The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way people work forever. Remote work is now more widely accepted by organizations, flexible work schedules are becoming more common, and millions of employees are resigning from their jobs in search of something better.
For a lot of people, that “something better” has meant saying goodbye to their life as a full-time 9-5 employee and hello to life as a full-time freelancer.
It makes sense—it’s a good time to be a freelancer. Companies seem reluctant to hire back full-time employees after experiencing pandemic-related layoffs. And managers seem energized by the rapidly growing pool of freelancer talent available to them.
As a freelance copywriter, you might be reading this and thinking to yourself, “Sounds great . . . how do I jump on this train!?”
It’s one thing to quit your job and start calling yourself a freelance copywriter, but how do you land gigs, especially knowing that there are potentially more available writers than ever before gunning for the same jobs?
How do you stand out from the crowd and convince a manager to hire you over everyone else?
That’s where I’d like to help.
Over the past decade, I’ve hired and managed dozens of freelance writers while working for different startups and marketing agencies.
Experience has taught me how to recognize a good copywriter from a not-so-good copywriter.
If you want more freelance copywriting gigs, you have to prove to the hiring manager that you’re good from the get-go.
When I’m hiring a copywriter, here’s how I pick out the good from the bad.
14 Qualities a Manager Looks for When Hiring a Copywriter
1. Good Copywriters Are Passionate About Writing
Every high-quality writer I’ve ever known has been passionate about their craft. They didn’t just decide to become a freelancer, pull “copywriting” out of a hat, and get to it. Most of them have been writing for a long time, in either a personal or professional capacity.
Notice I didn’t say good copywriters have to like writing. There’s a big difference between liking writing and being passionate about writing. Good freelancers don’t always like the clients or assignments they get, but they remain committed to their craft. Their desire to create good copy and the best outcome for the client comes before their desire to write about topics they enjoy.
One question I like to ask candidates to gauge their passion for writing is, “Do you read or write for fun?”
I’m not looking for people who are writing (or even reading) multiple novels a year. I just want to get a better understanding of how important writing is to them as an individual.
2. Good Copywriters Ask Questions
A decent copywriter will take an assignment, craft the copy, and deliver it back to the client on time. The best copywriters I’ve worked with all ask questions before getting started.
They ask questions about editorial guidelines, business objectives, success metrics, audience demographics, brand voice, competitors, and anything else that will help make their job easier and their content better.
They also ask about my expectations for them as a freelancer, which immediately puts them on a path toward success.
3. Good Copywriters Have Proven a Track Record of Success
When I hire a copywriter, I’m not just looking for someone who can put words on paper—I want someone who has a proven track record with other people who have hired them before me.
Good copywriters should be able to talk about and show examples of past successes and wins. What those past accomplishments are will depend on the type of writing they do. If I’m hiring an SEO writer, I expect that they will be able to show me examples of content they’ve written that ranks on page one of Google for highly competitive keywords. If I’m hiring a writer to create Facebook ad copy, I expect them to be able to show and talk about real, successful ads they helped clients launch.
A good copywriter will keep a file of their best-performing and most impactful content and make it available for hiring managers to review if the topic comes up.
4. Good Copywriters Can Provide Recent Writing Samples
If a copywriter doesn’t have recent writing samples readily available, that’s usually a warning sign for me. It’s certainly not a deal-breaker, but it will lead me to ask more questions.
To be a good copywriter, you have to practice your craft regularly and often. It’s like any other profession or skill. An accomplished concert violinist doesn’t get to where they are by practicing once a year. They practice as often as they can.
As a hiring manager, I need to know that you are not using me as an opportunity to dust off the cobwebs.
Sometimes copywriters can’t share recent work because of NDAs. If you’re in this position, my recommendation is to take on a few projects that you know you can share publicly. Or find opportunities to contribute as a guest author.
5. Good Copywriters Have References from Past Clients
Good copywriters maintain good relationships with past clients. Whenever I am evaluating a copywriter, I always ask if they have references that I can speak to if I want to learn more about them.
Part of the reason I ask this question is that I genuinely want to hear from others about what it’s like to work with a copywriter I’m considering hiring, but the bigger reason is just to simply find out if a writer has done a good enough job to have references in their back pocket if they need them.
If you don’t have any references on hand, go back and ask some of your past clients. Most people are more than willing to be available as a reference—but you have to make the ask.
6. Good Copywriters Have a Website
I tend to trust freelance copywriters more if they have taken the time to create and launch their own website. It doesn’t have to be a fancy website. All I want to see is a little information about you and your business, some examples of your work, and maybe a few testimonials from past clients.
A website is a quick way for me to decide if a copywriter is professional and business-minded.
Just think: what’s the first thing a hiring manager does when evaluating a candidate? Probably enter their name into Google to see what pops up.
A website helps you control and manage what a prospective client finds and learns about you when they go searching.
7. Good Copywriters Are Organized
Good copywriters know how to manage assignments. They use tools like Trello, Asana, or Basecamp to keep projects organized. If I ask a copywriter what they use to organize their assignments and they don’t have a good answer, that’s usually a red flag for me.
I want to work with copywriters who aren’t working solely off of post-it notes and scratch paper. Again, it comes down to professionalism. You’re either organized or you’re not, there is no in-between.
8. Good Copywriters Are Proactive Communicators
Proactive communication is the key to any successful freelancer-client relationship, but it’s especially important when you literally make money helping businesses communicate.
One question I like to ask copywriters when I’m evaluating them for a project is, “How do you communicate with clients if you know you’re not going to be able to hit the deadline?”
The answer will tell you a lot about the person you’re considering hiring. Deadlines get missed because life happens. But as a client, it’s a lot easier to stomach if my writer tells me ahead of time that they aren’t going to meet my expectations, as opposed to telling me after the deadline has already passed.
9. Good Copywriters Know How to Research
Not every copywriter I’ve worked with is good at researching. The best ones are just as good at performing research as they are at writing copy, which makes them ideal partners for me to hire.
A good copywriter knows how to evaluate and use external sources. They know to stay away from competitor content, dated content, and content from untrustworthy websites or blogs. They know how to attribute sources and how to avoid unintentional plagiarism.
10. Good Copywriters Have Documented Processes
For a copywriter to be good, they have to be process-driven. One of my favorite questions to ask copywriters when I’m considering hiring them for a project is, “How do you create a new piece of content?”
I ask them to walk me through the entire process from start to finish. Good copywriters will have a standard process that they use, one that has been refined and improved over time with each new client.
11. Good Copywriters Aren’t Afraid of Getting Feedback
If you don’t like getting critical feedback from people or having to revise content, you’re going to have a hard time being a successful copywriter.
Good copywriters don’t take it personally when they get feedback from clients. They understand that their job is to either disagree and, as the expert, explain why or be willing to rewrite the content how the client wants it to be written.
It’s not personal—it’s business.
12. Good Copywriters Think About Content Performance
I like working with copywriters who understand and think about the performance of their content—even if it’s only at a base level. I don’t expect the copywriters I hire to be analytics or conversion experts, but I do like to know that they are thinking about the end goal and the impact of the content I’m hiring them to produce.
If you want to prove to a hiring manager that you’re a good copywriter, ask questions about performance goals before you start writing a piece of content and follow up after it has been published to see how it actually performed.
13. Good Copywriters Are Consistent With Delivery
The copywriters I hire over and over again are the ones who are consistent with delivery. I hire them because I know I can rely on them to get the job done exactly in the timeframe I set.
Again, sometimes deadlines are not achievable for one reason or another, but as long as the reason has been communicated ahead of time, it doesn’t impact the trust I have in the copywriter I’ve hired.
14. Good Copywriters Have Confidence in Themselves
Good copywriters are confident. They are confident in their writing abilities, confident in their ideas and strategies, confident in their processes, and confident working for and with other professionals.
No copywriter is perfect. I don’t expect to see every identifier mentioned above when I’m interviewing a potential candidate. But the more I do see, the more confident I will be that I’m hiring the right person.
Keep this list bookmarked. If you aren’t closing as many new deals with clients as you’d like, see what from this list you still need to work on, and keep track of what you could be highlighting better when talking to hiring managers.
Good luck out there!
Rob Wormley is the CEO and founder of Pitchstachio, a marketing agency that develops strategic messaging, positioning, stories, and go-to-market strategies for brands, products, executives, and teams. For more content from Rob, follow him on LinkedIn.