The Copywriter's Crucible

Surviving the Vagaries of the Freelance Life

4 things you should know (but probably don’t) about copywriters

Posted by rachelwriter on August 11, 2009

Photo Courtesy: my new wintercoat/Flickr

Photo Courtesy: my new wintercoat/Flickr

A short time ago, a client of mine referred one of her contacts to me for a Web copywriting project.  According to my client, her contact—let’s just call her “Pam”—was in desperate need of a pro to help rewrite the content for her small business’s Web site.  

You see, English was not Pam’s first language, and the copy on her site was riddled with spelling and grammatical errors.  Beyond that, though, the copy was… well… pretty bad.  Bland, boring, and circuitous.  Confusing, too.  Trust me when I say that one glance at this site would have made you run in the opposite direction.  Instead of attracting and reeling in new business, Pam’s site was actually scaring new prospects away.  She needed help, and she needed it yesterday.       

After a brief e-mail exchange (during which I explained what types of services I offered), it seemed pretty clear that Pam and I were going to be a good match.  I could give her exactly what she was looking for.  She could give me some extra work.  And we’d both walk away happy.

Then came the phone conversation.

“Thanks for considering my services, Pam!  I’d be happy to help clean up your Web site’s copy for you,” I started.  “I took a look at your site, and I agree with you that there’s a lot of room for improvement.  Here are my thoughts…..”

Gently, I pointed out a few problem areas of her site.  I was tactful.  I was delicate.  And, above all, I was professional.  I then explained how I could fix those problem areas and why it was important that they be fixed right away.  I thanked her for considering my services. 

But, before I knew it, Pam had lost her cool.  Without warning, she launched a counter-offensive, lambasting me for my “rudeness” and “unprofessionalism” and accusing me of undermining the integrity of her business.  I think there may have been a jab or two in there about my lack of sensitivity to ESL citizens, too.

Ouch!  I was definitely NOT expecting that kind of response.  After all, I was only doing my job.  I was trying to help her.  I genuinely wanted to help her.  I thought she wanted me to help her, too. 

As you might have guessed, Pam and I did not end up doing business together.  In fact, by the end of our conversation, Pam concluded that she had no real need for a professional writer after all.  What she really wanted, she realized, was someone who could upload two more pages to her (already convoluted) Web site.  And, she declared, she would write her own copy. 

Poor Pam.

If only she had known what I’m about to tell you right now.  Maybe then her Web site copy would be clear, concise, and effective.  Maybe then her business could have reached new heights by attracting new clientele.  Maybe then she wouldn’t have gone off the deep end.

No use in crying over spilled milk, of course.  But, that’s why I’m about to share these four revelations with you now—so that, if you ever hire a copywriter, you won’t inadvertently ruin an otherwise promising business relationship.

 #1. Copywriters aren’t just poetic wordsmiths who write flowery sentences punctuated by big, pretty words.  (And they’re certainly not antagonists with a penchant for hurling insults at ESL citizens.  Or anyone else, for that matter.)  Copywriters are creative strategists—wordsmiths on steroids, if you will.  They’re professionals who write copy that moves people to action.  Copy that makes people buy your products and pay for your services.  They’re expert communicators who are in the know about industry truths and faux-pas, and who can apply that know-how to help your business grow.  So, if you’re looking for someone to decorate your copy with fluff, look elsewhere.

 #2. Cleaning up sloppy grammar and spelling is only part of a copywriter’s job.  If your message isn’t clear, or if your message is off-target, it’s a copywriter’s duty to fix it—or, at the very least, inform you of the problem.  After all, crystal clear communication is the copywriter’s specialty.  So, let the copywriter do her job. 

#3. Copywriters don’t claim to know more about your business than you do, but they DO know more about how to get your business’s message out.  Look, copywriters aren’t experts in your line of work, and they don’t pretend to be.  But, you’re no expert in a copywriter’s line of work, either.  So, when a copywriter tells you that something in your marketing copy just isn’t right, she’s not trying to undermine your intelligence; she’s simply trying to do her job and help you.  Trust her judgment.

#4. Copywriters are not out to demean or belittle you; they’re here to help you succeed!  I know it stings sometimes to have others critique your work.  Especially if you poured your heart and soul into it.  But, please: don’t take a copywriter’s critiques personally.  It’s just business.  Besides, in the end, you’ll be thanking the copywriter for a thicker layer of skin… and a healthy ROI.

–RR

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4 Responses to “4 things you should know (but probably don’t) about copywriters”

  1. This is a FANTASTIC article! I think every copywriter will appreciate it. My writer/editor was just sharing a similar story with me yesterday, so I feel your pain with “Pam.”

    • Thank you so much, Kristen! It’s certainly nice to know that I’m not alone. Naturally, people are going to feel personally attached to their businesses and everything that goes along with them (like marketing copy). But it becomes a big problem when people are unable (or unwilling) to see their businesses through an objective lens and accept constructive criticism. I hope your editor was able to resolve her issue with her own version of “Pam”!

  2. Amy said

    I agree with Kristen (who sent me this article). This is a great article. I have not had a “Pam” (yet), but I have had clients that didn’t seem to understand what a copywriter does — or why we do some of the things we do to their copy.

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