How to find the ideal freelance business-to-business copywriter

If you do a web search on how to find a good freelance b-to-b copywriter, you will get dozens of results purporting to give you good advice. Many of them, however, seem to just repeat boilerplate answers without really going deeper into the issue. This story may give you a slightly different angle.

Do your homework

First, determine what you want. Make sure you have enough background and clear objectives set before contacting potential copywriter candidates. Remember, you’re looking for professionals, and professionals hate a waste of their time just as much as you do.

Also, if you have a well-prepared backgrounder and a fixed target, it will position you as a client higher on the copywriter’s “most wanted clients” list than someone who makes the first contact empty-handed. Professionals like to work with professionals.

Forget your prejudices

With the World Wide Web, you are really operating worldwide. If your opinion is that you absolutely have to have a fellow New Yorker to do your job or “I can’t imagine working with a foreigner” or you couldn’t possibly consider anyone who hasn’t written anything for X Corporation, you might want to think again. Widening your perspectives may give you higher commitment, lower cost and better results than you ever imagined.

Search, query, find out

Unfortunately, this is the most tedious part of your quest. Depending on how you formulate your search term — “b2b copywriter”, “b-to-b copywriter”, “business-to-business copywriter”, “freelance copywriter” etc — you will, in any case, get hundreds of thousands of results on Google, so some sifting, and thus putting in hours of work, is unavoidable.

Having accepted the workload, look at the copywriters’ websites. Are they structured logically? Do they give you enough information on their expertise, specialities, work process? Is their self-promotion text free from grammatical errors? Does it flow naturally? If there are testimonials on their websites, are they plausible? Call some of the people who signed the testimonials and check if they remember giving such a testimonial.

Do the people portray an easy-going, client-oriented image of themselves or do you get a feeling they are stuffy and conceited? Trust your instinct, your first impression is probably right.

Questions tell more than answers

No matter how well you have prepared your backgrounder, it will not answer all of a good copywriter’s questions. Don’t worry, that’s the way it should be. The important thing is to analyse how they get back to you. Are they asking relevant, specifying questions or boldly announcing that they can do the job? Be more interested in the people who ask questions than in those who provide answers off the cuff.

What, no samples or portfolio?

Many of the boilerplate answers to finding a b2b copywriter tell you to look for online writing samples. Smart copywriters who know their job, however, seldom put up writing samples on their sites. There are a number of reasons for that.

First and foremost, every client’s needs are specific. Even though the copywriter may have written copy for your industry, it is impossible to give all the background and the targets set for the piece accurately enough to give you a full picture of why the copy is like it is. The smart copywriter does not want to be judged on false premises.

There are also jobs that, while not being exactly secret, are not meant to be publicised outside the target audience, and the copywriter may have chosen not to place them on his or her site for the whole world to see.

You will do better if you contact your shortlist of copywriters and ask them to prove themselves. Give them your well-prepared backgrounder and then watch how quickly they respond to your query and whether they seem to understand what types of challenges your business faces. This is a better indication of their skills and commitment than an online sample which may or may not come close to what you’re looking for. This also tells you more about your copywriter candidate’s real skills in formulating your message: an online sample may be just a light retouch of a text provided by the client’s skilled in-house writers.

There are even copywriters who are willing to provide a free copy sample based on your brief if getting you as a client is important for them. Go ahead and ask boldly. This will give you a much better view of their capabilities of identifying your problem and their style of writing.

No need to jump in at the deep end

Many good copywriters offer a copy review service. Whether they call it copy review, copy critique, copy analysis, copy makeover or whatever, the point is: this service is a low-cost, risk-free way of finding out a lot more of the copywriter you’re interested in.

Give the shortlisted copywriters an existing marketing copy (of course not forgetting to state what it was supposed to achieve) and ask for a review. If you inform them that this is a competition that will result in choosing a long-term partner, you will probably get a very good price on the job, if not a free analysis.

Most good things in life are not free

Even if you don’t need to invest a lot of money in the project, finding your ideal b2b copywriter will take time, as pointed out above.

Being prepared to spend some money will help. If you’re really after a good, committed copywriter and building a long-term relationship, consider either the copy review route suggested above or offering every person on the list a small sum of money for a sample text. Within reason, of course. What you should aim at is a short landing page or a magazine ad, not expect them to provide a whole website for 100 dollars.

The benefit of investing a small sum of money will help both you and your copywriter candidates. You, because the sum is small. The potential copywriters, because you’re establishing a lot of credibility by being willing to pay for their effort.

To summarise: if you’re willing to put in a little time and perhaps even some money, your research will produce results. Honest, open-minded professionals feel comfortable with honest, open-minded clients. For a long-term partnership, a real win-win situation.

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UPDATE October 17, 2009: I recently stumbled across Michael Irvin’s blog post Maybe Your Creative is Just Not That Into You, which you might want to read in conjunction with the above.

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