As a marketing communications or public relations manager in a technology company, you may work with freelance or agency copywriters. Some of these relationships are likely to be very smooth and synergistic, while others may be frustrating or challenging for both you and the writer. You want to know:
"How can I find a good technical marketing writer?"
And, “How can I get the best work from a technical copywriter, from first draft to final edit?”
This article will give you smart strategies for choosing a freelance technical marketing writer and creating a working relationship that produces good results for your content marketing project.
Factors for Selecting a Technical Copywriter
Before evaluating potential writers, identify what you want from a copy writer and what your projects need. For example, do you need someone to handle just the writing, or someone who is more of a communications strategist? Do you need a project manager, someone who can handle all aspects of the content project from planning and writing to design and production? All of these roles involve very different skill sets.
If you have determined that you truly need a copywriter, consider the style and content demands of your sales materials. Do they require a high level of creativity, such as a cutting-edge advertising campaign? Or do the projects involve a formal style, such as technical articles and white papers?
Different marketing communication projects require different skills and mind-set of the writer, and not every writer can produce good work in every style. Indeed, many copywriters focus their work on certain types of projects, industries, or media.
Factors to consider when selecting a technology writer include the following:
Skill level and orientation. Does the project require a writer with extensive experience? Should the writer have an analytical or creative orientation?
Technical knowledge. In-depth knowledge of your company’s technology area may be paramount for a project because it would require too much time and effort to train a new writer. In other cases, it may be important for the writer to be very familiar with the audience you’re trying to reach, such as technical decision-makers.
Companies today face increasingly complex products, greater segmentation of markets, and a growing demand from their customers and prospects for high-quality information. These challenges mean technology-specific knowledge is just as critical as good writing skills from your writers.
Here are some key questions to ask when evaluating freelance copywriters:
- Does the writer understand the terminology and the technologies for your products? The market and competitive environment for your products and company?
- Which of the writer’s previous clients are most relevant to your industry or market? Is the writer’s work for these clients relevant to your needs?
- What industry-related publications does the writer read on a regular basis? Does the writer participate in events or other activities to keep up-to-date on technology developments?
A writer who knows your subject matter will be able to complete your projects more quickly and with less hand-holding. More importantly, this writer can make your materials more targeted and effective.
Communications effectiveness. A skilled copywriter can guide your technical experts in presenting their knowledge and insights in ways that are clear and engaging for readers. A freelance writer who has experience in a broad range of marketing communications and public relations projects gives you the ease, efficiency, and consistency of a single writer for multiple documents. You can also benefit from a technology writer who has a broad set of skills and ideas gained from working with multiple clients, marketing challenges, audiences and messages, and project types.
Strategy and planning skills. Project management or program planning skills may play a part in identifying the best writing resources for the project.
People skills. Consider a candidate’s interpersonal skills, because it is very likely the copywriter will interact with customers, executives, engineers and other technical experts and of course, your marketing and PR colleagues.
Tools knowledge and skills. Specify your requirements if the writer must work with particular software, content management systems, or other tools.
Experience in particular media. You may want someone with experience in certain marcom projects, such as a white paper writer or a case study writer. Additionally, the technical writing skills needed for online projects are somewhat different than those required for print materials.
Sometimes the greatest challenge is simply finding a good writer. Many people think they can write well and many more like to indulge their romantic fantasy of becoming a writer. Yet, few people actually have the right combination of writing skills, business sense, and subject knowledge to succeed as a professional copywriter.
To find a good freelance writer for your marketing project, I recommend checking the following sources, in this order:
- Referrals: Ask colleagues in other departments or companies for the names of writers they have worked with successfully in the past.
- LinkedIn.com: This is the most efficient tool to search for writers when you don’t have someone to ask for a referral. LinkedIn provides such a wealth of information that I describe specific strategies for conducting a LinkedIn search and reviewing writer profiles in a separate post: Finding Freelance Writers on LinkedIn.
- Search engines: It may seem odd that I would list search engines as the third option to check, not the first. The reason: a Google or Yahoo search produces a mixed bag of results, from freelance writers to agencies, academic papers and how-to books. If you find likely candidates through a search engine, look at both the writer's website and LinkedIn profile to narrow the list.
- Advertising, multimedia, Web development, and PR agencies: If your company has an established relationship with an agency, they may be able to recommend freelance writers who can serve your needs. But realize that, of course, these firms will be most interested in having you work with their own staff.
- Contract writing firms: Many cities are home to one or more temporary employment firms that place contract writers into company projects. They may also know distant writers who bring the right knowledge and skills to assignments that can be done remotely.
- Freelancer marketplace sites: Online sites such as Elance are designed to match businesses with freelance writers who can produce a variety of marketing content.these sites may be a way to find an acceptable writer, especially for projects with small budgets. However, for corporate marketers in midsized and large companies, LinkedIn is a better source.
- Direct mail and email: You may be approached regularly by freelance writers who want to introduce themselves to you. Even if you don’t have an immediate need, keep a file of the material sent by the potential candidates.
Reviewing Portfolios and Samples
When you are evaluating a freelance copywriter, conduct an in-person or telephone interview and review the candidate’s portfolio. The following questions will help you make a better assessment of a writer’s skills when evaluating samples:
- Are the materials similar to your projects?
- Are the style and tone in the samples similar to those of your projects?
- Is the depth and complexity of content comparable to that in your projects?
- Is the text well organized, readable, and free of errors? Even if you have no knowledge of the subject matter in the sample, you should be able to get a sense very quickly whether the writer can produce clear, interesting, and correct copy.
- What was the writer’s actual involvement in the project? This question will help you determine whether you're seeing the writer's own work or perhaps text that was heavily edited by others.
Sustaining the Relationship
Once you have found the right freelance writer, you can benefit from cultivating a sustained relationship. First, consider freelancers not only for new projects that come up, but also recurring projects such as blog posts and Web articles that always seem to be “lost in the shuffle” of more immediate projects and deadlines.
Develop a writer’s subject focus—such as technologies, issues, audiences—and leverage that focus over multiple projects, current and future.
Give the copy writer new types of projects as a way to maximize your investment in the writer’s knowledge. For example, a technical copywriter who has not previously written a video script, but who knows your products and company, may be a better choice than an experienced but generalist scriptwriter who lacks that knowledge.
When working with a freelancer, remember to send samples of the published work. It’s both a courtesy and a way for the writer to learn from any changes that were made between the final draft and published document.
Most of all, look forward to a long, positive collaboration and great materials!
About the Author
Janice King is an award-winning freelance technical copywriter who helps technology companies around the world produce clear, compelling sales and PR content. She is also author of the definitive book: Copywriting That Sells High Tech.
To learn how your content marketing can benefit from Janice’s skills and expertise, visit: www.writespark.com
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