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Freelance copywriters on the Internet: How to tell the difference between heaven-sent and hack

If you’re hunting for a good freelance copywriter and have never done it before, or if you have but find yourself needing another for the first time in a while, I don’t envy you. This “brave new” e-world has turned your once straightforward search of a neatly stacked file of brochures and introductory letters into a bothersome wade through a mucky world of half-baked online listings and search results which only seem to list those freelance copywriters who are experts in SEO, or at least know what the heck it means (search engine optimization).

You: “I just need a good freelance copywriter to write this product launch brochure who’s not going leave me hanging or make me ask for another round of financing.”

Google: “Results 1-10 of 44,700 for brochure copywriter (0.17 seconds).”

And that’s not even a very popular search term. Yet, with 44,700 doors (or thousands more depending on your search) to choose from, what are the chances you’ll click the one that leads to:

• A freelance copywriter who plays nice with designers and doesn’t charge a first-born child

• A freelance copywriter who knows when and where to offer their expertise on how to communicate a message

• Creative, cliché-free, differentiating, success-enabling copy that is turned in clean and on deadline

It’s probably better than a 1-in-44,700 chance, but you’re still more likely to fall short than be wildly ecstatic about your freelance copywriter decision unless you add a few points of structure to guide you through the online chaos:

1. Look at freelance copywriters further down the list. Unless you’re specifically looking for an SEO copywriter, how high a freelance copywriter or a link to a freelance copywriter ranks in search results is not indicative of how good that copywriter may be. Search engines rank web sites according to formulas of keyword saturation in site copy, meta tags, links and other places. Not how well a freelance copywriter’s work achieved his client’s objectives. Spend some time at this. There is more to the marketing, branding and advertising worlds than the Internet, and there are many worthy and successful freelance copywriters who work in the offline world, but have only a token presence on the Net. Go ahead and look at the top-ranked freelance copywriters, but investigate the others as well. Look at who their clients are, the work they do, the brands they’ve worked on, what their site is like and testimonials from past and current clients. That should give you a good gauge. Or if you like the advertising a specific company do a search for “CompanyX AND copywriter.”

2. If you want quality, steer clear of “bidding” sites. There’s too many of them already, and more seem to be popping up all the time. The online auction is a great concept for your old fishing equipment or clunker on cinder blocks, but not for a good freelance copywriter, designer, photographer or any other “creative service” professional. Sites like Elance.com, Guru.com and their many cousins allow service providers to whore themselves out for projects in a reverse auction where the lowest bid wins. Unfortunately, there really is no winner. The freelance copywriter (or whoever) gets a fraction of the fair market value for their work and the client, unless they’re extremely lucky, will be stuck with a student, green amateur or someone who might not even speak English well—to say nothing about the copy they’ll write.

3. Seek out freelance copywriters with online portfolios. Find freelance copywriters who have some kind of online portfolio. Go through it in detail. Try to get an idea of the communications problem the freelance copywriter had to solve and get a grasp on the talent and thinking that went into creating the finished copy. Then ask yourself, “If I was in the market for something like this, would this make me more interested in learning about this product or want to buy it?” The work of a good copywriter will be obvious.

4. Judge by the work, not the product. You may have a great new product that everyone’s going to want, or an old product that everyone already has, but with a new feature or something. Now, your first instinct in finding someone who’s going to write copy to sell this product is to find someone who, if you’re selling underwater titanium door hinges, has written copy for underwater steel or plastic door hinges. Yes, too many marketers think if a freelance copywriter has only written for X and not Y, that they can’t write for Y. This kind of thinking is misguided. Again, go back to No. 3 and look at the portfolio. Gauge the talent. If they did a great job communicating something about X, you can bet they’ll be able to do the same for Y. A freelance copywriter isn’t defined by the product. He is defined by how he writes about that product.

These guidelines, along with a little “buyer beware” mentality, will help you wield the Internet as the powerful information tool it’s purported to be. You will find a good freelance copywriter.

About the author
Adam Barone is a freelance copywriter from the Boston area, who writes results-generating copy for such clients as The Timberland Company, Bank One, TJ Maxx, and other clients and ad agencies. Visit him at http://www.adambarone.com. Subscribe his e-newsletter, CopyTHINK at http://adambarone.com/mailinglist/?p=subscribe. ©Adam Barone 2005. All rights reserved. Online-only reprint rights granted as long as the article is published in its entirety, including links.

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