When you're evaluating contractors to take care of several projects around your house, do you look for different people who each specialize in one aspect of construction? Or do you want someone who has a broad range of skills and knowledge and can take care of all your needs? It might depend on the project or the timeframe or the cost. But there are certainly pro's and con's for each path.
Meeting deadlines, delivering error-free copy, and being flexible are all things you should reasonably expect from your copywriter. But that's just the baseline of what you should be getting. Selecting just the right verb, using proper punctuation, and avoiding overused cliches are things every professional writer should be able to provide.
The true benefit of using a freelance copywriter goes beyond the proper mechanics of writing and extends into leveraging his or her experience and expertise. To provide you with a truly value-add service, your writer needs to draw from a broader pool of knowledge to create compelling copy that meets your particular needs.
Here are five areas in which your copywriter should possess a high level of skill and experience.
Crafting stimulating content that attracts prospects and drives action is important, but a crucial first step is gathering information. Source material is typically not simply handed out but must be developed from primary sources. Often the writer will have to spend time with subject matter experts to extract relevant information from their vast wealth of knowledge. These SME's are usually in high demand within their organizations and have limited availability, so the writer has to maximize the time allotted to the interview. That means carefully planning the questions, listening carefully to responses, and being able to pivot from the plan if new and interesting information comes up.
In my past experience as a working journalist, I've learned that not only do you need to be asking the right initial and follow up questions, but you must also establish credibility with the subject in order to achieve the best results.
When the copywriter doesn't have the benefit of mining an SME for input on a topic, he or she will have to conduct research from secondary sources. Google and other online resources makes that a much easier task than it used to be, but the amount of accessible information can sometimes be overwhelming, causing the "can't see the forest for the trees" syndrome. When doing research, a copywriter must focus on what pertinent information to include, when to pursue new angles that surface, and when to avoid being dragged into a black hole of distraction. It takes a special skill to be able to unearth the valuable nuggets of information from the huge mountain of available data.
When creating thought leadership content, it's important for a copywriter to understand the underlying strategy of the client. In some cases, this strategy may be inherently understood, but has never been fully articulated. A writer with experience in developing business strategies can be invaluable in helping to state the strategy clearly and succinctly. I just finished a project with a client who was creating a concept map for business planning and being able to share some ideas from my past business experience helped him sharpen the focus of the piece.
Sales and marketing
Many of the pieces your copywriter creates for you are thought leadership pieces - white papers, eBooks, articles, and blog posts. You likely also have a need for website copy, email blasts and landing pages, data sheets, and case studies - good, old fashioned selling. To make that transition and craft effective sales copy, your copywriter should have some working knowledge of the sales and marketing process.
For several years I was responsible for sales and marketing in a global manufacturing and logistics organization. Working with some outstanding sales and marketing executives taught me about the challenges of building a pipeline, nurturing leads, and closing deals. The experience has come in handy on several projects including helping to ghostwrite books on sales and marketing for two separate clients and polishing a sales presentation another client was giving to a major prospect.
Many copywriting pieces require a working knowledge of finance and financial terms. Your copywriter doesn't have to be a CPA or a financial analyst, but he or she must understand and be able to articulate the basics as it applies to your content. White papers, case studies, and blog posts often need to include a discussion of ROI and how the basic components of income statements and balance sheets affect it. If your business directly relates to finance, such knowledge is crucial. I just finished a corporate overview piece to be used in a presentation seeking a new round of investor financing. The experience from my days as an Executive VP for a venture capitalist-owned company helped me target the piece to what I know investors are looking for in such presentations.
You can't expect your copywriter to be an expert in every possible business discipline, but working with a writer with broad skills and experience in these important areas can provide you with a valued asset when it comes to collaborating on your content needs.
George Bailey sat slumped over his keyboard, shaking his head in despair. "Who reads this stuff?" he mumbled as he worked on the copy for a client website. "What difference does any of it make? I'll always be just a lowly copywriter. I'd be better off covering high school football for the local paper."
"Of course it makes a difference, George," a voice suddenly called out. "Your clients love what you do. They're generating leads, finding new prospects, and converting sales. The content you provide is a big part of that."
Startled, George turned to see a shadowy figure sitting in the ergonomically designed side chair in the corner of his office.
"Who are you?" he stammered. "How did you get in here?"
"My name is Clarence," the figure answered. "In a former life I was in marketing. I was in charge of working with freelance writers. I'm here to help."
"Help how?" George replied, eyeing him warily. "And it doesn't matter anyway. I should never have started writing business content."
Clarence thought for a moment and then smiled.
"OK George, have it your way."
"You're going to find me another job?" George asked.
"No," Clarence replied. "I'm going to show you what the world would be like if you had never gone into this business."
George dismissed him with a wave of his hand. "You're crazy. Now get out of my office."
He turned back to his computer which suddenly flashed and displayed the spinning beach ball of death.
"What's going on?" George asked, sitting up straight in his chair.
"Oh, nothing," Clarence said with a twinkle in his eye.
George's screen then flashed to his Twitter home page. He noticed the first tweet from Acme Consulting, one of his bigger clients.
"Sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you," it read. Followed by a second tweet which said: "I guess it wasn't meant to be."
"What's that all about?" George wondered aloud.
"Looks like they went out of business," Clarence replied.
"How is that possible?" George asked in disbelief. "They were landing clients left and right. They were looking to add staff to handle the workload."
Well it seems you weren't around to help them with that big content marketing campaign. You never wrote those eBooks and case studies that generated all those leads. They all went to the competition instead."
Facebook then popped up on George's screen. It was Sam Wainright's home page. The top entry read, "Killing it on Candy Crush. Being unemployed has some advantages."
"What???," George exclaimed. "Sam runs a huge manufacturing operation. He's a wealthy businessman. He doesn't have time for playing games online."
"He does now," Clarence answered. "He never read those white papers you wrote on the benefits of using the cloud for IT infrastructure. His costs kept rising and he never could figure out why. He couldn't compete in the global economy and went down the tubes."
"No, no," sobbed George. "Not Sam."
A Kickstarter page appeared on the screen. It was a request for contributions for Ernie the cab driver who was developing a hot new app that automatically scheduled your ride and ordered coffee from Starbucks which was ready for you when you were picked up.
"Ernie launched that app two years ago," George exclaimed. "I wrote a series of blog posts that helped it take off. He's retired and living on an island in the South Pacific."
"Nope," said Clarence. "Never happened. You weren't there to write those blogs. He's still trying to get it off the ground."
George turned and grabbed Clarence by the arms.
"Okay Clarence," George said. "I get it. I get it. Let me go back. I want to go back. I understand now."
Just then George's screen flashed to his email inbox. It was filled with new emails from several customers. The first thanked him for the email campaign he wrote that generated dozens of new leads. Another outlined how much business spiked after they released the new catalogue he wrote. A third told how a client closed a big deal thanks to an eBook he wrote for them. They emails just kept coming.
George turned to show Clarence, but he was all alone.
"Must have been a dream," he said quietly, rubbing his eyes.
He closed his inbox, went into his dropbox folder, and opened the file for the ghost feature article on data analytics he was writing.
"You know this isn't such a bad life after all," he thought as he began to type away. "In fact, it's kind of wonderful."
Anyone involved with SEO knows that chasing the latest search engine algorithms to improve results can be frustrating. Google changes its algorithm 500-600 times a year - sometimes making minor tweaks and other times doing major overhauls. While using keywords to optimize your content is still solid strategy, many experts feel the best way to rank high in search results is to produce engaging, compelling content written for people, not search engines. Ok, that sounds good. But the term gets thrown around a lot. What exactly IS "engaging, compelling content" and how do you create it?
Here are three suggestions.
1. Talk about your readers, not about you
Loquacious former Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar who never met a microphone he didn't like once famously said, "Enough about me. Let's talk about me." Unfortunately, that's the attitude of many marketers and content creators who think website visitors are surfing through your site trying to find out about the great things your business is doing. Hint: they aren't necessarily impressed by your latest award, hire, or fancy new building. They really want to know how you're going to help them.
For example, take this blog post from Hayes Management Consulting. Instead of telling you what an effective job they do when consulting with health care organizations or how many engagements they've had, they provide a concise, "nuts and bolts" roadmap on four specific things to focus on when preparing for a new IT system implementation.
When you sit down to bang out some copy, picture your reader asking "what's in it for me?"
2. Answer a question your readers may have
Most people scramble through over-scheduled lives and aren't spending much time simply browsing around aimlessly. When they plug a term into a search engine, they're looking for information on specific questions. You can stand out by providing the answer. Most of my blog posts come from questions clients have asked me. For example, in multiple discussions, people wanted to know the difference between an eBook and a white paper. It's a great question and I answered it with this blog post.
I'm sure you remember back in school when the teacher would say,"The only stupid question is the one that isn't asked" or "You probably aren't the only one who wants to ask this question." It's the same thing with prospects and customers. If one of them asks you a question, chances are ten others are looking for the same answer. That's a perfect opportunity to create a blog post, eBook, or white paper.
3. Help your readers do their jobs
Everyone is reaching out for help in some area of their working life. Providing that assistance gives you a leg up on landing more business and keeping the customers you have. For instance, you might want to help people looking to produce content that gets read and drives more traffic to their site by showing them how to create compelling content. See what I did there? Or you may want to offer some tips on a process that can increase their productivity or enhance the quality of their work.
For example, I deal with many people responsible for producing content for their organizations. While creating content is the only thing I do, their plates are usually overflowing with many other responsibilities. That's why they call me when they need help with their writing needs. But as everyone knows, delegating tasks can sometimes create more work if not done properly. To help solve that problem for my clients, I wrote this blog post on nine specific steps to take to get the content you want out of a copywriter. This provides them with a checklist for an efficient process that will help lighten their workload, not add to it.
So what's the best way to create engaging, compelling content? It comes down to the basics: create content that's interesting and helpful and people will pay attention.
How are you tackling the challenge of creating compelling content?
According to the latest survey from the Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs, three quarters of B2B marketers use blogs as part of their inbound marketing plan. Two out of three believe blog posts are effective in driving traffic and acquiring leads. There's a good chance blogging is already part of your overall marketing strategy or soon will be. When writing your posts though, you might want to consider the old saying "if you don't know where you're going any road will get you there." That's because the power of your posts comes in knowing what you're trying to accomplish with each one. Here are three kinds of blog posts that you'll likely want to use.
In this type of post, you're looking to share information about your industry or some aspect of business in general. Focus these posts on enlightening your readers about a new trend or topic. Make it interesting by adding little known facts about a issue that's getting a lot of attention. For example, this post from Dan Singer at Dyntek ties together two highly visible current events: the latest rash of credit card breaches and the release of Apple's new payment system. Both have been widely covered, but Dan discusses how a new technology called tokenization connects the two. Readers will likely come away with broader knowledge of both the Apple Pay system and a possible solution to cyber hacking.
2. Thought Leadership
This takes the informational post a step further by offering an opinion or suggesting an action. They're meant to be thought provoking and offer readers a clear point of view. For example, this post by Ed Marsh of Consilium Global Business Advisors relates a botched inbound marketing effort. He explains about being intrigued enough to sign up for a blog subscription but was totally turned off when he was confronted by an overly legalistic landing page. He goes on to point out the lessons B2B marketers could learn from the debacle. After reading this type of post, readers should know exactly how the author feels (you certainly know how Ed feels!) and should provoke a rethinking of their position on the subject.
These kinds of posts are important, but they should be used sparingly. They're meant to offer information on a topic but also to have a specific call to action. The goal of these posts is to get the reader to sign up for a webinar, or receive a white paper or ebook. For example, this post from Shaun Pinney at Backupify provides some tips and hints from experienced Salesforce.com administrators. At the end, he offers the reader the complete free eBook on the subject. This type of a post should provide enough information to be interesting even without the call to action. These are effective in building your prospect list, but if they're the only posts you provide, you're not likely to generate much return traffic.
Each of these posts have their place and should be part of your total inbound marketing plan. Using a combination of all of them should help maintain interest and keep your post feed fresh and compelling.
Are you using all three? Which have you found to be most effective?
Summer is over and you’re back from vacation. Remember all those things you told yourself you’d get to after Labor Day? Welcome to “after Labor Day.” Some of those tasks growling on your desk involve creating content – an eBook, white paper, or series of blog posts. If you and your staff are buried with other priorities, you may decide to contract with a freelance copywriter to help break the logjam of work you’re facing.
Probably a smart choice, but only if you get the result you want. Here are nine tips to get maximum value with minimum management time.
1. Clearly define what you need
Be precise on what you want in a final product. Determine the topic, content vehicle, target audience, and focus of the piece. If you need help defining some of these points, reach out to your writer for assistance. An experienced professional can help crystallize your need.
2. Get the right stakeholders involved
If someone else in the organization is going to approve the copy, make sure he or she is involved before you and your copywriter begin working on the project. I once had a case where my client and I were totally in concert on what he wanted. We went from concept to outline to first draft and were both happy with the result. Unfortunately the CEO who had final say didn't share our feeling. It wasn’t what HE wanted. We were striving for an objective thought leadership piece and the CEO wanted a sales brochure. We needed to know that up front. Instead, my contact looked bad to his boss and my credibility took a hit as well - even though I delivered precisely what was requested.
To avoid that costly disconnect, make sure you’ve circulated the concept and outline to everyone who might have a say in the piece. Know your relevant stakeholders and engage them from the start.
3. Get off on the right foot
Once you have consensus from your stakeholders on what you're trying to accomplish, communicate the basics of the project to your copywriter in a kickoff call. Agree on the voice, tone, and style of the piece. Will it be an informal second person approach where you address the reader directly or a more formal style using the third person objective case? Do you prefer footnotes, endnotes, or links? Discuss the scheduling requirements as well. Nailing down these issues early saves a lot of confusion, delays, and time-consuming back-and-forth communication later.
4. Agree on source material
Let your writer know what you'll be providing for source material and what he or she will need to research separately. In most cases, this will need to be discussed before your writer can provide pricing on the project. Identify any SME’s your writer might have to contact and do a virtual email introduction. Communicate any source materials you DO NOT want used.
5. Approve an outline
Review and approve an outline before your writer begins the first draft. This will ensure the piece is going in the direction you want. If it’s a short piece – a blog post for instance – you may only need to see a title and a few bullet points. For a longer piece like an eBook or white paper, reviewing a detailed outline before writing begins is a must.
6. Get a Sneak Preview
Especially on longer pieces, request an early look before your writer gets too far along. Reviewing the opening and perhaps a slice of the first section will confirm that your writer is following the agreed upon tone and style. That isn't something you can determine from the outline alone.
7. Be Available to Communicate
Although the point of outsourcing the piece is to free you up for other tasks, there are times when your writer will need you for clarification or direction. If you've hired an experienced professional, it won't happen often, but when you are contacted, make an effort to answer promptly. It may take you only a couple of minutes, but your writer could be at a standstill until you respond.
8. Review and Revise
If you’ve followed the process to this point, you'll likely receive a first draft that will be close to a final version. There may be a quote or fact that needs to be revised, or a paragraph or two you want reworded, but there shouldn't be a need for any major revisions. Usually a brief review call with your writer and one revision cycle should be all that’s needed to get you the final product.
9. Provide Feedback
Once the project is complete, let your writer know how you feel it went. Whether you have some comments about the process or the writing itself, communicate that to your writer so he or she can incorporate the feedback into the next project you do together. Developing an ongoing relationship with a reliable, seasoned copywriter can streamline the process considerably. The more your writer knows about you, your audience, and your product or service, the better he or she is able to deliver the desired final product - the first time - with minimal intervention from you.
How do you manage your outsourced writing projects? What process have you found most effective?