Sunday, May 23, 2010

Find a good copywriter

Tell me if this has happened to you: You are on the lookout for a copywriter and end up reading the sales pitches of many potential candidates. Usually on their own websites. One of them looks and sounds particularly impressive. You go ahead and hire this copywriter.

A few weeks later, you have --in front of you-- the copy written by this writer. You are not impressed. You find yourself trying to figure out what went wrong and what made you hire him instead of someone else.

If this has happened to you, then I bet 25 Turkish Liras that it has happened more than once. And that you have a tendency to repeat this cycle.

Here are some ideas to help you break out of this loop:

1. Don't hire the first guy you talk to:
Even if the first guy you call has good chemistry with you, don't hire him. Talk to at least 5 different copywriters. More often than not, you will end up hiring anyone but the first candidate.

2. State your problems in their pure form:
Do not seed the discussion with potential solutions you have already found. For example if you are selling a widget and you think the sales would increase if you wrote your sales page in a certain way, keep that though to yourself. Start with a clean slate and only with the problem you are trying to solve.

3. The right copywriter will ask the right questions:
There is a penetrating quality in questions. Some question will stay in the periphery. Some will touch you in a certain way. And some will penetrate deep into the heart of the problems you are facing. You want the guy who asks these penetrating questions.

4. Spread it thin:
You will have to finesse this with your potential writer. Break the job into pieces. Hire 3 writers on smaller pieces and see their results. Even if you need just one sales page, negotiate a deal where the copywriter will charge you 1/3rd of his rate but put in only 1/3 effort. In other words, ask for a quick and dirty letter. Usually new entrants in the game will agree to something like this. Your goal is not to get the job done as cheap as possible. Your goal is to see who produces good results even at idling speed.

5. Test the results:
When you have the copy written, do not judge it. There is the likely hood that your customers are different from you and they respond differently than you. Test the pages.

6. Repeat:
Make this a routine. Go back to your best writers, start version 2. Then version three. On and on. Find some more writers. Keep expanding your virtual team of copywriters. After a while it will become fun. Every cycle will increase your confidence in what you can get done.

Step 3 above is the most important. For every job, there is a copywriter out there who can do magic. You can easily find the right guy if you spread the jobs thin and hire many writers.

If you are trying to do something amazing with your copy, remember what good copy is not, and what it is.

In the photoshop parlance, good copy is not a bucket full of special effects. Its a combination of boring vectors, bland pixels, fills, and the arrangement of these elements. And finally a special effect or two. In other words good copy is the combination of every part, how its put together and how it flows.

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