Tag Archives: how to choose a good copywriter

Beware of Copywriters …

A lot of copywriters are shameless automatons: they will give you what you say you want instead of what you actually need.

This past week I’ve had two clients who were asking for the wrong things and would have gotten lackluster results(zero or seriously anemic) had I agreed to abide by their wishes.

In the first case, there was a fellow who insisted on a staid, anemic, neutered version of his biography even though it could have been a converter instead of a placeholder.  He said he wanted a professional biography; by ‘professional’, I later learned, he meant the above-described staid, anemic, neutered version of his otherwise truly-compelling history!

And get this: his target audience for this particular “targeted bio” was school district administrators, just about the least staid, anemic, neutered population on the planet!

He liked my draft; wrote, “Looking good, Kris. I just have a couple of changes.” I made them.

Then he said, “I’ll run this by my partners for their input.”

Red flag! He hired me and liked what I wrote well enough to present it to his peeps. At that point, I had fulfilled my obligation to him in its entirety.

I never agree to write for committees at the basic prices I charge. If a client wants committee approval, my prices skyrocket!


Ask any professional copywriter; they’ll give the same response: “Because too few people on any committee ever appear to agree unanimously on anything, most especially the creative way in which something will be presented!”

My client was happy–until he heard from his partners. “Too chatty, too relational. Not professional enough.”

I reminded him that his target audience was relational.

Nevertheless, he wanted it rewritten because “nearly everyone finds fault with it .” (How many copywriters did he consult to reach this consensus?)  So he took a stab at making it more palatable to himself before sending it back to me based on their input.

Result:  it came out sounding like pablum.  75 to 80% of it was still mine, but its essence had been emasculated.

But fine… he was paying the bill. So I edited and enhanced what his committee had come up with.

And then they decided they just didn’t like it at all. Not really.

I still insisted that they pay me. I spent three hours dedicated to making sure his “case study” bio was going to hit his target audience squarely in the heart and head.  He liked it at first (with just two minor changes) but then let his partners convince him that they knew better than I do about how to go about it!

Fine. He still needed to pay the bill. And he did.  But then he tried to justify why he/they were right and I was wrong.  I just laughed to myself. Ya can’t justify the unjustifiable.

I would love to see them split test the two iterations to see how different the result will be between the two, but they won’t do that. They’re convinced they’re right. They’re scared to appear human, involved and passionate. They’re Spock-ian. No insult to Spock, but only Vulcans resonate to staid,unapologetic logic. Human beings buy on emotion and justify on logic.  There was no emotion in his committee’s final iteration; which is probably why they decided they didn’t like it after all and that it wasn’t working. Oh, my…

Cut off its balls and see how quickly its potency declines, folks!

It’s too bad… I have to feel sorry for him; otherwise, I’d be frustrated.  He hired a professional to do right by him…and then discounted my years of experience and my ability to engage his audience in a way that would have them saying, “Yes! We absolutely need his patent-pending new product!”

In the second case (and this one is ongoing)…

I quoted on a PR project, aced it, and got paid. They immediately wanted me for a second project. But I noticed right away–while trying to pry the talking  points for the first PR out of the office manager that I was dealing with—that she appeared clueless as to what her boss actually produced for his clients and why that was a good thing!  She was giving me airy-fairy responses that had zero substance to them!

And she balked (at first) at completing my Content Questionnaire. Oh, she took a brief  stab at it but left such vacuous responses to the very few questions she answered that they weren’t helpful. She said, “Your questionnaire is about a product or service. I want you to write about a person, my boss!’  (Her “product/service” is her boss.  The CQ serves both functions perfectly!)

Their media kit is laughable; their website is so substandard that is has to be shooting them in the foot. (Luckily, she says it isn’t “live” yet… that is, she hasn’t pointed anyone to it yet. THAT’S A GOOD THING!!!)

She wanted me to write a second PR on their upcoming live conference, so I asked for talking points. She sent me the three speakers’ bios! That was it! “Here you go!” she wrote cheerfully!

I said, “No. Bios aren’t news-worthy.  What I need to know is what topics they’ll be talking about and what will attendees’ ROI be?  That is, what will attendees take away from the event that will convince them that the time they spent away from their businesses and loved ones was time well-rewarded? What EXPERIENCE will they have? What will they know or learn as a result of their time with you?”

Dead silence.

That’s when it dawned on me that her boss has given her an assignment she doesn’t “get”.

She finally confessed to me, “We’re just starting this push. We don’t know what we’re doing.”

It’s clients like this one that can get taken to the cleaners by charlatans who will simply do whatever is wanted, no questions asked, without accepting their fiduciary responsibility to bring their clients up-to-speed so they don’t shoot themselves in the foot!

I let her know that I can counsel her and help but that it will add to the expense considerably.  I can’t be educating her at the cost of one Press Release! (I spent about two hours, up to this point, educating her gratis without mentioning that I need to be paid to counsel my clients extensively!)

She asked what counseling will cost. I said, “$60/hour.” (A steal of a deal, by the way. Most consultants worth their salt get $250/hour with a guaranteed four hours a day.)

Dead silence. At least for now. I did point her to several helpful  books that can bring her up to speed on what a press kit should be designed to do, what a PR should be designed to do, what a website must do to keep people on it for more than six seconds, and so on…

She needs to know these things if she’s going to be hiring providers to make them happen for her. She lucked onto me: I submitted a quote on her first project.  Had she chosen someone else, would they have taken as good care of her?

You just can’t be too careful when engaging with a service provider, including copywriters. There are too many wannabes and charlatans out there who can take you for a ride unless you look before you leap.

Don’t leave it to chance.  I know you don’t want to become a marketer, web designer, or copywriter but–for gosh sakes–at least familiarize yourself with the professionals you’ll be hiring so you don’t have to “pray as you go”…or you’ll end up “paying as you go” (in consult fees) to learn what you need to know before you sign on the bottom line and engage a professional.

Make sense?


Beware of Self-Proclaimed Copywriters

Locally, I know five copywriters personally. Two are men; three are women.  Four of them (two men and two women) are self-proclaimed copywriters.  Their portfolios reveal them to be newbies/wannabes. They’ve written feature pieces, some of which are pleasantly and properly written but far from powerfully written. A copywriter has to know how to write powerful, riveting, hypnotic copy, not just pleasant copy

The problem, as I see it, is that a lot of people who want to hire copywriters don’t know how to separate the wheat from the chaff, the tried-and-true from the trying-their-best. As a sad result they get burned and forever after may consider all copywriters scalawags and charlatans in the same way that we usually consider used car salespeople rascals. Which makes it harder for good ones (copywriters and used car salespeople alike) to make a decent living.

Case in point

(I’ve told this story before but it bears repeating because it was quite a while ago.) A plumber came to my house to look at a situation I had. He was awesome!  He was informative, told me I was worrying about nothing unless such-and-such started to happen, and charged me nothing for this wisdom, since it took him such little time to reach a diagnosis. He said he was in the area on another job and not to worry about it.

I was so impressed by his manner and thoughtfulness, I asked him if he ever networked. He said, “I did, but I’ve gotten so busy that I don’t need to anymore.” I said, “That’s great! I can understand why! You’re terrific. But give me a handful of your cards because I want to hand them out and tell my networking partners about you.”  As he handed me a small stack with his thanks, he may have felt obliged to reciprocate in some way. He asked, “What do you do?”  I told him, “I’m a copywriter.”

His reaction was stark. His body language changed immediately. He took a step back, away from me, and fell speechless. His eyes snapped angrily as they sought the grass at his feet.  His aversion to my profession was both visible and palpable.

I said, “Looks like you’ve been burned by a copywriter.”

He said, “That’s an understatement.”

I said, “I am so sorry!  I’m afraid anyone can hang a shingle and call himself or herself a copywriter.”

“We found that out the hard way.”

“Again, I’m so sorry. But just so you know: not all copywriters are scoundrels.”

He relaxed a little and responded, “I suppose so. But my experience with the one we hired has poisoned that well, for sure.”

I didn’t offer him a card. I could tell be wasn’t going to be using a copywriter in any way, shape, or form ever again…or even recommending one!

That stinks, doesn’t it?  So when wannabe copywriters ask me to help them get into the business, or to mentor them, or to outsource my overload to them, I ask to see their portfolios or any other copy they’ve written.  In most cases, I decline.  They show very little promise. (On a side note, I would LOVE to find younger writers with great promise. I will need to refer my clients to someone else when I retire in the not-too-distant future, based on how quickly the years are whizzing past these days!)

I do occasionally help one gentleman who shows some promise. But even he floors me unexpectedly from time to time by emailing me comments like “I seen an article…”  I just shudder, wondering, “Am I wasting my time even with him?!”

I called him on it. He said he was tired and got lazy.  I don’t buy it for a minute. If I was asking a copywriter to mentor or help me I would make darn sure that what I sent them–even an email–was as good as I could make it.

The other male copywriter I know sent me a “rough draft” of something he had written and asked me to comment on its quality. It was fit only for lining the bottom of a bird cage. If it really was his first rough draft, it needed massive work and he should have worked on it before sending it to me because as it was, it just wasted my time. If it was the best he could do and he fibbed about it being a rough draft so I’d (he hoped) find value in it, it was a giant FAIL.

So I KNOW why and how people are getting burned…

  • They’re refusing to pay enough to make sure they’re hiring a quality writer. (Perhaps they haven’t researched the matter to discover what a good copywriter is worth and think secretary-level or lower wages will get them a superstar. Go fish!)
  • They’re not asking to see portfolios or links to online copy the copy writer has written, edited or copy-enhanced.
  • They haven’t asked the copy writing candidates who their favorite copywriters are, or the mistakes they made starting out, or what does a copywriter know that an English or Creative Writing teacher doesn’t teach.
  • Some aren’t sure of the differences between there, they’re and their or then and than or anecdote and antidote, or its/it’s, etc. so they simply can’t tell when a writer has what it takes to do the job well.
  • They haven’t read a single copy writing book (or even an article) to see what good copy writing looks like and why it works, so they don’t know how to tell who has the craft down pat and who is flailing.

Do some homework before you hire a copywriter

Whether you’re hiring a writer for a one-off or looking for someone for a long-term partnership, do your homework. If you don’t know enough about great copy to be able to choose between the candidates you like, hire someone who does know. I can make myself available to do this for you for less than you’d pay me to write your copy, if you don’t think you can afford me right now.

But do factor the following into the “can’t afford you right now” equation:  How long will you continue to struggle if you go with a bargain-basement wannabe writer who doesn’t know what he or she is doing when it comes to getting your target audience to stay and play?   You only get one chance (a chance that lasts, on average, just eight seconds online) to make a good first impression. Go with lackluster copy from a newbie and you’ll end up fighting an uphill battle to re-engage the folks who elected not to do business with you because your copy didn’t convince them to stay long enough to learn more about you. How do you get the same eyes back to your site when they didn’t like what they found there the first time?

Professional copywriters do a lot more than write good copy.  We’re counselors and advocates, too. We know target audiences’ pain/problem/predicament points, and how to push their buttons so they engage, tweet, and leave glowing testimonials to extol the virtues of their service providers’ awesomeness.

Please watch the video (Rotary Speech 1-6-2015). In under 20 minutes, you’ll fully understand why a professional copywriter is the only way to go. Don’t end up as disenchanted by your experience as my plumber was.

It’s a jungle out there. Don’t get snookered.  Spend your hard-earned marketing dollars on what works, not on a whim.

Kris Meme #9 Make it Happen

Why Hire a Professional Copywriter?


Thank you, Lisa Twining Taylor(Dancing Goat Web Design), for uploading my recent Rotary Speech (1-6-2015) to this website and to YouTube for me. Thank you, William Lee (Keeba and Lee Sales) for videotaping the presentation for me. It turned out great.

Clocking in at just under 17 minutes, the presentation  explains the added value of a hiring a professional copywriter. I was amazed to hear from people after the presentation that they had no idea of the additional insights and help that a professional writer can provide to help business owners and entrepreneurs take their outreach to the next level.

If you know of anyone else who might benefit from knowing this information, feel free to point them to this website or to my YouTube channel (WordWhisperer.NET). They will thank you for it… as I do!

P.S. My apologies that the video ends so abruptly, even though the presentation itself didn’t. There was an unwelcome interruption from an uninvited interloper (not a Rotary member, a Rotary member’s friend, or a friend of mine) at the point where Bill stopped videotaping. The videotaping wasn’t resumed after it occurred.

But you aren’t missing much.  Most of the things I covered occurred before the interruption happened. There were only a few additional follow-up questions. Unfortunately, I don’t remember what they were or I would list and answer them here for you.


Copywriting Wisdom for Business Owners

Here’s a video I produced today, an “infomercial” of sorts about why choosing a professional copywriter is so crucial. It’s just a little over three minutes long and worth your time. Please watch, share, LIKE, enjoy and comment when you get to the YouTube page it’s on. Thanks!


This blog is almost completely about great copywriting. It’s a blog for newbie copywriters and for business owners and entrepreneurs who want to try writing your own copy. I just caution DIY’ers because educators in grade-, middle-, high school and college teach their students to write English pleasantly and properly–not powerfully. (They aren’t writers for the most part. They know all of the mechanics but none of the magic.)

So just because you got A’s or B’s in English composition in school –or because you know someone else who did who’s willing to write your copy–doesn’t mean that it will convert browsers into buyers.

Buyers aren’t looking for pleasant prose–and that’s not what you’re selling.  If your target audience can’t hear the sizzle and smell the steak when they read what’s on your page, they will go somewhere else where they can. Now that we have the Internet and social media, it’s easy to shop around.

So…what stands between you and your customers? If it’s anemic copy that isn’t converting, there’s a solution: make sure the person you hire to do your copywriting knows what the heck they’re doing!

You don’t want to spend your working life chasing leads. With good copywriting at your beck and call, you won’t have to do as much of that; your customers will discover and come to you!

I bet you could use a little work-life balance, if you’re like most small business owners and entrepreneurs I know. That’s what great copywriting can buy you– more freedom to do the things you love to do with your loved ones. Remember those days?  Recapture them. Get someone on your team who knows the copywriting business inside and out and you should do better, faster.

A New Page is Up–Seek and Ye Shall Find!

Lisa has been hard at work all afternoon updating websites, including this one. When she showed me what she did on mine, I was amazed.

I’m not telling you which page it is. It’s a new page. It has links to another well-known site. If you click on them, you’ll be transported directly to a place where you can buy something.

Enough said. I’ve given you one too many hints already!

I was out of the office nearly all day. First thing this morning I attended a networking meeting in Puyallup; then I had a meeting with a networking partner to explain about “laser-targeting” a specific audience rather than “broadcasting” to a general audience.  (You read the same insights yesterday or the day before. Remember the fellow with the “receive important messages later” app?)

Next, I deposited a check for some writing I did for another power partner. (He’s going to have me join him at a table early next week during a well-attended business and social mixer.)

When I got back to my desk, I got a call from an elderly friend who wanted me to give her dog a bath, so I did that. (I do this every week for her because the dog has a skin condition and the vet has given her a prescription shampoo to try to take care of it.)

When I finally landed (permanently) at my desk, it was close to 2:30. (ACK!!! Horrors!) So I wrote copy for another client (about 750 words) and sent it off to him for review at about 4:30. (It’s a $200 job.)

Next I sent copy I wrote several days ago to another client (a $450 project) and am waiting to hear back from her. (She didn’t fund the project until today.) She’s in Japan.

I’m waiting to hear back from two others about whether they want me to be their copywriter. One will pay $1300 if he does; the other will pay about $500.

The $1300 client definitely wants me; he has looked over the quality of the other candidates’ portfolios and settled on me; he just has to convince the finance fellow in his firm to agree to it, since it was originally listed as a $500 project and he really only wanted to pay $300.

If you saw the parameters of the project just mentioned, you would laugh the way I did when I saw what they wanted to pay to get it done. Many clients have no idea what a qualified, professional writer should be paid. Luckily, he was willing to listen. He totally “got it” after I explained the process and the effort and time involved to do a great job for him.

What I’m discovering is that a lot of new and potential clients believe great copy just pours out of writers without time or effort. (If only!  Then I could charge less!)  Too many have been led to believe (by freelance writing ghettos) that great copy can be bought for next to nothing.

It just ain’t so. But it’s a hard thing to learn. Usually people new to hiring a writer figure it can’t hurt to try paying peanuts (entry-level secretary wages or less) to see what they get.

Then they get what they paid for and are appalled, so they go looking for someone to “fix” it. (Sometimes the copy is fixable; sometimes it’s irredeemable.) IF/when it’s fixable, they don’t want to pay much more to have it fixed because they already paid what they considered a “fair price” to have it written in the first place! So they ask for a price break, rationalizing “It’s already written. It’s just not up to snuff. I know it can be a lot better–and I know you can do it.” (Music to my ears. Alas, music doesn’t pay my mortgage. “Dammit, Jim, I’m  a writer, not a musician!”)

And I think, “Wow… I’m truly sorry you had a false start, but how can you expect to pay me less than what you paid the original writer for the mess they delivered? It was your decision to hire a fresh-faced wannabe without looking at their portfolio, writing history, test results, or client feedback. Nobody twisted your arm.”

You know better. You’ve been following me for a while now (some of you for quite a while if you followed me on Almost Famous). I’ve helped you discover what good copy is, what it should do for your bottom line, what it’s worth (ROI), and even ways to start writing it yourself.

And although you may not be a wiz yet, you’re a lot farther along, knowledge-wise, than most people who have never hired a writer to do their bidding before.

My aim is to make you a savvy buyer and a better writer (if you’re writing your own stuff). Whether you choose me or someone else to serve you, you’re getting the knowledge you need to choose more wisely.

And that’s a good thing.