Many designers are eager to work with writers, but struggle with the process of finding scribes who are right for them. Some have had bad experiences with freelancers who didn’t meet deadlines. Others need copy that requires specialized knowledge in fields like healthcare, finance, or technology. Even when you find a good one, successful firms and solo creatives often have enough projects going to keep multiple writers busy.
While there’s no “silver bullet” solution that will find great writers every time, some hunting grounds offer a far better chance of success than others.
Ask for referrals
Referrals are by far the best way to find a great writer. Someone who’s already worked with a particular writer can tell you firsthand what the experience was like. Ideally, they’ll be able to advise you about the writer’s ability to stay on schedule, the quality of the work, how well they responded to change requests, and the response from the target audience.
Another reason to seek referrals is writers, like many creative professionals, don’t like to spend a lot of time doing self-promotion. This is especially true of good writers who get really busy—referrals are often the only way to find them.
Start by asking your professional colleagues—creative directors, designers, marketing directors, and others who might have worked with outside writers or in-house people who’ve since gone solo. Friends and acquaintances can provide leads as well, but consider these character references rather than skill recommendations—they’re less likely to have worked with the writer directly.
You can cast a wider net by tapping into your LinkedIn network. Start with a status message, but understand that only the people on your contact list can see it. You may also want to let LinkedIn Groups for like-minded professionals know that you’re looking. Ask members to contact you privately with recommendations.
One resource that isn’t as obvious: other writers. Many established writers have a network of colleagues who they refer when they’re too busy to take on new work or when a client would be better served by a different skill set than their own.
Professional organizations and industry events
Copywriters in search of new business are often attracted to groups and functions that cater to marketing, publishing, and design. Experience levels will vary—you’ll find everything from industry luminaries to rising stars—but in general a writer who’s willing to make the investment in membership fees, conference admission, or travel expenses is likely to be a cut above average. The majority of these writers take a professional approach to their craft, treat it like a business, and are actively seeking to improve their skills. All of these traits are to your advantage.
A few good places to look:
- The Creative Freelancer Business Conference, part of HOW Design Live, is an annual event that attracts high-caliber solo professionals.
- The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) is the world’s leading independent organization for data-driven marketers. Many writers who cater to this industry are members or attend DMA events.
- The Specialized Information Publishers Association (SIPA), now part of the Software & Information Industry Association, is the international trade association dedicated to advancing the interests of commercial information providers. As with the DMA, many copywriters join to get access to potential clients. Writers who attend SIPA events are more likely to specialize in the needs of specific niche markets.
- You may also find smart writers hanging out at your local AIGA meeting or other places designers congregate.
Beware low-cost websites and random searches
You can always find someone cheap on websites that cater to the lowest bidder. Writers on these sites tend to be inexperienced, and can introduce costs to your project that far outweigh their “low” fees. That’s not to say you can’t find diamonds in the rough, but understand that you’ll have to do some expert hunting. Most good writers raise their rates and move on from bargain sites once they recognize their value.
Similarly, using a Google search to find a writer is a lot like spinning a roulette wheel. A writer who’s lucky enough to be the top hit in a search engine may have won the SEO lottery that day, but that’s no guarantee they’re easy to work with, able to meet deadlines, or the right fit for your job.
Test, test, test
Whatever method you use to locate writers, it’s best to try them out on one or two small projects to see how well the relationship works if you have the opportunity to do so. It’s a bit like dating—a writer should be on best behavior when you start forming a relationship. If it’s a struggle to get a small, low-stakes job done when you’re just getting started, things aren’t likely to get better when you have something bigger on the line. Look for writers who treat even your small test jobs with professionalism.