Your business needs great writing. Rather than slogging it out yourself, you want to hire a copywriter. But how long does it take to get the copy you want? How do you tell a copywriter what you need? And, most importantly, how do you make sure you’re happy with what you’re paying for?
It’s understandable that you’re concerned, but all your questions are answerable once you understand the copywriting process, which is the steps a copywriter works through to make your copywriting request happen. While copywriters and marketing agencies may tinker with it a bit to suit their own style, there’s a general process most of us tend to follow.
So if you’ve never worked with a copywriter before and want to understand how it all works, using my own process as a guide please consider this the big reveal.
The copywriting process in five steps
Step 1: First contact
You get in touch by sending an email, filling in a contact or intake form attached to the service you want to book. At this stage, as the copywriter, I want to know:
- the name of your company and industry you’re in
- some rough details about the type of copy you want
- any deadlines influencing the project.
Based on this information I’ll make a call on whether I’m the right copywriter for you. My writing style suits some industries better than others and there are times when I’m just booked up. Assuming it’s all good I’ll flick you a link to my diary so you can book in your free 20-minute discovery call. Yup, you read that right. Free. No cost. No obligation to book me after the call.
You tell me everything you currently know about the project: why you want new copy, your project goals, ideal audience and budget and reconfirm the deadlines. I parrot back what you’ve told me to make sure I’m on the same page. Then, one of two things happen.
- If there are lots of blanks about how we go about creating the thing you want, I write up a sales proposal. This details two or three options about how we achieve what you want (usually the options are at different price points).
- If we’re clear on what you want and the budget/cost is sorted, I write up a Statement of Work (SoW) and send the first invoice.
Whether we’re going down route one or two, you can expect paperwork within three business days, sent to you as a PDF attached to an email.
Step 2: Getting the paperwork sorted
If I sent you a sales proposal, I’ll ask that you let me know which option you want within 2-3 days. With that decided, as above, your SoW is written up and the first invoice is sent.
“Ok, time out: what exactly are these documents and what needs to happen with them?”
Ah, I’m so glad you asked.
The SoW details the project scope, deliverables (the stuff you can expect), project timeline, invoice and payment dates. It makes sure there are no unwanted surprises. It also includes my terms and conditions. It’s our contract.
The first invoice is 50% of the total project fee. Paying a proportion of the project fee upfront is common practise when working with a creative, regardless of industry. It shows you’re committed and invested to the project and locks us into your project.
Moving forward means signing and returning the SoW and paying the first invoice. You’re then 100% officially my client (lucky you!). Now you get to see my nifty videos that explain more about the writing/feedback process I follow as I’ll give you access to our shared workspace on Google Drive.
Step 3: The big briefing session
Taking around an hour to an hour and a half, the big briefing session (the BBS, if you will) is where I quiz you on:
- who’s signing off on the work and who I report to
- how your business started
- ambitions for the business
- where you’re succeeding and failing
- your unique selling points (USPs)
- how you describe your business and industry to other people
- who your audience is
- if your current audience is your ideal audience
- examples of both copy you like and copy you hate
- the finer details of the project itself and what we’re making
- if I need to be aware of any design or SEO considerations.
It’s a lot to go through but it has to be. By the end of it I have to be crystal clear on who you are, who I’m writing for and what we want to achieve together. Writing copy without this information inevitably leads to failure, and costs more time (and money) in the long run. If you half-arse your brief, bad things will happen. You can read more about how to avoid this in how to brief a copywriter.
Step 4: Writing, editing and redrafting the copy
After the briefing session I give myself a day to digest everything. If I’ve recorded the meeting I’ll watch and/or listen to it again, making notes on anything I like the sound of or needs following up with more research. When I feel ready, it’s time to get into the heaviest part of the project (for me at least): writing the first drafts.
Getting the first draft done can take anything from half a day to well over a week. The size of the project usually guides me on whether it’s best to wait until all the first drafts are done for everything you’ve asked and hand it over in one hit or drip feed bits through. Sometimes dripping through a few pages or even paragraphs is more manageable for you. It’s also a way for me to check early on if you’re happy with the tone and style I’m writing in.
I’ll upload all documents to that Google Drive of ours and let you know when a piece of copy is ready for you to review. Sometimes you might also get a link to a short video I’ve recorded explaining things you need to know about the copy that are too long to write as a comment. For example, I might want to explain why I’ve laid the copy out a particular way or why I’ve taken a certain angle.
It’s then over to you
When writing up the SoW I build in a number of days for you to review the first drafts. It’s important you have the time and headspace to both read and sit with the copy so you can think about your feedback.
Letting me know what you like and which parts aren’t hitting the mark is easy. Using tracked changes (known as ‘suggestions’ on Google Docs) you can edit the copy and these changes are underlined and highlighted making them simple to spot. You can also leave comments and ask extra questions (even if they seem silly or irrelevant. If you have any concerns or queries, asking it ASAP will make things a whole heap easier for both of us).
Once you’re done — no later than the feedback deadline date agreed in the Sow, of course — let me know. An email, text or quick call are all fine. That’s my cue to go back into the document and make the relevant changes so it becomes draft two (all together now: OOH!).
The same process of feedback and implementation of any changes happens and draft two becomes draft three. By this point the copy is usually very near to done. All that’s left is for me to send it to my editor.
I thought you might say that. Let me explain.
Why, if I’m a professional writer, would I send it to an editor?
For exactly that reason. I’m a professional writer who cares a lot about the copy I write for you. After working on a piece of copy for hours, sometimes days, my eyes become immune to spotting all of the errors. Sending it to my trusty editor for proofreading minimises the risk of anything slipping through that shouldn’t. Getting work proofread by a sub-editor is something every decent publication, magazine and ad agency does. No matter how short. Failing to do this can lead to fuck ups. Fuck ups like this, for example:
“Julie, we are not paying a proofreader through the nose to check five fucking words.” pic.twitter.com/W7c3IMmuiC
— Dave Harland (@wordmancopy) February 14, 2020
Makes sense now, right? Right.
With the copy back from my editor I make any final changes and submit the work to you for final sign off (EXCITING!).
Step 5: Sign off and final payment
Sign off is the final stage. Ok it’s the almost final stage. It’s you agreeing the work is complete, original and to a standard we’re both happy with. With a nod from you I move the work to the final signed off folder in our shared workspace (which you’ll have become rather fond of by now) and — as the actual final stage — send through the last invoice. As soon as the balance is settled, copyright for the work is handed over to you and you’re free to publish it whenever you’re ready. So I guess that’s really the final stage. Three times a charm, and all that!
Keeping the copywriting process as simple as possible
Parts of the copywriting process can sound fiddly at times, largely because there’s a bit of back and forth as you develop the work. The copywriter carries most of the weight, but they can’t do everything. It needs to be collaborative. Getting copy you’re proud of means investing time in reviewing the work and giving useful, constructive feedback. Check out my top tips for getting the changes you want to the copy you’ve paid for (and get your copywriter to love you while you’re at it) here.
See what it’s like working with a professional copywriter
I’ve put together an affordable copywriting service for businesses and freelance folk who have never worked with a copywriter before and want to give it a go. It’s a shortened version of the copywriting process that’s perfect for smaller jobs. A try it and see if you like it kinda deal, I’ve called it The Tasting Paddle. Great name, eh? That’s a copywriter for you.