The Problem with Writers: What You Can Expect

working with writers

working with writersWe’re a weird sort. Writers. (Humans, in general, but that’s a different blog post altogether.) Writers are wildly neurotic and obsessed with crazy things like word choice.

That’s why it’s hard for business people to hire us. I see their point, particularly those who have been burned by writers who don’t meet deadlines.

Businesses, do not put up with that.

Writing is a business. Someone who doesn’t treat it like that deserves to be begging for work. Don’t make excuses for writers missing deadlines because you think that’s how they all operate. There are writers out there who understand in order to eat, they need to deliver on time.

When I met my first client for the first time (we worked together virtually for 2 years before meeting face-to-face) he remarked on the fact I had never missed a deadline. He said it with a tone of surprise and I laughed. “You mean deadlines are flexible? I never knew.”

If I was winker, I certainly would’ve winked for dramatic effect. Alas, my winks always come out wrong.

 

Increase Expectations for Working with Writers

Whether you’re employing writers or you’re a business writer reading this, here is what all businesses should be able to expect from their writers and writers should look to deliver for their clients:

  • On time delivery. Yes, things come up, but a sunny day isn’t something that comes up (okay, technically the sun comes up but…) it’s not an excuse for not delivering.
  • A fair wage. Regardless of how you feel about the minimum wage, what writers do is real work. They should be compensated and that compensation should be somewhere above a pittance and below what people make as a second-string NFL player. If you expect professionalism from a writer, you must compensate them accordingly. If you’re a writer, don’t undercut yourself by doing things for “exposure.”
  • A social presence. I know some writers won’t agree, but you can’t just sit around selecting words all day and arranging them on paper. You must create a personal brand, understand WordPress, and be proficient in , at least, the major social networks. Your clients may need this help. You should be able to advise them.
  • Content ideas. One of my highest values as a writer is not in my writing. Sure, I hope that’s good because that’s the immediate need of my clients but my real value is in something they probably don’t consider. It’s the vast amount of reading and researching I do. Very few of my clients give me topics. Most of them I glean on my own by getting to know their industry. With each new client I learn their industry as if I was planning a career in it. I do this for my own interest in personal growth. I don’t charge for it. I consider it an investment in making myself a more robust writer. Writers shouldn’t need to be spoon fed with all the information available on the Internet. It doesn’t take long to become an expert in the minimal depth required to write a blog or social media post. If you’re working with a writer who does need content fed to them, you’re going to spend a whole lot of time rewriting their stuff.
  • Connections and news. Most of my clients are busy running their businesses, whereas I am either writing or researching all day long (this is the reason my blog looks like a ghost town). It’s common for me to find industry information and breaking news that I pass on to my clients. Often it allows them to be first with information to their community. Writing is producing a product but the type of writers you want to work with again and again are the ones who act as if they are part of your business and not just delivering a product.

The things I mention here are what I see as the basics of what a writer should be doing in this digital marketing age. What do you think? Am I off base or should writers be a valuable extension of the company’s marketing efforts?

3 Tips to Get Your “Money’s Worth” with a Freelance Writer

Getting your money's worth with a freelancer

Getting your money's worth with a freelancerIf you’re freelancing content, you want to select an amazing writer and get your “money’s worth” from that person. But how do you find one who’s worth it?

And when you find one, how do you know if the person is any good? Sure you can look at a portfolio but what does that tell you? For all you know that one article you just read was workshopped and edited by half the Eastern Seaboard.

What makes a good marketing writer is different than what makes a good fiction writer, although there’s a lot of overlap. Frankly, if you find a writer who doesn’t write for pleasure, walk away. That’s like a gourmet chef telling you he only eats foods out of a can, cooked in his microwave.

Writers write. Even the ones who have gone into marketing.

The first step to getting your “money’s worth” is selecting a writer who has fine-tuned his or her craft since the 1990s. The business world has changed drastically since then and a competent writer has kept up with it.

Writers Do More Than Write

A good content writer strings together nouns and verbs in a pleasing way, but also strives to understand your audience, what the audience wants, and where that audience is. The writer will also know:

  • how the piece being written will fit into your social media strategy
  • Social media best practices
  • SEO
  • WordPress
  • Images and copyright law (the basics)
  • Linking
  • Research

If you’re paying for a freelancer look for someone who understands the marketing aspect. While you’re creating content for your audience to be helpful, you’re doing so because you want it to ultimately lead to more sales, not because you want to publish a book of beautifully written blog posts. Look for someone who knows marketing, the basics of code, and the basics of design. Those are needed skills in today’s content world.

But Not Everything

Good content writers know how their piece fits into the larger marketing goals of your company, and like I mentioned above, you want them to understand social media, coding (just the basics), graphic design (enough to create a meme, make something look pretty, and/or create a title image), and those other things I listed. These are essential to them being able to do their job. However, please do not confuse a writer with a virtual assistant. If all you need is someone to cut and paste work for you, don’t hire a writer. You can find someone cheaper.

Respect writing for what it is, a skill and a talent. With the changing marketing climate, writers have had to reeducate themselves on what they need to do their jobs, picking up a lot of new skills. However, administrative assistant work is not in that tool kit.

Be Specific about Your Audience

A lot of businesses don’t know exactly what’s needed in the content department but you can, and should, come to the table knowing who your ideal customer is (and the answer is not everyone). The reason for this is simple. It allows your content writer to speak specifically to that person. Without that information, the writer has no idea who to target.

Let’s get back to my chef analogy, you know the one who only eats Chef Boyardee. Imagine asking him to cook dinner for your best clients and some potential clients. There are going to be some important people in your life at that dinner. Let’s put your boss there too. You’re up for a promotion. It’s important this night makes a good impression.

The chef asks you what sorts of things you’d like to serve.

You: Something everyone will like.Working with a writer is like a chef

Chef: Any vegetarians?

You: Maybe.

Chef: Any allergies or intolerances?

You: Perhaps.

Chef: Do they like Mexican?

You: I don’t know.

Chef: Seafood?

You: Not sure.

What does that leave you with?

If you create a vegetarian dish just to be safe and your boss hates veggies, you’re sunk. You serve a delicious pork roast, and it’s not in keeping with some guests’ religious beliefs. You serve Mexican smothered in cheese and half the people are lactose intolerant.

If you spent a little time figuring out who was coming, and what they liked, you could wow them. You find out they’re all huge beef eaters and you serve up meat on a sword Brazilian steakhouse style. That makes a much bigger impression than going with a table full of mismatched food trying to accommodate everyone.

People will come away from your party regaling the fact that you put in so much effort in planning the menu. You want the same to be said of your content. You want your audience to think, it’s like she read my mind. This is exactly what I wanted and needed.

Working with a writer can be an enjoyable journey. You’ll likely find out things about your audience you didn’t know. If you want to get your “money’s worth” let them do what they do best, create actionable and compelling content. A freelance writer must stay on top of the industry in a way that most employees do not. Freelancers who don’t stay on top of changes and best practices, don’t eat. If you don’t understand why they’re doing something, ask. Learning from them is an added benefit.

How to Select a Marketing Writer

How do you find a good marketing writer?

how to select a marketing writerWhen I went out on my own nearly two years ago, a colleague then put me in contact with another writer. He thought it would be nice for the two of us to compare notes and maybe she had some advice for me.

Writers are generally not social folks so reaching out to a complete stranger is not high on our list of favorite things to do. Before I was going to reach out to her I wanted to do my research and asked for her website.

He provided it hesitantly and said something like, She’s like most employed writers. Her website stinks.

At the time, his comment meant nothing to me, other than she might have a lack of technology skills. Nearly two years later of being in business for myself, I have a little perspective and it has nothing to do with technology.

If you’re looking for a marketing writer you need someone competent and trustworthy. After seven years in marketing and a couple of decades spent as a writer, I’ll tell you — most people can match nouns and verbs.

Writing is no different from cooking in that way. Anyone can follow a recipe. But to find a masterful chef who can whip something out of nothing, who can make everything in your pantry seem more appealing, that takes skill. Here’s how to find it.

How to Tell a Good Writer from a Lackluster One

How do you find a good marketing writer?I’m going to assume you can read copy on the writer’s website or in a portfolio and decide whether someone has mastered the basics of persuasive writing.

If there are a lot of typos, or the text sounds terrible when you read it out loud, move on to the next person. From the people who make the cut, take a look at the following things:

Her Website is Not Great

Like my colleague said, one of the signs of a successful writer is a terrible website. A successful marketing writer is very in demand these days. Google has done a great job explaining to companies why they need good quality content. For this reason most great writers with competitively priced services are working. They don’t have time to fiddle with their site or their marketing. A great writer has plenty of work and gets referrals so marketing is not a top concern. A working writer probably doesn’t blog every day unless she purposely keeps her workload light to do so.

She Has a Social Presence

Often the quote “Writers write.”, is bantered around writing communities, but writers no longer have the luxury of only writing. It’s a lot more complicated than that. A writer must ensure her content is inline with current search engine optimization tactics and must understand social media since much of her content will be shared that way.

A writer with a following is also nice to hire because (if you both agree to it) you’re getting access to her network as she shares the content she wrote.

She Won’t Work for Free

Links do not pay the bills. A good, experienced writer will not write for free unless you have a great service or product she needs and you’re both interested in a barter exchange, or you are a non-profit and she’s writing for you out of the goodness of her heart or as part of a community service obligation for the Court.

She Wants to Know About Your Business, Your Goals, and Your Strategy

A great marketing writer needs to know about you, your audience, and your objectives for the content. Without this she might as well be writing a persuasive essay for her English prof in 1990. Good marketing writing must factor in audience, SEO, marketing message, a call-to-action, and more. Most professional marketing writers take notes on their clients and write in a tone that matches their needs and appeals to their audience and industry.

If you need help finding a good marketing writer, ask businesses with copy you like. You might’ve assumed they handled it in-house but no always. If they outsourced it, they might give you their writer’s contact information. You can also place a request to your network on LinkedIn.

If the writer you approach is too busy to take on your content creation needs, ask if she knows someone. Most of us have professional contacts and people whose talents we trust.

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You’ll notice my post is conspicuously missing a call to action — one where I ask you to fill out my contact form and hire me. While I would gladly add this marketing technique to the bottom or your blog posts, my blog aims at helping not selling. It’s up to you as a business owner to decide how heavy-handed of an approach you want to take in your marketing copy.

When it comes to my own writing, I’m an un-marketer — resources not copy; stories over tag lines. That’s what I like to read so that’s what I use here.

How to Work with a Freelance Writer

How to work with a freelance writer

Google has led businesses (albeit somewhat forcefully with the Panda roll-out) to embrace the importance of good content. If you’re one of those businesses who realized your growing need for content, you probably either turned to existing employees, hired new ones, signed on with an agency, or are considering a freelancer.

Working with a freelance content creator is the quickest, most consistent, and least expensive way of handling your need for increased content. But hiring a freelancer is a little different from an agency or an employee. Here are a few things you need to know to ensure the working relationship goes smoothly:

Tips for Working with a Freelance Writer

There’s a Content Creation Schedule (and you’re part of it)

Unless your freelancer is on retainer to freelancers have schedulesyou, you can assume a couple of things:

  • You are not her only client
  • She cannot wait for you to give her work if she wants to eat

People who have never worked with freelancers, or at least in-demand ones, will assume the working relationship is much the same way it is with your employees — when you have work you give it to her.

A good freelance writer is in hot demand these days and adheres to an extremely tight delivery schedule. Last-minute jobs are probably not possible unless you have asked the freelancer to keep a certain date clear and have paid her to do so.

If you have a lot of last-minute work, you either need to rework your content needs and schedule, find someone with zero clients, or pay to work with a freelance writer on retainer who can wait for your work.

No One Can Talk on the Phone and Write Content at the Same Time

Writer’s write. That’s how they pay their bills. If you want the writer to participate in an activity that precludes writing such as being part of a conference call, touring a facility, hosting a webinar, or taking your kid bowling, she will not be writing, and thus not able to make a living. Expect to compensate the writer for things that keep her from writing.

A Writer is Not an Operations Manager or Project Manager

You should expect that a freelance writer writing for business in today’s world will understand:

  • SEO
  • WordPress
  • (a little) HTML
  • Grammar and how to right good (Just kidding. Write and well.)
  • Content marketing
  • Your audience, tone, and industry (or be willing to learn or research it)
  • How to write attention-grabbing titles
  • The importance of scannable content and other design elements
  • How to find topics that appeal to your ideal customer

Writers must have a host of skills outside of crafting a beautifully written paragraph. However, if you expect your content creator to manage other operations within your organization, you need to make that clear in the beginning. Most writers are not project managers. They cannot bring cohesion to your team, or organization to your business, without taking time away from the content creation. If you need a more organized operation or increased efficiencies, hire that specialist.

Remember a Freelancer is (Probably) Not in Housefreelance writers aren't project managers

A lot of what people know about the day-to-day operations of a business is picked up because they sit in the office and “hear” things. Your freelancer isn’t going to overhear you telling your assistant that you’ve rethought your content strategy.  Failure to communicate with your freelancer, means she won’t know about the change of mind.

If you run an entirely in-house operation, outside of your content creator, this may be the hardest part of the working relationship to get used to. When you all sit under the same roof, some things get communicated by osmosis (or office gossip). This will not happen with an outside person.

Always Ask for a Deadline

Most freelancers work by a strict schedule and will make sure they can meet your deadline. If one is not provided, most freelancers will ask when you need your project completed. If he doesn’t, ask him what his schedule looks like and when he expects to have it done.

Just because the project only takes about an hour (in your mind), doesn’t mean he can do it the hour you turn it over. Asking for a delivery date means everyone is on the same page.

Working with a freelance content creator can be a wonderfully rewarding experience as her skills can bring a lot to the team. Where else can you find an employee you can pay based on productivity and deliverables but reap the benefit of someone who has the latest knowledge on content marketing and social media best practices? (You have to keep your skills up-to-date when your paycheck depends on them.)

A truly skilled content creator can also help you with content strategy and analysis of how effective your content is. Before you turn to your next-door neighbor to write your business content, look at what a content marketing professional can add to your content mix.