The Problem: you just had a meeting with a new web design client. It went great. You asked all the right questions, and have a good sense of the client’s goals. Before wrapping up, you ask them where the content for the site will be coming from. “We’ll just write it ourselves and email it to you,” they say. Fantastic.
They sign the contract, which outlines a rough time estimate, including a deadline for when your client should send their site copy to you. You start designing (with dummy text,) and you’re just waiting for the copy to arrive.
The deadline comes and goes. No copy.
You write your client a polite email reminding them about the deadline, and you ask them when they expect to have it finished. “Oh, we got busy, we should have it to you next week.” Next week comes and goes, and still nothing.
You get the point. You have probably been in this very predicament yourself. In all my years as a graphic and web designer, I have found that nothing stalls a project more then a procrastinating client. The problem is that in an effort to save some money, your client may volunteer for the task of writing his own site’s copy, a job that he may not have time for, or even be suited for. When the harsh reality of an empty text document sets in, your client may just do nothing. This can result in lengthy project delays, or even all-out project abandonment.
The next time you meet with a new client who needs a brand new web presence from scratch, imagine not asking who will be writing the site’s copy, but rather telling them that they can expect a call from your copywriter. It will then be your writing partner’s job to get in touch with your client and interview them. They can then extract all the important details that must be included, and craft a well written (and on-time) website’s worth of copy to be delivered to you.
Sound like a bold maneuver? Well it is, and that’s the whole point. By taking control of the situation, you can finish projects much faster, and deliver a better end product. Of course, you will have to build in the cost of your copywriter, but that is also a good thing. By raising your rates, you will be able to weed out bargain-hunting clients, and focus on the more serious prospects.
Where to Find the Right Copywriter for the Job
I was lucky enough to have been in many work situations where I was introduced to very talented copywriters. So I have a good pool to dip into when necessary. Maybe you know some yourself, maybe not. Even if you don’t, there are many avenues online you can use to find the perfect copywriter for the job.
If I had to find somebody new, the first place I would look would be LinkedIn. A simple search will uncover thousands of qualified writers, most of whom will have links to their portfolio so that you can check out their previous work, as well as recommendations written by former clients. These resources can be invaluable when evaluating and vetting just about anyone, including writers.
You want to be on the lookout for someone who has experience with web writing specifically. Writing for the web is a skill in and of itself, as it must combine marketing language with SEO writing, and above all else, it has to tell a story. The story is what draws users in. It is every bit as important as good design for keeping users engaged, so choosing a writer who excels in this area is key.
While I think that LinkedIn is your best bet, I have heard of others having success finding copywriters on Twitter, FreelanceSwitch and oDesk. But be forewarned that if you place an ad on a site like oDesk, you will most likely be inundated with responses, many of whom are not native English speakers. That is not a problem necessarily, but make sure that their writing is consistently grammatically correct before tasking them with writing for your clients. After all, any mistakes on their part will reflect badly on you.
Paying Your Copywriter
When it comes to paying your copywriter there are any number of arrangements that you could enter into. Since I prefer to include the copywriting as a part of my services rather than as an optional add-on, I like to bundle it in with my rate and invoice my client for the full amount. Then I, in turn, pay my copywriter.
And since I like to quote an exact price for my clients, I will usually brief my writer on the project, giving all pertinent details and ask her to give me a price range that my client could expect to pay for the job. I then simply split the difference between the two numbers, and maybe add a little extra for safety. I then add this amount to my quote. I don’t specifically call out as a line item, but rather, i include it in the overall cost of the site. It really helps to just sell it as an all-inclusive package.
If you would rather not deal with this yourself, you can always tell your client that they will be paying your writer directly. This will make things easier on you, and you won’t be on the hook for any overages your writer may charge. But keep in mind that this will sometimes invite the possibility of your client dismissing the idea of a copywriter at all. Then you might just be right back to square one.
There is nothing more frustrating in the life of a web designer than a client-stalled project. It breaks up our work-flow and consequently, our cash-flow. By taking the responsibility away from your client and bringing it in-house, you can take the power to control the pace of the project. And by bringing in somebody who knows what good writing can bring to a website, your client will be that much happier in the end.
Wes McDowell is the principal and lead designer at The Deep End design studio in Los Angeles. In addition to working with clients, he also co-hosts a popular podcast, called "The Deeply Graphic DesignCast," which covers all of the topics that are important to designers.