy sentence by sentence. I’d detail and key point that needed to be made by every sentence. Then, I’d use that outline as a foundation for ultimately writing copy that also had to be creative. This kind of meticulous work led me to many recognitions in terms of readership and results from the advertising I created as a copywriter (in concert with other creative professionals) started to produce consistent results. The awards followed for creativity. Show me how we can teach that in a blog, and I’ll be impressed. The amateur who’s primary business is selling refrigerators in a retail store or supervising the operation of a manufacturing business isn’t likely going to stay up all night diagramming the propaganda purpose of every sentence in a two paragraph ad, a 30 sec TV spot, or 60 radio spot, much less the strategic elements of a well structured viral video or even how to covertly weave seemingly invisible selling messages into a blog entry. A point to ponder relative to whether amateurs can write effective copy is the following quote by David Ogilvy on professionals in ad agencies, “Advertising is a business of words, but advertising agencies are infested with men and women who cannot write. They cannot write advertisements, and they cannot write plans. They are helpless as deaf mutes on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera.” I shutter to think what Ogilvy would say about a blog that promotes amateurs writing copy. Yet, I say this with respect to the blog. I have the recent post, “Everything Will Conspire to Stop You…So What?” taped to the wall in front of my computer. There’s been valuable content in Copyblogger that I highly regard. But this occasional obsession to promote amateurs to undertake what is a difficult professional like copywriting is reckless to the profession and ultimately injurious to the advertiser who writes their own content.

  11. Let’s hope lots of clients read this post. ‘Cos they all think they can write, right? And they all think they can ‘save money’ by writing it themselves. We all know the problem:

    “I’ve got a nice new camera, now I can take great photos.”
    “I’ve got a nice new laptop, now I can write great copy.”
    “I’ve got a nice new flute…..”

    Ah.

    • Part of why I wrote this was to provide a little introductory client education. Every client thinks they can write copy — it’s probably the #1 objection copywriters face. So we’ve got to communicate the advantages of going with a pro. And after all, that’s what we’re good at — communicating benefits and overcoming objections.

      • Sonia, I personally enjoyed your post and I think someone with so much criticism (JS) must have it all figured out and nothing further to learn. I think the purpose of your post was encourage clients to hire professional copywriters like yourself rather than compel one to think they are a genius copywriter like JS considers himself to be.

        I appreciate the insights and although to call my ability to write copy “limited” would be a polite understatement I just recently subscribed to this great blog and intend to continue reading your posts in the future. Thank you.

  12. There are a lot of discussions happening right now about clients opting for creatives they find on Elance and Odesk. I like that this article provides the exact reasons clients should not take the low road when it comes to copywriting. It’s sometimes difficult to educate clients about the true benefits they’ll receive when working with a professional copywriter, especially when their main concern is money. Sonia, I think this article does a good job of laying the foundation for both expectations and reality.

  13. Love this post. Many people can write, but not persuade. Good copywriting gets at the emotional reasons people buy, not just the features and benefits of a product or service.

    It takes a surprisingly long “thinking” time as a copywriter to discover the trigger emotions for a particular product. Many business owners don’t want to take that time, so they hire a copywriter. Copywriters are trained to write headlines that grab a prospect’s attention, leads that pique interest, proof of what the product will do, as well as irresistible offers..

  14. Great post, Sonia. From my experience, the number one reason to use a professional Copywriter is #4 on the list: you’re just too close to it. I’ve used outside pros for this reason and I know some incredible writers who have done the same thing. We all suffer from The Curse of Knowledge when it comes to our own stuff. Combine that with emotional bias and it’s a tough hurdle to overcome. Bringing in an outside professional really helps.

    I think the only thing I would have added to the list is possibly “Delicacy of Messaging.” It’s far easier to teach a strong, talented, nuanced writer the persuasion end of the business than to take someone who already knows persuasion and teach them to become a great writer. Sometimes, when you’re message is nuanced or emotionally delicate or just demands a high degree of execution, it helps to jump to someone who has a fine degree of emotional control in their writing.

    • I agree — when I was hiring writers, I found that the best resource was MFA programs. If I can get a novelist or a poet who has a real feeling for language, tone, and evocative image, I can teach the mechanics of persuasion.

      #4 is an interesting two-way street for me. Sometimes an outsider will see something obvious that I’m just too close to. But at other times, it can take a ton of time to bring an outside writer up to speed on the essentials of who we are and how we’re different. On balance, though, I agree, objectivity and a fresh eye are tremendously valuable.

  15. This has got me seriously considering hiring someone in the future. Thank you for the valuable information. I feel my writing skills hold me back slightly,
    Eleanor

  16. Good article, I particularly agree with #4 and that is not always easy to give up for people who build and grow their business from the ground up but it’s true. I have (begrudgingly) hired great copywriters and in each case they did a great job and helped me make more money.

  17. Great article. I’ve gained

  18. All of us writers, from professionals to do-it-yourself-ers, have days when our writing sucks, except of course for Sonia, who writes like a magical pixie.

    Professional copywriters are committed to recognizing when their writing sucks, figuring out why it sucks, and learning how to unsuck it.

    Smart clients see that as a handy little skill.

  19. An interesting rant by John. Good luck to anyone who’s going to lean across the conference table and tell the client to stick their red pen where the sun don’t shine. There’s nothing more frustrating than having the stiches of your copy unpicked — the whole argument dies, along with a little piece of your ego. I’m in a situation at present where of my clients now has me liaising with a staff member who is herself a writer, and it’s had me changing the way I work, because I simply have to. She is liaising with the agency and has her own ideas about what she wants to say, but she needs me to do the execution. This is not how I’ve worked — ever — but I’m not saying no to this client. It just means everything goes through a number of drafts while she works through what she wants to say.

    My strategy for coping with this situation is to keep my iterations light, because my copy seems to simply serve the purpose of helping her realize what she doesn’t want, and focusing her thinking further. That’s the way it is. I deal with it.

    But for another client — taking up on something else on you said Sonia — they were simply too close to their product to even be able to explain it in a compelling way. This engagement has been incredibly satisfying — I’ve just scripted a video animation for them with a compellling narrative — and their ideas about what they sell and why people need it have never been so clear (so they tell me). So as a copywriter, sometimes you’re the Savior, sometimes you’re the whipping boy, but if you’re a pro, you don’t throw a fit, you just stay at it.

    By the way — I totally love voice-recognition. repetitive strain has forced me into it, but it lets me do more in the time I have. I actually end up writing a good bit by hand and simply dictating in, since I can be at the keyboard so little.

    Sheila Averbuch — ENNclick

    • Shiela, my suggestion is to give this client a copy outline that’s intentionally content only and NOT a draft of copy nor creative in any way. I’ve done this in a very similar situation a couple times in my career, and getting the other “writer’s” agreement on exactly what we need to say in terms of content that’s structured paragraph by paragraph ultimately helps limit the subjective revisions. It’s a lot of work, but you at least have an approved reference signed off by the amateur writer that allows you to later question, “So, if I’m saying exactly what we agreed we should say here, and it’s right there in paragraph 10 that you also agreed was the exact thing to say…tell me exactly why there’s a problem with this creative word or phrase that says exactly what we both agreed we needed to say right here in this paragraph? Help me understand the mistake I’ve made here in my writing?”

      This can quickly help the amateur look in the mirror and let you do your job. It’s not arrogant or unnecessarily manipulative. It saves time. Helps produce a better product of persuasion, which ultimately benefits the client. And, hopefully, it helps save the amateur writer from their own inevitable mistakes. In the end, you will be judged by the outcome of that work more than the amateur looking over your shoulder, so it’s just a matter of producing the best possible work. However you can get to that place is the way to go in my opinion. The work is all that should matter. Good luck.

      • John, you are so right. I starting working from client-approved outlines after getting bludgeoned with multiple re-writes. This practice forces clients to collaborate with you early in the process. They resist the idea, because it is hard work conceptually. The give-and-take can be tedious, but I think it is a more professional way to work and serves the client more effectively.

        John, don’t bail out; stick around. Brian and Sonia need good kibbitzers to counterbalance the awe of their awesomeness.

      • I write for a fortune 300 and struggle with the lack of creative direction every day.

        “Creative brief? Here, use this old brochure.”

        This is an important point, but it seems to me you could have had a much livelier and more constructive discussion without the smackdown and hair-trigger unsubscribe.

        I’ve been reading copyblogger for only a short time and this is the first time I’ve felt the urge to join the comments. I do so because I recognize my own professional situation in the point you made above.

        Sorry to see you go.

      • John,

        Thanks, I might try outlines again, although in past we tried that and it was my word choice…the artistry itself…she just dislikes. But thank you, maybe I should try that again.

  20. I totally agree that “many people can write, but not persuade.” I was an English major in college, but I never really learned copywriting until I worked in the marketing department of an IT company.

  21. So what are you’re thoughts on research tools to get that copywriting challenge started?

  22. Sonia, I love this article. I have shared it on my social media sites, and I’m planning on putting a link to it on my blog (crediting you, of course.) We’ve probably all had clients who think they can write. This post simply points out times when that might work, and times when it probably will not work. I know so many people who would love to hire a professional copywriter, but the funds just aren’t there. I think that we as copywriters provide a service when we give clients tips like these. Most of us work alone, and thus people have no idea how hard it is to do what we do. When I’ve given out my own writing tips, I’ve had people come back to me and say “Wow – thank you. I’ve never really thought about that before.” And yes, many of those same people hired me for tougher projects.

    Also, Julie, I love your line, “Many people can write, but not persuade.” I’m going to remember that one.

  23. Wonderful article, Sonia. I am a writer myself, but i never wrote any sales letter for my business till now since I know the stakes of writing a sales letter is very high. So I always hire a professional copywriter to do that for me and it brings in good response all the time.

  24. Sonia love the idea. I’m a direct marketer. I am creating my first wordpress blog site. I have been thing about about my ability to to maintain and grow my site and focus on my business. I am interested in exploring the idea of hiring a copywriter. What’s the best way to do this and what should I look for/consider when searching for a copywriter? And yes I do plan to use Studiopress and premise;-)

  25. When my business needs a shiny new salesletter, I’m guilty of being like one of those DIY, at-home plumbers. I’ve been writing like mad since I was 15 and wrote my first novel over a summer vacation. Short stories, novels, 100’s of blog posts and an unwavering love of writing later I naturally thought, “I don’t need a copywriter! Hand me the duct tape and step back, I got this.”

    Problem is that I don’t.

    I come to Copyblogger to improve my skills but when I write to persuade or sell, I choke. I get stilted and weird. Of course it took me years of failed sales letters to realize that but, hey, you live, you learn.

    So take it from me, one of “those clients.” Just hire a pro and stop tinkering with the plumbing of your business before you flood the basement.

  26. This is refreshing, poignant and incredibly powerful. Thank you for sharing.

    So important to gain fresh perspective from one or a few other equally discerning eyes, no matter how great a writer you are.

    I was fortunate to grow up with Dr.Seuss, Pizza Hut’s BOOK IT! reading program, Wordly Wise, PBS shows and a time where incentives made reading and writing FUN! Wish that were the norm in education today…

    Whether you’re drilled by a British woman in proper punctuation, grammar and sentence diagramming, fortunate to take AP courses in language and literature or just plain born and bred with the arts, all the training in the world CANNOT replace hard work, a willing attitude and internal fire in what you do (Getting Lost to Find Answers >> http://j.mp/hCl6I8)

    Loved these sections:

    > ‘Talent is 90% a function of putting in the work’ (Reminiscent of “Talent is 1% genius…and 99% perspiration” –Thomas Edison). You have to want it more than anyone else.

    >Do more of what you love and less of what you hate

    >Just realize that you need to understand the strategy behind the content you’re creating. Don’t add a writer for the sake of getting more words generated. Understand the business purpose behind all the copy you create, whether or not you do the actual writing.

    As Paul Roetzer recently mentioned post-SXSW, purpose and vision cannot be replicated. And that’s what makes you remarkable :-)

    Thanks again for sharing

  27. Ah, I had visited a while ago, then wandered off, then followed a link back here from Facebook today. Am so glad I did.

    The debate here is enlightening, and stimulating – some compelling positions and some elitist crap, but all worth reading and contemplating.

    Having written all of the stuff on my first few sites and now faced with the need to set up several more quickly, efficiently and with much better focus, I think it’s time to call in a pro.

  28. Patrick Vuleta :

    I’m going to say something inflammatory in response to this comments debate and assert that copywriting’s not a profession – it’s an advanced technical skill. :)

    That said, I think client education is a good thing. The other side of the coin is that when a client is a writer, but not a copywriter, they may simply not know they need to hire a professional. So many websites out there are written without any regard to even the most basic techniques.

    That said, as a copywriter it’s not my business to educate my own clients on writing. My education efforts are focused on a broader analysis of their industry so that when they hire me, they get someone who sees the bigger picture rather than just a hired gun to implement copywriting 101.

    But if clients want to learn about writing, more power to them. After learning of web design I only hire people who charge high rates because I can do anything a sub-$2,000 designer can do.

    • I’d like to expand on this Patrick, This post has taken a good shot at helping people identify a few situations when they need to call on a professional rather than a DIY job but I think it’s missed a few points if targeting this to the DIY crowd which happens to be a huge part of the Copyblogger audience.

      1.) There are tons of people out there who know they need a professional but don’t/ won’t hire one (and have the $$$ to do so) because they can’t find someone who’s competent enough to understand their message and/or can’t take the message and convey, let alone radiate it properly.

      I say, if you really want to help your customers solve a big problem, maybe a follow-up post (or the unexpected pt.2) something along the lines of “x things to look for in a copywriter when you know you need to hire one but don’t.” would be a natural, enabling post.

      Take it a step further. I’m not a professional writer but I know the difference between a good one and bad one. Like myself, a load of people write drafts of their own copy because frankly, only they know and can explain their niche. They’re the experts but need help with writing the final product. Finding a copywriter that you can know and like is easy, they’re copywriters and can set that stage with a quill all too easily, but winning trust and actually delivering results is a whole different game imo. That’s where people get burned and go back to what they were doing before, because getting burned sucks. Suddenly I’ve took a chance on 3 “expert, ninja copywriters”, 3 months have went by, I’m out $10k+ total, I’m frustrated as all hell and I’ve zero to show for it. A lot of the readers of Copyblogger have been there, or are there right now (maybe not to the tune of 10+ grand i used that as an example) and don’t have the luxury of the time or money on their side to take shots in the dark. How can they be further educated so this can be avoided to achieve the results they want? (e.g. I mean c’mon, I can clearly read the difference (and have experienced this problem first hand) when someone say’s they’re going to write something and has someone else write it yet charges as if it were done by the expert themselves. It’s very obvious in the copy, even if the copy is “good.” etc. etc. etc.)

      2.) Another big point people miss is the collaboration aspect. I don’t mind it if my writer wants to take the1500 words of niche geek speak I just wrote full of all the wonderful selling points I think are important and cut it down to 400, maybe even 300 mind blowing words. Just take the time to educate me on why it was done that way so I can learn from it and see why it’s important so next time I can give you better draft copy and save us all some time and money to drive to a better end product. Is this approach cutting into the writers pocket short term? Yes. But, will it build long-term value to the customer, boost his buying confidence, drive repeat business AND referrals through establishing a long time trusting relationship? You betcha and that’s how successful businesses and partnerships are built.

      3.) Then comes the hardest part. Actually finding someone the DIY writer can hand it over to that knows what they’re doing. Many DIY’ers are actually decent writers so in a lot of instances they might not need a full blown writer. Instead, like you mentioned, they need a damn good editor.

      Yet again another good idea for a post would be to point out the difference between the two and under what circumstances a DIY’er should call on each on of them.

      I could continue on this forever but just my thoughts, similar to yours on how this post could become super valuable to the target audience it was intended for.

    • I think Patrick has a great insight — the bigger picture vs. copywriting 101. With sites like elance and craigslist, the “101” copywriters truly have become a commodity. But translate the *thinking* that goes into really good copywriting into a larger business purpose and you can do very nicely for yourself.

  29. G’Day Sonia,
    I’ve been a published author for over 50 years. Yes; I started young. But I’m still writing and people are still publishing what I write. Sometimes nice people even buy it! I moved my business from offline to online in 2008.

    I’ve learnt a couple of things in 50 years’ writing. Among them is one that’s very important. I know what I don’t know.

    Alright; that may not be absolutely accurate, 100% gospel truth and all that. But it’s, as the guys at the Musicians’ Union used to say in my youth, “near enough for jazz.”

    When I first got involved in web marketing–“old fashioned mail order” as one writer called it- I knew that I was an absolute, dead set newbie. I also subscribed to that wonderful axiom, “do only those things to which you bring a unique perspective: buy everything else around the corner.”

    So I bought; and bought; and bought some more. I bought till my fingers were burnt to my elbow. I discovered that there were literally mountains of “web marketing gurus” who not only didn’t know what they didn’t know, but truly believed that they did.

    One case in point is training on the web. As a general statement, the quality of training on the web ranges from ordinary to appalling. Yet the subject matter experts with their “‘easy to follow” packages couldn’t teach a charging elephant to make the ground shake. And yes, for my sins, i do know a fair bit about training.

    That’s just one example in a field where I know unequivocally what I don’t know.

    I’d love to engage a really good copywriter, a really good webmaster, a really good web manager. Trouble is, they all tell me that they’re “really good.” Experience tells me that they aint. And I can’t afford the likes of Bob Bly or Brian.

    You tell me where all the ethical and competent web consultants are hiding. I’ll add subscriptions to Third Tribe and Premise to my extant membership of your excellent Scribe.

    Yours in the true spirit of an Aussie Curmudgeon,

    Best wishes

    Leon

    • Hey Leon,

      Looks like you have new subscriptions… because you’ve just found an ethical and competent web consultant :) (Hi. I’m James; pleased to meet you!)

      I do feel for your plight, by the way. We often hear some rather sad and/or shocking stories from clients who come to us after having lost thousands of dollars when amateurs took them for a ride. It’s tough to judge the good from the bad.

      On the other hand, I really enjoy showing those people that there still are service providers out there who care, who have a heart and who can turn an investment into returns. Hearing ‘oh wow, thank you’ from a client is a darned good feeling.

    • It’s tough. I would say, look at the results they’ve attained for clients. Do you like the sites/copy you see? Can the pro give you numbers about improved conversion, etc.?

      • I’d also add checking to see how long the providers have been in business. New people do good work, but there’s nothing like finding a business with a long track record of successes and happy clients.

        Also, the web is your friend. Social media shoutouts can often bring you back comments from other people who know the business you’re thinking of hiring. For example, a quick, “Hey, has anyone worked with Men with Pens and are they any good?” can sometimes give you all the answers you need to make a smart investment.

        • Patrick Vuleta :

          I’m an Australian as well and can vouch direct for James as a client since 2008. Three sites later and numerous other things and I’m still here. :)

    • Leon,

      Great post from another ad copy man. There is such a wide gap between “writing copy” and “writing copy that sells”. The internet era has brought out tons of people that act like they can write product copy, article copy, headline copy, selling copy, closing copy. But, give me a break, it’s mostly dry, unmotivating schlock.

      How many ever read Ogilvy, Bly, Caples or Sugarman?………. Nunca…zippo…zilch…

      I write it well. But I prefer hiring a real talented profession that “gets it”. They’re hard to find. When I do, I put on my direct sales letter writing and brochure copy hat and edit the hell out of it while keeping their unique essence. I like having another tone and color I can blend with mine.

      After years of successfully modeling my web copy after typical direct mail campaigns, I’ve come to appreciate them more and more over the years. Attempts at expanding into wider sites with informational content to support the basic appeal, I’m moving back to the simple package.

      Envelope, letter, brochure and response vehicle. Ten years ago everyone said it was dead.

      And here is Brian coming out with Premise (as well as the all the competitors: uniqueblogdesigns, optimizepress, flexiwhateveritscalled…) that focuses the sales and conversion funnel on a single letter/brochure page. But that structure only helps you along. His page outline is “by the book” and I hope it works.

      But the words matter. And pros like you know WHAT to write, not just how to write or where to write.

      • And here is Brian coming out with Premise that focuses the sales and conversion funnel on a single letter/brochure page…

        That’s not correct. The Copyblogger model is primarily about content marketing over time to build attention, trust, and authority (or know, like, trust) with the landing page the last necessary point in the process to achieve maximum conversion.

        • If you say that, and I take you 100% at your word, why is there no obvious menu structure in Premise?

          Unless I missed something (which is entirely possible), each Premise created page exists in its own world without obvious page or post menus linking to that “body of work” that is broader content marketing.

          Your copy suggestions and sample outlines all look like they’re one page close content leading to a conversion action on that page. I’m not saying it’s “wrong or bad” to do either one of these. But I think you’re looking at Premise from inside the trees. I’m seeing the forest and with the exception of your guidance to create certain types of content in various areas down the page, you have a “sales letter creation” plug-in.

          I know it’s a work in progress. I like the work. But to go the direction you describe, it needs to interface with menus and widgits.

          • Premise is designed to work “outside” of your normal site design. So, regular content within the theme, action-oriented copy on a landing page without the distracting elements.

            This post is an example of regular content, and this page is an email opt-in landing page for our newsletter. Different header, no sidebars, body styles unique to the page.

        • RE: “Brian Clark says: March 18, 2011 at 3:03 pm

          Premise is designed to work “outside” of your normal site design. So, regular content within the theme, action-oriented copy on a landing page without the distracting elements.

          This post is an example of regular content, and this page is an email opt-in landing page for our newsletter. Different header, no sidebars, body styles unique to the page.”

          ——
          You’re making my original point Brian in the note to Leon. I did not make it to be critical of the product. I like it but it is what it is.

          Premise is a conversion page creation plug in. I don’t see any categorical difference between it and the others. Single page; Conversion action on page, with various graphical, media and text content area/blocks. All of them are relying on secondary content of some type to lead you to that conversion page although neither premise nor any of the others require it. That is the area you are saying is the difference. No difference.

          There are stylistic differences and yours focuses on copy guidance. There are differences in how they work and set up. The key feature is that they all create one page with no menu including text/media and a conversion action on the page. Some plug-in, some are themes. Yours plugs-in and creates a separate theme.

          I’d love to see a switch that automatically pulls the colors, font, margins, tags, header, footer and other settings from the site’s main theme options. That would streamline everything. Or a panel to choose to use each main site settings or not. It would be so…so…good. Right now a user has to learn and set up another whole options page just to match their existing article content. I think if someone has a site with content on it already and they are looking for a better “landing/conversion” creation page product fortheir site, it’s 9 out of 10 that they want it to look like their current one. We all have our brands.

          Brian. I’ve been looking at various conversion page creation products for a while. I like yours and how it sets up. It’s a really good one. That’s why I pulled the trigger on it. But, aside from the structural differences, you’re in a relatively defined product category and I don’t see a reason to say it’s something else.

          • I don’t see any categorical difference between it and the others..

            The others are themes, not plug-ins. The others you mention don’t work with existing fully functional content websites built with WordPress. Premise does. We’ve actually enabled the philosophy you’re advocating, and we’re the first to do it.

            I think if someone has a site with content on it already and they are looking for a better “landing/conversion” creation page product for their site, it’s 9 out of 10 that they want it to look like their current one. We all have our brands.

            Even if it’s less effective? That’s the kind of “common sense” we need to educate people out of. ;)

          • If all you want is a page that looks like your primary site layout, you could simply create one with the existing wordpress functionality.

            But it’s virtually always more effective to create a page that’s streamlined, without sidebar distractions or links away from the conversion page, when it’s time for a call to action. The branding issue can be resolved by adding a header that brings the visual flavor of your main site to the landing page, without bringing along all of the visual distractions that our primary blog layouts have. That’s why Premise was built the way it was.

            If you click around on the menu items at the top of Copyblogger, you can see some of the ways we’ve used that technique.

  30. Very well said sonia, what a great post thanks for sharing.

  31. Well one needs to hire a pro Copywritter only when it is really needed in other words (as you said) when the stakes are high.

  32. Very nice post.

    I’ve always wanted to get good at copywriting (would be an invaluable tool to have under your belt), but it’s one of those things which i just cant get my head around. But considering how much copywriters charge.. i’m not going to give up qutie yet.

  33. Thanks for connecting Sonia :) Looking forward to your next post

  34. Excellent post. Great minds must think alike. I posted this on the 15th:

    5 reasons why you should always use a professional copywriter
    http://blog.theduffyagency.com/methodical_madness/2011/03/5-reasons-why-you-should-always-use-a-professional-copywriter.html

  35. G’Day Sonia ….and Brian,
    I don’t know who John Sparks is. But I have some idea how he feels….

    I reminded of that ancient Stan Frieberg skit about the bloke who thinks he’s a Great Dane. After treatment, he announces ,”I;’m cured. I’m cured! Feel my nose.”

    Apart from preaching my stock standard heresies like interviewing is a lousy way to select new staff and training generally wont improve performance and performance appraisal is the responsibility of the employee not the manager, I solemnly declare that never, ever again will I so much as hint that copywriting is not one of the noblest of arts. And wash your mouth out with soap if you’re even thinking of prizefighting!

    Make sure you have fun

    Regards

    Leon