What I Look for in a Copywriting & Content Partner

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You may think you’re “hiring” a copywriter or content writer – someone to handle the words so you don’t have to, an expert who has the gift of tapping into the thoughts and hearts of your audience – but let me correct that notion. You’re forming a partnership. What’s the difference? 

A good writer doesn’t just get inside the minds and hearts of your audience; a good writer gets inside your mind and puts your heart into words that will immediately resonate with your audience.

It’s an intimate relationship that requires mutual trust and respect.

So when you’re looking for a writer, it’s not like hiring just any contract worker. With that in mind, here are the specific characteristics and abilities that I’ve found make for long-lasting, mutually beneficial, and highly enjoyable partnerships with writers.

What characteristics to look for in a copy/content partner

I’ve worked with a lot of writers – a lot of the best writers, and some who weren’t a good fit. For me, I’ve found that there are certain characteristics and personality traits that the best writers I’ve worked with seem to share. Here’s what I look for.

  1. Are they curious? Curiosity about a wide range of subjects, and a wide range of people, are both absolute requirements for me. A good writer’s curiosity leads them to uncover interesting details someone else could miss, and because they’re interested, they can write about you so others are interested too. This is so important for edu content that can be pretty dull. And if the writer is bored? You don’t have a chance of captivating readers.
  2. Do they have a good sense of humor? The writer’s #1 job is making content fun to read, which you can’t do without a certain innate sense of humor. But that’s not the only reason humor is important. The Boss/writer relationship is a close one, and when you work that closely together, high intensity situations arise. Things don’t always go according to plan. Having a sense of humor about it is SURVIVAL!
  3. Are they willing to self-teach, and fast? I need my writers to be willing to learn and become an expert in an hour, because I cover a wide range of subjects. I want to be able to hand over a paragraph of original insights and have the writer craft a story around it with context, research and quotes that I don’t have to spoonfeed. Good writers understand that you can’t always have the luxury of existing expertise, and you can’t be afraid to stretch out of your comfort zone, learn something new, and write about it like you’ve known it all your life. 
  4. Do they want to deeply understand the reader? Good writers want to know what their readers want in life and work, what jobs they need to do, and what’s preventing them from reaching their goals. In short: They’re invested in the end-reader’s success, and therefore won’t pass off lackluster, fluff-filled content.
  5. Can they present information in a fresh, honest, entertaining way? I don’t want posts or copy that sounds canned and safe. Some companies do, that’s your choice. But let me say this: Nobody trusts company-speak. I recommend finding a writer who doesn’t try to please everyone, because they know that leads to banal, mediocre posts nobody reads. 
  6. Do they make excuses? Every writer misses a deadline now and then, especially when the workload is heavy. But beware writers who continually make excuses, or worse, fall off the radar entirely. I hate to say it, but some people are flakes.

What to Look for in Their Writing Samples

I look for what I call human-to-human writing. The ability to translate corporate speak, industry jargon and tech-talk into words anyone can read, understand and engage with. For me, that requires three ingredients:

  1. Strong storytelling. Great copywriters and content writers tell great stories that are fun and engaging, that hook you in with the first few lines, and keep you intrigued all the way down the page. Storytelling chops also mean that they can find the real, gripping, human part of any story and tell it in a way that makes people care. That’s not a talent, it’s a learned, honed craft. It’s also a skill that’s non-negotiable for today’s marketing, whether in blog posts, emails or ads.
  2. Knows when to use, and when to lose formulas. There are so many copywriting formulas that are darn good, and experienced copywriters should be familiar with them. But that doesn’t mean their copy, and certainly not their content, can *sound* like it’s following a formula. Look for writing that feels fresh, honest and original. I look for copywriters who know the formulas that work, but also know when and how to create something original and tailored to the audience.
  3. Emotion-rich writing. This is a hard one, since so many projects require writing in the ‘brand voice.’ But even then, you have to be able to inject genuine emotion and passion into what you’re writing about. A good writer won’t settle for less.

How to Spot Perfect-Fit Writers

I talk a lot about different kinds of fit – product-market fit, problem-solution fit, customer fit, language-market fit – but I’ve never talked about writer-fit. Here’s what I’ve found to be extremely important.

  1. Value fit – Does the writer share your most important values? You want a writer who will stand up for their beliefs and yours, because those values will affect how they write for your business. It’s very important to me to surround myself with people who uphold the same set of must-have values.
  2. Expectation fit – Do they share the same expectations for excellence that you do? You’ll want to define this early, because even great writers can be tempted to ‘phone it in’ if they feel they’re writing for someone who can’t tell, or doesn’t care to tell the difference. The best writers look for clients who demand the best work, because they don’t like handing in anything less.
  3. Engagement fit – Do they buy in to your mission? Are they emotionally engaged in your purpose? Are they excited by what you do and believe it really helps people? You need true believers on your side, especially where the words that represent your business are concerned. 
  4. Enthusiasm fit – Are they excited to work with you? And not faking it because they need the money? You’ll be able to tell fairly quickly if they aren’t genuinely excited, because it will show up in their copy. The best writers won’t take work they aren’t genuinely excited about, but there are a lot of writers who will, and do.

The points above tell you how to find a good writer who believes in you, who genuinely wants the best for your business and will write with passion – and be easy to work with. 

But this list is just a launch point for a great relationship.

How to Set Your Writer Relationship up for Success

Successful relationships are 40% who you pick, and 60% how you treat them – and your relationship with your writer is no different. Here’s how to hold up your end of the deal, so they love working with you as much as you love working with them.

  • Don’t expect responses on evenings and weekends, or instant responses. 
  • Don’t bombard your writer with dozens of emails – if they’re too busy reading your emails, they can’t write your stuff!
  • Set a content/copy calendar meeting at the beginning of the month so the writer knows what to expect, and can schedule in your work, prioritized by your most urgent deadlines. Giving adequate notice ensures they have time to do your work and keep quality high.
  • Give lots of positive feedback (this is a tip from one of my writing partners!). Positive feedback inspires engaged writers to do even better work for you, because it feels good when they do. Negative feedback can, as my writer puts it, “clog up the creative works.” Be kind.
  • Look out for your writer. Give them credit when you can. Talk them up. Help them build their businesses. Give them raises when it’s feasible. If you’re trying to squeeze every last verb from their dry withered hands for the least amount of money, a good writer will leave as soon as they land a better client. In fact, I’ve found some of my favorite writers by BEING that better client! 

In short: Words matter. The words on your home page, your blog, your emails, social media and ads are the primary way you come into contact with your customers. That makes the writer relationship very important to cultivate and strengthen over time. If you’ve been burned by bad writers (it happens to the best of us), just know that there are phenomenal ones out there who won’t just write their best work for you, they’ll also make your life easier and a lot more fun.

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