I’ve noticed a few things over the past couple of years when working with business owners who are looking for a professional copywriter to help them with their marketing.
They don’t know which questions to ask a copywriter. Or rather, what to use as an indicator to determine whether or not they are right for their business.
A lot of the initial discussion is more surface level and focuses on hitting deadlines. Which yes, they’re important, but you have to think about the big picture.
Will that content move you closer to your business goals? Or is it just more copy to clutter up the internet?
Remember every word that represents your company needs to have a purpose.
So where does that leave you with finding a good copywriter?
One who jives with your brand and can write in your style. But more importantly, knows how to think abstractly and strategically about the business.
The journey starts with asking the right interview questions and knowing what answers to look for.
Starting with …
What is Your Experience with My Industry?
Some copywriters who are generalists. They write about a variety of topics and don’t specialize.
Others specialize in specific industries. This type of writer will have a significant amount of experience. For example, they only write about finance, technology, or another niche industry.
Each writer has their pluses and minuses.
When interviewing copywriters, you want to know what their level of experience is. If specialization is important to you, one way to figure out whether a potential candidate is an expert is to ask an open-ended question.
One that’s industry-specific.
Yep, it’s that easy.
You’ll figure out real quick (some southern speak for y’all) whether or not they’ve got the chops.
The goal isn’t to trip anyone up or make them look stupid. But if you’re going to invest in this resource, this writer needs to be solid.
They need to be able to give you answers that make sense. If it seems like they’re talking around the question, it’s probably time to end the conversation early.
By the way, I’m not poo-pooing writers who don’t have a ton of experience. There are plenty who are more than willing to jump in and get up to speed about your industry.
This question is more about discovering their level of knowledge about your business and if they can speak — and hopefully — write about it coherently.
How will you manage my deadlines?
Not too long ago, I managed a writing project for a client where I worked with one of their writers. Since this person had a day job, we discussed their availability about a month before the deadline.
They assured me that they were good with it.
Guess who sent a message a week before the deadline asking for an extension because they were going on vacation? And then still missed that date?
Luckily, this was a relatively low-risk project.
But you don’t want this type of experience. You to have the assurance that if you hire a writer, they’re going to hit your deadline.
By asking them how they manage project deadlines, you’re getting a sense of how they communicate.
Are they using any project management system? Email? Carrier pigeon?
Writers typically have a process to break larger projects down into parts. Sometimes they’ll work with you to set up milestones for writing, reviewing, and providing feedback.
But the most important thing you to look out for is if the writer is proactive, communicative, and won’t leave you hangin’.
What’s your experience with SEO?
Here’s a fun fact. Not everyone knows how to write SEO-friendly content.
It’s not enough to know what keywords are. If you’re hiring a writer, they have to understand how to write for the different stages of the customer cycle.
For the past few years, Google has shown that they favor sites that answer user’s search queries. This means that you can’t dump a bunch of keywords into an article and throw it up on your website.
So you have to find a professional copywriter who can craft content, so it answers people’s questions and addresses their intent.
Which involves research and understanding how your customers think. Proficient writers will be able to explain their process for conducting keyword research.
To a certain extent, while your content is written with search engines in mind, it’s ultimately all about your readers.
Are you comfortable writing in different styles?
Most writers have a particular “style.” It’s their voice and is as distinctive a fingerprint.
This style can be conversational and upbeat. Serious or academic.
But can they write in your voice?
There are some fantastic writers who can have a conversation with a person, and from that dialog, immediately transfer their voice into written form.
You’ll get a sense of this when looking at a writer’s portfolio and asking questions about how they worked on other projects.
Finding a writer who can switch between different styles is a rare skill. One that can help you communicate with your audience on a deeper level.
Do you work well within a team?
In my past life as a graphic designer, I had a phone interview with a creative director. Wait, this wasn’t any ol’ creative director; it was the executive creative director (ECD). The big cheese.
During the interview, he said, “I have a very important question for you.” Dramatic pause. “Are you an asshole?”
What do you say to that? Or rather, who would admit that they were? According to the ECD, a lot of people.
Of course, I said no. But I understood the question was more than determining whether or not I was a difficult person to work with.
He was asking me if I was going to sow seeds of disharmony with his team.
By the way, I got the job.
In cases where you’re bringing in a freelance writer, they need to have the personality to work well with your team.
The last thing you want is to have a project go up in flames and an unhappy crew because of one rotten egg.
In addition to working with your employees, the writer needs to be able to quickly understand the team’s—and your—goals and that everyone is on the same page.
Think of scenarios where the writer would need to make a decisive decision or contribution. You don’t have to be as direct as my former ECD but don’t softball the questions either.
It’s the chance to feel this new person out and make sure they’re going to be a positive addition to your team.
What’s your process for conducting research?
Research is the most crucial factor in writing industry-specific, authoritative copy. Full stop.
How a content copywriter does it may not be as relevant to you as the where they got the information.
They need to be able to provide not only the resources used but also fact check them against other data. There is so much, eh, let’s say, questionable content floating around online.
You want any online or offline marketing content to immediately position you as an expert. Spammy, flimsy, or weak writing won’t get you there.
Don’t be afraid to ask a writer how they usually conduct their research or get their sources.
If you’re providing content for the writer to sift through, make sure you’re giving them some guidance to make the process more efficient.
They probably wouldn’t appreciate pouring through pages and pages of documents without a guiding light.
Can you tell me more about the results you got for [xyz client]?
This is a big one. If a writer talks about their writing got results for a client, they need to be able to talk about it with confidence.
They may not know about all of the numbers, which is fine. What you want to know is how their work positively impacted another business.
Can they walk you through the plan from start to finish of how they developed a specific campaign?
Could they explain the different customer profiles and buying stages they were writing for?
These are opportunities for the writer to go into detail about how they took the client’s content from point ‘a’ to ‘b.’
Listen to how a writer talks about the project. It gives you insight into their thinking and how they and created a solution that advanced the business.
Bonus Question: Are you open to doing a test project?
It’s one thing to see the portfolio pieces and fall in love with them. It’s another thing to know how a person works in action.
Asking them to take on a small project, lets you see how the writer communicates and takes direction.
But it needs to be a paid test. Why?
Well, would you want to do work for free? By paying for the project, both you and the writer have a transactional arrangement. A small one, mind you, but it’s still a business deal.
And you want to work with people who are serious about business.
This is a controversial topic because a lot of writers will do a “test project” for free. But this puts both of you at a disadvantage.
You don’t value the service as much because it’s free. There wasn’t much you had to invest, other than a bit of time, so it’s insignificant.
The writer is basically reduced to a commodity, and neither of you has much skin in the game.
Something to keep in mind is the higher the cost of receiving a service, the better the experience and quality.*
*Yes, I understand that this is not a steadfast rule. I think of it more as you get what you pay for.
Now Go Forth and Ask Away
You know that the right content can take a business from obscurity to instant recognition. Finding the right copywriter to help you get there is part of making this happen.
Knowing which questions to ask a copywriter, and getting as many details upfront as possible, will save you from investing in resources that won’t move your business forward.
Even better, it’ll help find the diamond you’ve been looking for.
So what other questions come up when interviewing copywriters?