Why I stopped outsourcing to freelance copywriters
October 14, 2016 • Glenn Murray
Most freelance copywriters who hit me up for work are pretty good writers. Some are actually great. But I still haven’t outsourced any work for years. Here’s why…
Being a good writer – even a great writer – is only half the battle. If that. The real challenge for most of my jobs is figuring out what to say.
Why? Because most client offerings are really, really tricky. Even the ‘simple’ ones.
Imagine a lawnmower man has asked you to write copy promoting his service. Your first challenge as copywriter is to understand that, even though lawn mowing services are quite common, they’re all very different. Your client possesses his own unique qualities and skills that make a big difference to his customers.
You have to accept that, even if those differences seem impenetrable to you at the outset, that’s merely a reflection of your ignorance and preconceptions. Which means you have to acknowledge your own inadequacies. Not just to yourself, but also to your client. You have to say, “I’m stupid and prejudiced. Please teach me.” It’s a humbling experience, and you have to do that on every single project. Because if you don’t, you’ll never understand the differentiators, and you’ll never be able to articulate them.
But sometimes even laying yourself bare and asking to be taught won’t be enough. Sometimes your client won’t be able to explain how he’s different, or he won’t actually know. When that happens, you have to tease the information out of him, in bits and pieces, then put them all together to form a picture.
Then you need to figure out all the other stuff. Like who his target clients really are, what they need, what their current service providers are failing to give them, what language they’re comfortable with, and so on.
Then you have to decide on an ‘angle’. An overarching message that will engage and compel readers.
Then you have to explain this approach to the client and, if necessary, persuade him that it’s the right one (which means having the courage and diplomacy to disagree with him).
And finally, you have to write the copy, remembering, all the while, that the reader is probably just as ignorant and prejudiced about lawn mowing services as you were. You need to educate them. But unlike you they’re not being paid, so they have very little incentive to understand the differentiators, and none at all to acknowledge their own inadequacies. So you have to skip the humbling part of the education.
Your writing skills – the actual stringing together of words and sentences – only come into play in this very last step. And even then, they’re not the whole show.
To be honest, I’ve never met a writer who can do all of the above. (Not one who writes in the style promised by my website and who leaves me with any margin, anyway.)
And it’s not for want of trying. I’ve outsourced plenty in the past, but mostly what happens is the freelancer comes back with something that reads nicely, but when I really break it down, I come to the sad realisation that it just wouldn’t stand up to a critical reading from my client’s real-world readers. It’s superficial, it misses the point, it lacks credibility or it’s just subtly off in some other way.
Whatever the problem, if I think the copy won’t engage readers and compel them to act, I simply can’t let it go out the door. Which means after spending hours getting the freelancer up to speed, managing the job and the client, and really reviewing the freelancer’s drafts, I end up having to write the copy myself anyway!