Why Hiring A Copywriter Is More Challenging Than You Think


I’m going on a bit of a rant today.

You see, most copywriters do suck … and suck hard. Investing in most copywriters is just draining money down the toilet. You have better chances making sales by copying a letter of your competitor and changing a few details than 80% of all people out there.

The sad part is that some of them charge $100 for a sales letter … while others charge $1000 and even $2500. Since it’s hard to make the difference between what works and what doesn’t if you’re not an experienced buyer, way too many people fall into the trap of hiring someone they like and get zero ROI on their investment.

I know because I’ve been one – not someone who lost money but one of those morons that overpromised and way underdelivered. I’ve came to terms with it because as a copywriter you need to mature and you realize that competence is more important than enthusiasm but I’ve been there. I’ve had many clients spend money with me and not even recovering their costs, not to mention their traffic expenses.

So I know this first hand.

Why am I’m telling you this?

Because you as a buyer deserve to know the truth. Copywriting, sales copywriting that is is hard. There is a reason why a top of the line copywriter, an A-lister charges $25.000 to $50.000 for a sales letter. He invested decades to get there and to learn every trick in the book to convert.

As a client, you may be tempted to go cheap on copywriting services. You’ll just flush your money down the toilet. It takes a real understanding of human psychology and of behavioral economics, not to mention a talent for selling in order to get a skeptical, bored, frustrated prospect to buy your stuff. The people who charge $100 for a sales letter do NOT have that kind of knowledge, even if they may say all the right words.

I know this because once again, I’ve been there. I used to say that I’ve studied John Carlton and that I invest a lot of time in research when I write a copy, as these are buzz words or concepts for what a customer wants to hear. I’d see a potential customer on elance.com (I’ve stopped using freelancing boards after Elance was closed) saying that he wants a Dan Kennedy type letter and I’d then position myself as a Dan Kennedy expert.

The problem was that even if I got the job, I couldn’t deliver. I created high expectations because I knew how to fake it til I make it but I couldn’t actually take the job to the end.

Then once I’ve learned to actually sell and get results, the people who hired me would simply pay me proper fees and reward me accordingly so I didn’t even need to raise my fees. My results talked for myself.

For outsiders, copywriters seem as a cheap investment that pays hundred of times over. For an insider, I know that this is false. The only type of copywriting that pays is the expensive type and when you have leverage. Without a marketing list, without money for traffic, without a good product, it is kind of hard to even break even. You can pay $40.000 for a sales letter and I guarantee you that it will convert but you’d better have the right traffic to send to it otherwise you’ll have a brilliant piece that nobody will see. Don’t expect people to come to you. You still need to attract them.

Web programming is simple. It is logical. So it is designing to some degree. However, sales copywriting is both a science and a art. There is no checklist to follow that makes a good copy good. It is the sum of hundreds of parts that must fit together and that in some way, the total must be bigger than the sum of all its parts.

It takes an extremely dedicated person to get to that point. You can’t read a copywriting book and learn how to sell like a pro. You need to either have a background in sales or knack copy after copy until you get good at it. Copywriting is in a way like professional dancing – it looks so damn easy and simple from the outside … but it’s confusing as hell when you’re trying to do it.

I’m not saying this to have you hire me. I’m saying this because after many years of being into this, after making every mistake in the book, after paying for those mistakes, I feel that someone needs to tell the truth. Most copywriters suck because they’re not willing to invest the effort to get good at it. It is hard to know if a copywriter sucks or not, no matter his portfolio, because past experience and samples say nothing about his ability to approach a new project and that in truth, you’re taking a risk each time you’re hiring a new copywriter.

If you go cheap, the risk is quite high to lose your money. Paying $100 and not making any sales is not cheap, it’s expensive. Paying $10.000 and making $10.100 in sales, for just $100 profits it is still better. Paying more, like $1000 is still in the risky territory as this is where average to good copywriters reside but also the poor copywriters who try to look good. Paying $5000 generally means that you’re hiring someone with a strong track record and a reputation in the industry who’d rather refund you than mess with his reputation.

So what should you do?

Well, don’t just hire someone and hope for the best. Try and understand how that person thinks. Ask questions. Look at how a person sells himself. I mean, let’s be honest, if a copywriter can’t sell his own services to you, a human being who is willing to at least listen, what chances does he have in selling your product?

Look for emotional intelligence. 90% of good copywriting is just understanding people. Wording, phrasing, design, formulas don’t really matter as long as you understand what makes people click. Good copywriters have either a background in psychology or sales. If one can get a date at a bar on a Friday night, then chances are that he can sell your product too. If you’re hiring someone who read many books on copywriting but suffers from social anxiety, I have a feeling it is not going to work out.

See if you can relate to that person. I’m not saying relating as in becoming good buddies and going fishing but copywriting has a lot to do with creating a bridge between you and the prospect. If the copywriter you want to hire can’t establish rapport with you then he either doesn’t care about your project or he is not good with people. Copywriters who suck at communicating and creating bonds also suck at selling.

As far as samples go, I wouldn’t worry too much about them. Samples are heuristics for determining skill but unless you’re a trained copywriter, these samples can’t say much. If I take ten buyers at random and I show a beautifully designed copy that sucks and a copy in a Word document that is brilliant, they’ll pick the pretty copy. Without patterns to analyze and the know how of what makes good copywriting, we just focus on what we know.

Also, look at his interest level in your project. Copywriting is not a commodity. There are no two letters the same, unless you write two variations for the same project and even then, it involves new research.

Is he asking questions on your marketplace, on how you’ve developed your product, on the results you’ve got via PPC and so on? Is he acting like he wants to understand your product? Then he’s a keeper. If not, then he either doesn’t understand the importance of research (huge flag) or he’s very busy (not a big flag but it’s not a good sign either).

Finally, follow your gut. Don’t hire a copywriter just because you like him or you’ve read the same self-improvement books. Hire because he seems to know what he’s doing. You will always be taking a risk and almost no one is willing to work without being paid, at least partially, but you can minimize this risk by understanding the person in front of you. Chances are that if you post a project on a freelancing site, you’ll get 50 bids from copywriters. 45 of them suck and are going to be a complete waste of your time and money. The other five, try to get to know, as human beings and determine if they seem the kind of people capable of selling or not.

And remember … it is not about samples or about professionalism or about fees. It is only about how one relates to other human beings. If he’s selling you without you even realizing and you feel you’re in a hypnotic haze, then that’s your copywriter. If you feel like he’s not doing a good person at selling his own services, move on.

By doing this, you’ll be able to avoid people who acted like me at the beginning of my career – looking alright but not knowing much. The way that I sold (or have not sold) was a dead giveaway. Fortunately, many of those people gave me a second chance after I’ve became decent or even good at this but honestly, if I was in their place five years ago, I wouldn’t have bought my own services.

Best regards,