Hiring a professional copywriter is a milestone for your business--and it can be a significant investment. You might be chomping at the bit to secure the writer you’ve been dying to hire; after all, the right messaging will help your business to be successful. But if the foundation of your business isn’t fully formed, snagging that writer too soon could become a costly mistake.
As a copywriter, I’ve worked with business owners at all stages, from well-established, successful entrepreneurs and agencies to the greenest of the green (and we were all green at some point, right?). Through my own experiences with my clients, I’ve landed on a handful of key milestones you need to meet in your business before you hire a writer. When you meet these five criteria, you make our job--and yours, too--so much easier.
1. You’ve already built and developed your brand.
This one’s super important, my peeps. If you haven’t already done the heavy lifting to develop the proverbial look, touch, taste, feel, and smell of your brand, you need to put the brakes on the copywriting piece for now. (And I’m totally serious. Like, screeching halt.)
Approaching a copywriter before you’ve built your brand yourself is a big no-no, especially because you’re putting unrealistic expectations on your writer. Generally speaking, a copywriter’s job is to help you articulate your brand--not develop it for you. We’re here to help you tell the world who you are what what you’re all about, but we can’t do that if you don’t already know yourself.
(If this sounds like you and you need help building your personal brand, my friend Amber Hurdle has a great podcast series that will walk you through the steps. Listen to part one of the series here or go all in and grab a copy of her book.)
2. You know your own brand voice inside and out.
The ideal copywriter is a chameleon who tells your story so well, no one would ever guess you didn’t write it yourself. But the trick to discovering this alchemy is knowing exactly how you read, sound, and come across to your audience...before you hire a writer. Otherwise, you’ll waste time and energy searching for a psychic unicorn writer who can reach inside your mind and pull out your perfect voice for you (spoiler alert: not gonna happen).
When I’m writing as someone else, I think of myself as acting out a part in a play, in a way--because it’s all about getting into character. I try to get inside my clients’ heads--think like they think, speak like they speak, and tell their story in their unique brand voice. So, roll with me on this: your brand voice is basically a caricature, right? An avatar, a character.
Let’s think about it like that for a minute--your brand is a character, you’re a screenwriter, and your copywriter is the actor. If you’ve poured your energy into developing this dynamic, three-dimensional character you absolutely love, you’re going to be very careful about the actor your cast to articulate this character. (Still with me? Good.)
On the other hand, say you sketched out a character, but you don’t fully understand his inner workings or motivations. If you’re only acquainted with his superficial characteristics but haven’t done a deep dive into how he affects the other characters and how you want him to come across to your audience, it’s going to be mighty difficult to cast an actor whose portrayal of him makes you happy. Without an intimate knowledge of this character’s tone, mannerisms, and affectations, you won’t be able to help your actor execute a satisfying performance.
Copywriters face a huge (and unpleasant) challenge when you approach us before you truly know your own voice. Failing to be fully acquainted with your voice puts your writer in the position of playing brand voice roulette. In other words, if you don’t know your voice, chances are it will take your writer longer to nail it. And the back-and-forth of drafting, editing, and redrafting gets very tense, very quickly when there’s a voice disconnect between the client and the writer.
(Psst! If you need a simple guide to developing your brand voice, take a look at this.)
3. You’ve identified your ideal customer and target audience.
One problem business owners run into when they hire a writer prematurely is that they end up pouring a lot of time and money into developing too many different versions of their messaging. In a bid to cover all possible territory (rather than risk losing potential business), they write to one demographic, and another, and another. And all those mixed messages floating around are confusing to your audience, your writer, and to you most of all.
It takes work to pinpoint exactly who you’re selling to. Narrowing the field is daunting because every new business owner (and we’ve all been there) has a case of major FOMO to deal with. Because what if we niche down too far and miss out on work (read: money) we desperately need? What if we accidentally overlook customers who might pay for our product or service? What if, what if, what if?
Operating from a place of fear in your business will ultimately keep you spinning your wheels. It’s okay to slow down and figure out each piece of the puzzle before you plow ahead. The bottom line is, if you don’t know exactly who you’re selling to, you’re not ready to hire a copywriter--so take the time to figure that out before you move to the next step.
Take some time to craft a detailed profile of your ideal customer first (Amber’s book will show you how), then get to know him or her as intimately as you’d get to know that screenplay character. You want your writer to be able to deliver that satisfying portrayal of your brand voice, so give him or her the specifics and the tools to make that happen.
4. You know what products or services you’re going to offer.
While a copywriter can provide direction for messaging, it’s best for you to know what your business is offering before you hire him or her. While it’s not uncommon for us writers to work piecemeal with business owners as you build out your offerings, what we don’t want to do is help develop products and services that haven’t been fully realized on your end.
This piece of the puzzle is a little more flexible than the first three points, so if you hire a writer to craft messaging for other parts of your business before you’ve developed your offerings, just be upfront about it from the beginning. Clear communication of expectations between you and your writer is critical in any case, but it’s especially important if you’re still building out pieces of your business.
5. You’ve done your legal due diligence.
Legally speaking, have you dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s? There’s nothing quite as unnerving for a writer than connecting with a potential client (or working with a new one) and realizing they could potentially be getting into some sticky legal territory. We writers don’t want to assume responsibility for communicating on your behalf when there may be questions about the legality of your operations--and it puts us in an awkward position to have to tell you (tactfully), “Hey, you might want to speak with a legal professional before you move forward with this.”
Got all this covered?
I know you’re thrilled about your new business and ready to share it with the world, and that’s great. I’m excited for you, too! But jumping the gun on copywriting could delay or damage your launch. If your business doesn’t meet the above criteria, you risk wasting time and money on a service you’re not yet ready for--and creating unnecessary tension with that writer you wanted to work with so badly.
If you’ve covered these points, great! You’re ready to hire a copywriter to help you better articulate your business to your ideal customer.
Have you ever hired a copywriter too soon--and how did that shake out? Were YOU the copywriter? Share your experiences in the comments section below.