Before You Fire (or Hire) Your Content Writer, Read This

Have you ever worked with a writer on a project and the first round falls completely flat? The piece (white paper, blog post, whatever it is) includes all the details you discussed, but it simply doesn't work. You sigh to yourself, struggle to find one positive thing to say, and share your comments. Then, you anxiously await the edited second round, and guess what, when it comes back it still is way off.

When the second round misses the mark, you're in what I call "contractor limbo." Technically speaking, they fulfilled your agreement for two edited rounds of the project, the writing itself is quite good, but it's just not what you had in mind. Now you're in that awkward place where the writer thinks they're almost done and ready to send you an invoice, but you want to scrap it and start from the beginning.

Do you pay them to do another round? Do they just owe you more rounds until you're satisfied? Do you just pay them and part ways? That's the limbo part.

With writers, designers, or any creative contractors, you want to work with people you can trust will get the job done well and efficiently. Ultimately, this is the start of a long term relationship where every project gets easier, and you and the writer get into a real flow together. So, before you part ways with your content writer (or any creative contractor) -- or better yet, before you even hire one -- make sure you’re doing these 6 things:

  1. Start with you. There are no shortcuts...before you hire a writer (or give a staff writer the project), you need to put in the work upfront. A one or two pager that answers some basic questions, is the key to the success of the project. Questions like: What is the overarching business goal for the project? (lead generation, brand awareness, customer retention...) What is the main topic of the written piece? Do you have an opinion or point of view that needs to be conveyed? For all 14 questions, check out my post Content Writing: Get It Right the First Time.
  2. Know your product. If you are unable to articulate the benefits and details of your product or service, how it's positioned in the market, and what your brand stands for, you still have some work to do. Getting the words right is certainly something a writer can help you with, but this deep thinking foundation work should be done before embarking on a specific writing project.
  3. Find the right writer. There are people out there who can write wildly clickable headlines. And, there are people who can write a well-researched white paper. Fact: they are rarely the same person. Ask for recent writing samples - or peruse their website portfolio. It will be pretty obvious if their work is mostly pithy headlines, or in-depth technical pieces. For those who have a variety of formats, read them closely and see which you think they excel at and would best fit your project. Similarly, if the writing project requires industry or technical knowledge, you'll want to see relevant examples.
  4. Get the backstory. On the surface, it may appear that the writing samples speak for themselves, but you need to check references. Be sure to talk to past and current clients to understand their experience working with the writer. The samples you see might be the result of an excruciating process where the client ended up feeling like they rewrote the whole thing.
  5. Find inspiration. Whenever you’re starting with a new writer, it’s always a good idea to share examples of writing (within and outside of your industry) that you like and that are relevant to your project. Share these examples and be sure to articulate what you like about each piece you choose. Think about the tone, the type of language used, the way the thoughts are organized, the calls to action, and the overall style.
  6. Get it in writing. Once you feel good about the project details and the writer, be sure to get a written contract - one that specifically defines the scope of work, the number of rounds, the deliverables, the timeline, and of course the cost. Include the answers to the 14 questions to make sure you’re all on the same page.

As with most things in life, you get out what you put in. The upfront work will pay off in the end and help you avoid project delays, uncomfortable conversations, and unforeseen costs... and keep you out of contractor limbo. And, if you’ve done these six things and still feel that the writer isn’t getting it, you’ll feel more confident in your decision to part ways. Key takeaway: Hiring a content writer can be the start of an important, longterm relationship for your business. Take the time to get it right.

If you read this and feel like, "Whoa, I want to do this, but who has the time?" send me a message or contact me here. I can coach you through the process or take it off your hands completely.