Monday, June 22, 2009

Hiring Writers V

When can you afford not to hire a writer?
By Alan Eggleston, writer, editor, SEO strategist

Shakespeare once said, All the world's a stage and we are all the actors*. That seems to be some peoples' attitude toward writing: All the world's a book and we are all the authors or All the world's a website and we are all the writers. To a small extent, that's true. We all have an ability to set a few words down on paper or on a screen and have it make sense. Some of us even have the gift of orginality or creativity. However, like any profession, it takes experience and practice to perfect a skill or make a talent pay off. It also requires hard work, which most people aren't willing to endure. I have written for more than 20 years, written for the Web since 1995, and I learned a lot along the way.

That said, there are times when it makes sense for you to write your own project. In those cases, you should not need to hire a writer and would be foolish to do so.

  1. If you are a gifted writer -- in the opinion of someone other than yourself or a close relative -- and have the time to write the project, by all means save some money and write it. However, do have an outsider read it to point out any flaws and suggest ways of improving it. Editors usually cost less than writers and will catch things you wouldn't dream are problems.
  2. Some parts of a project don't require as much creativity or finesse. Save some money by writing those parts and leaving the creative, more demanding parts for your writer. However, do allow the writer to adjust the language so everything flows as a unit and it doesn't show that multiple writers worked on the project. Or, have a less expensive editor pull the two parts together.
  3. In-house pieces with limited public exposure may require less writing skill. Pieces that set or explain policy may benefit from a legal review rather than a writer's hand.
  4. Signage, although you may want some kind of scrutiny of customer service signage.
  5. Small projects like short notices or web pages or quick promotional mailers, although a writer can often help you come up with a clever hook or intro that catches attention.
  6. Instances in which you need to provide a lot of detail and it would take a lot of time to explain it to a writer may be wiser to go ahead an write yourself and then turn over to a writer or editor to smooth out. They may have questions later, but it will be less costly than your trying to explain the all the details. Do have a writer or editor review it, though, to make sure it communicates clearly.
  7. A product page that is either more about details than sell, or that is copy and paste rather than writing may be a better investment in your time than a writer's -- or hire a virtual assistant or data input person. However, look for someone who is detail oriented and will catch mistakes and inconsistencies.
  8. If you simply can't afford a writer, you simply will have to do it yourself, unless you can find someone to donate his or her time. Perhaps your project will make a good portfolio builder. If you find yourself with a project to create and no money to spend (lack of cash, not lack of willingness to spend), at least find a word processing program or e-mail program with spell check and, if possible, grammar check.

Just remember if you decide to tackle the project yourself: Whatever it is will represent your company. Misspellings and typos, erroneous grammar and punctuation, strange formatting and unwise word choices will say something to potential customers, something you may not have intended. An experienced writer or editor will help guide you past those, even if you write the rough draft and they do a revision.

Look at it this way: When Hollywood does a blockbuster movie, they don't advertise for just anyone off the street to play the big parts -- they go for superstars. Sure, once in a while a production will cast an unknown and getaway with it. But more often than not, they go with the big names who can sell the story. Which way will you go?

*There's more meaning to this Shakespean wisdom than I'm attributing here; I don't mean to short-change The Bard, but it illustrates the attitude sometimes shown toward hiring creative talent.

Look me up on Twitter:
Personal: @alaneggleston
Professional: @a_copywriter

Monday, June 15, 2009

Hiring Writers IV

Writers: What to expect from your new hire
By Alan Eggleston, writer, editor, SEO strategist

We all know what we want from a new writer: competence. But what exactly is that?

Presume she knows the basics...
Let's presume for a moment that your new writer knows the basics: her grammar, spelling, and punctuation. It would also be nice if she had a flare for words, could turn a phrase and knock out a tag line, select a meaningful quote, so let's give her that, too. Let's also give her the benefit of the doubt about sentence and paragraph structure.

What makes for a good -- no, an excellent -- writer is when he can add value, when he can contribute to the project by advising you beyond the basics.

Tap into his experience...
Your new writer should bring all his business experience to your aid. That's true, whether your project is a website, brochure, or a business letter.

I have developed business websites since 1994. That includes, writing, editing, site mapping, navigation design, project management, content management application integration, search engine optimization, and more. I have also been a privacy officer. All that has taught me to look beyond writing when I integrate with a client developing content. When I go into a website project, I always have a lot of basic business-decision questions that I find many businesses haven't thought through that can have an impact on copy or site structure. Clients always appreciate it.

In addition, I have worked on hundreds of print projects over the years. I know about design and production issues that can help guide a project to successful conclusion, and I know that decisions that are made early-on can have a huge impact on later work on the project. I don't hesitate to advise clients on things beyond copy that will make a project communicate better.

This is all to say, your new writer should be able to provide insight into more than copy for a project, and don't hesitate to ask him questions or listen to suggestions. Make sure they make sense before accepting them, of course.

You should get what you pay for...
How much you're paying for her work may determine how much she's willing to provide in "extra" advice. However, as with any professional, most writers will try to provide as much value as possible. After all, they would like you to return as a client and refer them to others.

Keep in mind, there is a division of labor in the editorial world that might make it more useful for you to hire an editor than a writer if what you really need is an editor. An editor has made many more editorial decisions beyond simply writing ones. She has headed a project, dealt with writers, designers, and production (or developers for websites), and done battle with accountants over budgets. In a sense, a writer has to worry about a page, an editor has to worry about a whole book.

Look me up on Twitter:
Personal: @alaneggleston
Professional: @a_copywriter

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Hiring Writers III

Writers: How do you pick a good one?
By Alan Eggleston, writer, editor, SEO strategist

Everyone thinks she is a writer, and everyone thinks he can make money at writing. That's why services like are so successful in content bidding wars. However, the truth is, not everyone can write well and not everyone should be in the business of writing. You, certainly, shouldn't have to be in the position of paying them for their work when you could be hiring someone better.

Moment of transparency: I have been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. I have copyedited as well as edited publications, and I have faced my share of professional writers. I know a good one from a poor one. Here are some things that you as a client can look for when considering a writer for hire.

Look at their work...
First, your potential writer should be able to provide a portfolio for your review. Most often it is a set of hard copies of their work, whether print off of Web pages or cut outs of magazine pages. You want to see examples from their body of work, but especially those that reflect the kinds of work they will do for you or can indicate how their work may reflect on you. Someone who specializes may not offer a lot of variety but they should be able to provide plenty of samples.

Verify that this work is theirs, not simply something they wrote but was reworked by an editor. Consistency of style and look may help you determine this. If the writer provides print offs of Word or Wordperfect documents, look for errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax, and appropriate usage. Also look at presentation: If the work is sloppy, steer away from this writer! If it's sharp and polished, you may have a winner.

How well do they work...
Second, discuss the writer's clientele. You aren't looking for trade secrets here, just an indication of how the writer worked with them and any bad experiences he had and how he resolved them. Who has been his favorite client and why was it such a good experience? You would also like an idea of how much work he has done and how much like you they were, so you know how you may be able to work with him -- or not.

Are they dependable...
Third, ask about process. How does the writer work? Is she punctual? Can she turn on a dime? Is she flexible? What formats does she work with, and what services will she provide for what you're willing to pay her? This isn't about how much can you push her but how much can you depend on her and will you get what you need in the end?

What their price says about them...
Finally, ask about price. An actual quote may come as an hourly rate or as a project quote. If a writer is too cheap, you may be facing an inexperienced (though creative) writer. If a writer is too expensive, you may be facing an inexperienced (and demanding) writer, or a very specialized writer in heavy demand. Pricing depends a lot on the market and the kind of project you want. Don't be afraid to ask for a break if you're offering a lot of work. Make sure the writer understands the scope of the work and your requirements.

In the end, the writer you hire will be providing words for you. See how she writes, what words she uses, how she forms sentences and how her paragraphs flow. Do you like her style? Can you work with her tone? A sample of her work is the best way to tell all that. All the rest of your research should reinforce or refute that.

Good hiring!

Look me up on Twitter:
Personal: @alaneggleston
Professional: @a_copywriter

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Hiring Writers II

Writers: Do you hire a specialist or a generalist?
By Alan Eggleston, writer, editor, SEO strategist

A great mentor once told me, a good writer can write anything. At the time, I doubted him, but I came to see through experience that he was right. Although subjects and formats and often the way you carry a project out are different between jobs, all writing is essentially about communicating facts and truths. A good writer, with a little research and toil, can write anything.

Answering the question I have posed would seem simple, then: You can feel good about hiring a generalist writer for any project. Yet, I think you can make plenty of cases for hiring a specialist, too.

When You Should Hire a Specialist
A specialist writer, like a specialist in any occupation, is one who works almost entirely in one discipline: a poet, a sci-fi/fantasy writer, a Web writer, a direct mail writer, a video writer, an audio writer, a DVD or or other interactive media writer, for instance. He or she has gotten so good at the craft and is so effective at it, that he or she can concentrate on that form of writing and make a good living at it. He or she has a reputation and clients have formed a line to tap his or her services. These professionals have tapped into niches that many other writers either haven't dared to try or haven't had the opportunity to do. They have honed skills key to mastering some very difficult or very intricate art or science.

I would hire a specialist when this is the sole project I'm going to do or when it is so key to my campaign or upcoming season that to fail would cause irreparable harm to my business. Or, I would hire a specialist when I don't feel confident the generalists I usually hire can or will do the project well.

When You Should Hire a Generalist
I would hire a generalist when I have multiple projects and he or she is so talented or skilled that I feel he or she can handle multiple formats. Or, I would hire a generalist when there are multiple elements to a campaign and you want to make sure the elements and messages hang well together between them, that they sound like they're part of one campaign. For instance, you may have a multi-tiered campaign involving letters, brochures, websites, post cards, radio ads, and mall kiosks, and you want the same theme and messages to run throughout them. A generalist will bring you unity across a range of collateral.

You may also have worked with a specialist who can handle a wide range of projects. For instance, I specialize in websites, but I can also write letters, brochures, event programs, blogs, social media, DVDs, post cards, videos, audios, ads -- you name it. Such a writer should be more than happy to help you with any project, even though he markets himself in a special niche.

The thing about writing is, the more you do the more you come to realize as a writer that a good writer can write anything. The goal is always good communication.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Hiring Writers

Writers: Hire local or outsource?
by Alan Eggleston, writer, editor, SEO stragetist

As a writer, I would write for just about anyone. And as a writer, I can write just about anything. Thus, I would hope that if you needed a writer, you would consider hiring me. However, it's really a completely different matter from your perspective.

When to Hire Locally
I always encourage clients to hire locally. In this economic client, they shouldn't feel guilty about trying to hire writers in their community -- it's good business. It's also good social policy. After all, if they were going to buy whatever you offer, wouldn't you hope they would look locally first and consider buying from you? In addition, there are thousands of writers, many of them good ones. It's very likely there are a few good ones in your area who would like to work with you.

It makes especially good sense to hire locally when you need or want to collaborate closely with the writer, or if you need or want the writer available for meetings or to be able to stop in to look at proofs or work closely with a designer or developer. Certainly, some aspects of this work can be done online, but some clients like to work face-to-face. And some work is on such tight deadlines that it is important to be available locally to stop by to pick up hard copies either as research or layouts or proofs.

My local clients are often big companies with whom I do a lot of work and with whom I meet face-to-face frequently, or small businesses that do not have the resources to deal with long-distance writers. Small businesses often benefit from coaching or mentoring in marketing or communications topics and will like the writer to be right there for them.

When to Outsource
It makes sense to outsource (or hire outside your area) when your budget is tight and you can save money doing so, or when work can be handled electronically and you don't need any face-to-face interaction. Also, it makes sense when an outside writer is either highly recommended or is a specialist in an area that you need.

I have accepted work with clients in neighboring states or some distance away because we can stay in touch by phone and e-mail, and because we can handle copy by e-mail or Google Documents. One potential client interviewed and hired outside of their area entirely online because they needed someone with a certain expertise.

A Caution About Cost
Some clients will be tempted to open jobs for bidding on a service like That's all right for some projects. However, bid sites are often frequented by unestablished writers looking for a way to get some work to add to their resume. You will get low-bid jobs but you may also get poorly written work. If you go that route, make sure you also involve a good editor! Don't hire someone just because they bid cheaply, however. Look for quality work.

A Caution About Location
You may receive e-mails offering writers from overseas. I have seen some pretty good writing from India, but I have also seen some terrible writing from India. And I have seen some terrible writing from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK. Before you hire, look at their websites and ask for samples. Don't hire anyone whose site or samples show substandard work, because very likely that's exactly what you're going to get. And be prepared for UK-standard English spellings -- words like programme (instead of program), catalogue (instead of catalog), odour (instead of odor), whilst (instead of while), etc. -- from these countries. Also keep in mind that many UK-related countries tend to write longer sentences and paragraphs than do we in the U.S., so to suit U.S. audiences you may need to do some editing. Don't overlook these!