How to make a freelance writer cry

Original photo by Milada Vigerova. Don't make a freelance writer cry
Original photo by Milada Vigerova

Freelance writer tears have medicinal purposes. If you catch enough in a jar and splash them behind your ears during the light of the full moon, your business will be hotter than a pizza pocket fresh from the oven.

The above memo is clearly circulating because I’ve been hearing a lot of copywriters sharing their personal shade of professional blues of late.

Here’s some of the ways you can make a freelance writer cry. And what you can do to avoid it should you so choose.

Agree to the SEO copy terms. Then delete them from the copy

As a freelance writer, I like to dig deep prior to starting the copywriting process. When I work with my creative copywriting clients, I spend about half to a full day in research mode to get the SEO keywords right.

I do the research based on Google searches, what your competitors appear to rank for, what you say your customers use, by asking people I know what they would use and a bunch of other little research techniques.

As my client, you get the right to approve those terms before I start writing the copy. I also explain that those keywords are best off used in links where possible, talk about like terms and why it’s important to consider page position and usage of the terms you want to be known for in terms of search.

3 or 4 little words are running the show in terms of your pages and posts as this structured approach is nutted out. It can be a small fan-dance at times to get those phrases to feel natural and happy in amongst the rest of the page content.

But the fact of the matter is, if you want to rank for “Wollongong creative copywriter”, I need to write Wollongong creative copywriter somewhere on that page.

At this point, I’ll send your copy deck with your beautiful new “fit it to a small amount of characters” title page and meta description with a focus keyword at the top of the page.

And if you touch the keywords at that point because you’ve decided to channel your year 7 English teacher, I will thwack you!

This is the reaction a good freelance writer will have to edits to the work surrounding keywords. We just don’t usually share it with our customers. Instead, we go to specially designated online forums and cry to other writers about yet another business wanting to rip the guts out of the SEO.

It’s pretty simple. If your keywords aren’t in the copy you can’t expect that web copy to rank.

It’d be like identifying yourself as the guy in the blue shirt and wearing a red one to the meeting instead. The person you’re meeting won’t know it’s you.

Quick tip: Google is smart, but it isn’t so smart it understands “our company” means Bob’s Small Bar in Bulli. Or “we write stuff” actually means “here’s a freelancer writer in Wollongong you can hire”.  Respect how your copywriter uses your SEO keywords. If in doubt, ask.

Point to a competitor’s website and shout “I wanna sound like Frank!”

No, no you don’t. You may admire Frank’s ability to summarise his amazing design agency in such a cool and funky way. But you are not Frank. You are Frank’s competitor.

And instead, you should want to annihilate Frank’s awesomeness with your even fresher take on design agency brilliance.

OK, so maybe you don’t want to crush Frank but…

Think about your website as though it were a dating event. Imagine if every single person you met said the same thing and looked the same. Even worse, what if they made you participate in the same damn conversation ten times over? If you were at a dating event with a bunch of clone bots, who would you choose?

You’d pick the first person who had the guts not to be like everyone else and who didn’t bore the crap out of you with their same tired phrases and boring rhetoric. They wouldn’t necessarily be the hottest, smartest or best suited person in the room. But you’d choose them because it’s better than the 9 other copy cats that just bored you senseless.

You’d forget about the other guys and make a new friend so the night wasn’t a total loss. You may even bond over heckling the other unoriginal robot people.

So don’t do the same thing in business. Be proud of what you do. Stand for something. Tell your customers about your amazing approach to design or eggplant sandwiches or whatever it is you’re selling.

Nobody wants to go to a place and give money to the guy who sounds like Frank. They’ll simply hire Frank. So be you and sell you instead.

Quick tip: Come prepared to answer questions from your creative copywriter about what makes your business special. Know who your competitors are so you can differentiate, not duplicate. Work with your chosen freelance writer to craft a voice for your business that is your own.


Ask your wife to rewrite the copy

I know you love your wife and I’m sure she has some valid opinions on a range of issues. But if you hire me as your copywriter, you can bet damn skippy I’ll be questioning the validity of your wife’s input on the job if she isn’t part of the business.

We all think we can write. We all can cook, too. And we all know there’s varying degrees of ability in the cooking spectrum. It’s the same with writing.

Now I am not implying your wife’s version of copywriting is the equivalent of microwaving pasta and slapping some canned sauce on it. She may make an amazing Sunday roast with all the trimmings.

But I am saying she probably lacks the experience to extrapolate that Sunday roast experience on a commercial level. That she may even become seriously unstuck in ways she never imagined if you spring 200 people on her and shout “let’s turn this into Masterchef, honey!”

So please, show some respect for your chosen creative copywriter and understand that the writing that looks effortless is usually the hardest writing of all.

If she can pull off writing copy that sounds great to customers and works on a Google search level, you don’t need to hire me.

But if you have hired a writer because you know she can’t, stop inviting her to stir the pot.

 Quick tip: A freelance writer with SEO experience approaches the writing of your project with pleasing both the customer and the Google search gods in mind. The balance between the technical and the cosmetic aspects of copywriting is better left to someone who does it professionally for a living.

Provide a brief on a cocktail napkin

Decent creative copywriters take what you know of your business story and translate it into language that appeals to customers. But we’re not here to clarify your business vision. Only you know what you sell and what shape your business should take.

I am fairly lucky because I come from a product development and marketing background. So that means I can help you with a new business idea. I can plan it, plot it out and help it take shape. It’s another paid service I offer to clients.

But if this is your situation, I won’t be leaping straight into writing your web copy. We’ll be working together to plan out your business idea as a foundation marketing plan.

Even if you know what your business is about, I will give you a form to fill in to tell me about your business. And I will decline to work with you 9 times out of 10 if you cannot either go through the development process or fill in that form.

Why? Because it’s not fair to ask a creative copywriter to workshop what your business is as part of the process. You should be coming to a copywriter once you have the idea locked down. They are telling your story, not developing your business idea.

I’ve heard all the excuses you can think of:

I don’t fill in forms, they’re just not me

I prefer to talk about it

But I want to brainstorm it together with you

Isn’t that what you’re for?

It’s your business idea. Know what it is. Practise until you do. And don’t come near a creative copywriter until you know what’s going on (or book in my foundation marketing plan so we can get you to that point!).

Quick tip: If you can’t describe what your business does in writing, you’re business idea isn’t solidified enough. It doesn’t have to be wonderful, but you have to be able to commit your business idea from pen to paper. A meeting or coffee is not sufficient.

Nobody really wants a crying creative copywriter or to bottle the tears of freelance writer shaped people. Do they?

Your average self respecting freelance writer understands your business is your baby. We don’t want it dressed up as something it isn’t or to use our word sorcery for bad. In fact, the success of your website and other marketing content helps us succeed, too. After all, the copy I write for you and the response you get from it sets me up for more freelance work in the future.

So please, remember that when dealing with your copywriter.

We don’t suggest things to be jerks. We don’t write phrases the way we do because we like messing with your head. Your average creative copywriter writes what they write to help your message get out there and your business to thrive.

So please, do yourself a favour. If you do get your copy back and you’re confused, bemused or feeling abused, talk it through with your copywriter. We’ll usually have a damn good reason for doing your work the way we’ve done it. And that’ll usually be tied to motivations such as SEO knowledge, understanding customers, technical skill and/or plain word nerd understanding.

Save the red pen and don’t make your creative copywriter cry.

If you’re the gentle kind of small business or startup who loves a good bit of copywriting, get in touch.

16 Comments. Leave new

  • This is perfection Bek! I want to hug this post.

    I’ve had ALL of these instances and have only been drive to almost cry during three project. One was because of the wife (marketing backgrounds), one was the girlfriend (used to write stories at uni) and one was life coach.

    We all got through it but it did make me try and figure how to avoid those projects. I thought of asking:
    Do you have a wife/girlfriend/life coach you want involved? But it seemed a little rude.

    • I think I may actually say “if the wife was the right person for the job, why exactly did you hire me?” less under my breath and more in the open in future.

      Personally, I think it may be a trust and control thing. And it’s one we all go through with mechanics, dentists, accountants and anyone else we have to put more faith in than we are used to. I get that.

      But it also means I’m not going to let my partner get out his tool box if I have a toothache just because I am worried. I think that’s probably what business owners forget sometimes.

      Thanks for commenting, Belinda!

  • Sorry… can’t type… crying.

    • It’s OK Glenn. You’re among friends now.

      Proceed to the whisky and chocolate bar and grab yourself a puppy to snuggle. We’ll have you back in cheerful mode soon enough.

  • Did it really have to be “wife”… again… still… ? #pc

    • It’s a brave man who comes to a female’s website (especially one that also runs a feminist portal) and calls her out on gender pro-nouns, Peter.

      If you’ve read any of my other blogs, you’ll see that family editor have had all kinds of formats and shapes over time. Analogy however, is stronger with a singular visual symbol.

      Thanks for commenting though. I think it’s important to remain alert to gender bias in all kinds of writing.

      • Hi Rebekah
        Thanks for a fantastic reply. Me…brave or just stupid? Usually the latter. I hadn’t read your other stuff so had only this post for a context (always a potential issue online).
        My own unstated context was more #MarriageEquality, but now I realise, OMG, I assumed your client with a wife was male…! Hoisted on my own petard. This bias business is everywhere. 🙂
        Meanwhile crying into my copy…
        cheers and thanks

  • That post is gold! Brought back a few unhappy memories but it’s ok, no tears were shed just more grey hairs were grown. I lived and learnt through the process… 😉

  • Spot on, Bek!

  • Came across this post via a share from Belinda. Like her, I hear your pain as have experienced most (if not all) of these scenarios myself at some point or other over the last 18 years. One to add: the frustration felt when clients ‘tweak’ the copy and inadvertently add in a typo or two, especially if it’s on the Home page. Totally discredits my work if I want to use it as a reference site. Aaargh!!

  • Sheryl Allen
    June 10, 2015 3:43 pm

    Yes. Yes. Yes! I’m making this post mandatory reading for every potential new client. I was reminded (PTSD style) of a client who had her accountant (gender unknown) review my edits to her e-book draft. I wanted to ask if she’d like me to run my eyes over her tax return but was fully occupied with sobbing into my whisky glass. Cheers for this awesome piece, Bek.

    • It’s really (and I mean really) not to come back with some kind of snappy retort at the time, isn’t it?

      Sorry for triggering the PTSD- but you may recognise a few faces in the whisky glass of commenters who are happy to share the burden.



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