When you meet marketing communications writers in networking situations, here are 5 useful questions for qualifying them.
Believe it or not, freelance marketing writers do get out in the wild from time to time, where, if you’re shopping for writers, you can hire them.
You may encounter them at chamber of commerce meetings, industry get-togethers and networking mixers for your profession. Note that they don’t frequent the same venues as most technical writers or even copywriters. Some of them fancy themselves closer to the people whose custom they seek than to their colleagues and peers.
Still, they all want work, and they may even want it from you. Here’s a sequence of questions you can pose to determine whether to short-list the writer who approaches you in the wild:
- “What do you write?” This is the first hurdle. Regardless of his industry or specialty, you want to know what kind of content the marketing communications writer generates. If you’re a product manager or an engineer who needs a white paper, and the answer comes back “direct mail copy and press releases,” this is a bit of a stretch. Or, if you need a grant written, and the answer is “case studies and LinkedIn profiles,” you’d better keep looking.
- “Are you freelance?” Don’t forget that many agencies and companies have their own in-house staff of writing talent. There are freelancers who work for agencies, and that’s not an obstacle to your hiring them, but if they work as employees anywhere, they won’t likely have time to dedicate to your projects when push comes to shove.
- “Do you have a card?” Asking for a card is just an expression of interest, not a tacit commitment to hire. You can’t judge a book by its cover, but I recommend you judge a writer by her card. A serious writer has a serious card. If it’s flimsy, or it reads “vistaprint.com” on the back, then you’re probably holding the card of an unsuccessful or fledgling writer. Maybe that’s all your budget can support, but know what you’re getting into. If she says, “I have a résumé,” that is NOT a business card; it means this person has not yet decided to make a living of freelance writing, and you should not yet decide to hire her. If she says, “I don’t have any cards with me,” then she’s an engineer – they never carry business cards with them (or are hopelessly stingy about giving them out).
- “Do you have a Website or a blog?” A blog is the easiest thing in the world to put up nowadays; a small Website is the second-easiest. This question is another way of gauging the seriousness of the writer. If your needs will tolerate a good writer who is clueless about visibility on the Web – are there any left? – then don’t worry about the answer to this question. Otherwise, visit the site with measured expectations; it’s not going to look like disney.com, but it should satisfy your basic curiosity.
- “Where can I see your writing samples and clients?” Frankly, hoisting lots of writing samples onto a site is rather laborious, so you may have to content yourself with e-mail attachments. Once I hired a writer who had NO electronic samples – he mailed me an envelope of printouts – but I needed his subject matter expertise. Note that there is a bad reason for having no writing samples: The writer is just getting started or is dabbling. Note also that there are good reasons for having no samples: The clients have so “enhanced” the writer’s work with typographical and other errors that the writer no longer feels any ownership, or the writer has written pieces which the client has not released externally.
In short, most real marketing communication writers have:
- a card with an address on it
- a phone that isn’t the house phone
- a Web site or a blog with occasional updates
- examples of their work
- a client list
In addition, most really professional marketing communication writers have:
- a compelling piece on why you should hire them
- a social media presence (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Ning, etc.) that demonstrates a following
- endorsements from clients
The kind of writer with which you want to do business DOES NOT have:
- excuses for any of these things