One of my clients needs a new writer. Although I am a writer myself, I am eager to help her find one. Before you get that confused look, let me explain: it was my suggestion. No, she’s not a problem client. Actually, the contrary is true; we work well together.
But, when she recently started a project that I felt would be better addressed by a different writer, I told her so. Her exact words: “I need another you”. Having worked with her for so long, I know her company’s core values, its style, and its tone. This client is precious to me and I needed to make sure that she was placed in good hands.
I have to say that finding the right writer for this client is no easy task. After peeling through several layers of writers, I learned enough to understand why many businesses end up with crappy writers.
Still, though the process can seem like searching for a needle in a haystack, I’ve found that there are 7 general rules to make the process of hiring a good writer a lot less painful:
1. Don’t hire a referral blindly.
Don’t assume that just because a business associate raves about a writer’s work, you’ll get the same results. Consider the conditions. Your best friend’s IT company doesn’t need the same kind of content that your law firm does. So, take referrals in good faith, but then weed the heck out of them.
2. All roads lead to Google.
Don’t just leave it to the writer’s website to tell you her story. Do a general check on the search engines for the writer’s name and get a full picture of what she’s been up to. Anything in the public domain is fair game. Consider it the initial step of your due diligence.
When you have your consultation, surprise the socks off your prospective writer by asking questions about what you saw about her online. A good writer knows that content—all content—tells a story and unless the writer can guide her own, it’s unlikely that she’ll do well guiding yours.
3. Follow the trail.
Any whatshername can claim to have written content for-hire—especially if the content she claims doesn’t have a byline (web content, for example). Follow-up by contacting the company for verification and a reference (and by all means, man, get the contact information directly from the firm’s website—not the writer).
Protect your business and your time by doing this leg work for all the writers on your short list. I firmly believe that there are more honest professionals out there than not, but don’t get distracted by the writer’s 100-watt website—be like Nike and “just do it”.
4. Find the writer with the story.
Dancer turned writer? Don’t knock it. Contrary to popular belief, many of the best writers didn’t start off as writers. In fact, most of us fought like heck not to become one because we thought all writers were starving. Our journey of rebellion often makes for a colorful vocabulary and unique angle in storytelling.
Experience helps shape perspective and a writer’s past—no matter how odd or disjointed it may seem on the surface—can actually help craft a story that will literally rip through the page and grab the hearts of your readers. Don’t underestimate the power of unusual beginnings. Believe me—they have their place.
5. Stay clear of the Jill-of-all-trades type.
I’m not saying that writers can’t also be social media marketers and interaction designers wrapped up into one. We’re all multi-talented on varying levels, so if that’s the way you got cooked up, more power to you. Most of us, though, have an affinity to a specific area. Mine happens to be content strategy. I love wrestling order out of content chaos. It’s just my quirk.
Still, I’ll tell you that there are some content areas that I don’t enjoy giving the Full Nelson—like sports (lions), food (tigers), and politics (bears)—oh my!
Could I write a banging political expose? Certainly…but it’d be like pulling teeth. And I need my teeth. Besides, writing is like cold-calling–people can hear your frown on the other end just as much as they can your smile. Remember–no one wins when your content is not authentic.
6. Look for a writer with a network.
There will come a time when your infant project grows arms and legs. The writer who can reach out to other professionals to help you nurture your baby seamlessly is priceless. These writers know how important the “big picture” is when presenting content so they’ve already pre-selected a group of experts for times like these. Writers with feelers out in the larger creative world can quickly assemble an inimitable crack team to collaborate on larger projects and offer you content gold.
7. Get a writer who is confident in her skin.
You’ll need to know that your writer can hold her own in the presence of big creative egos and speak up in the name of copy when the designers and the marketers lay the groundwork. A good writer knows that content—text and design—must work in harmony. She’ll insist on being a present voice throughout the building process and will insist on bridging the gap between a brand and its audience. It’ll make a difference—I promise.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of suggestions, but it’ll save you valuable time (a possible aneurysm, notwithstanding) and get you headed in the right direction.
Sheba Simms is a Writer and Content Strategist based in Philadelphia, PA. When she’s not crafting copy, wire-framing content, watching classic television, or chasing after the little people in her life, she sleeps.