How to Hire a Great B2B E-Mail Copywriter

My last column on the growing demand for business-to-business (B2B) copywriters generated a lot of interesting comments and questions from readers, especially with those who are frustrated with their current cadre of writers. So let’s take a look at how to hire a great B2B e-mail copywriter.

I went through the following exercise a few months ago with my coach when I was looking for a fellow copywriter to help me with a big project. Since I’m in the market again, it will help me to repeat this process as I share it with you.

First, list all the requirements you have for a copywriter, then rank them in priority order. Here’s what I’ve decided I require most:

  1. Really creative thinking. Most of my clients and most marketing people are already good writers. When they go to the expense of paying a freelancer, then, they expect the copywriter to craft copy that goes beyond what they could write themselves: exciting copy that really stimulates and engages the reader.

    Before you spend any time interviewing copywriters, ask your most promising candidates to show you their very best samples, even if the work is outside the B2B or e-mail realm. If you get excited reading their headlines and writing, chances are, so will your audience. Also ask copywriters if they have won any advertising awards. This is usually the mark of a really excellent, experienced writer.

  2. A successful track record of generating results for clients. Copywriting is salesmanship. You’d expect a salesperson you are hiring to provide revenue numbers from her previous jobs; you should expect the same from your copywriter. While prospective copywriters may not have performance results for every piece of copy they’ve ever written (some clients won’t share this information with their writers), they should have enough metrics to give you the confidence that they can, indeed, sell with words.
  3. Direct response experience. I’d much rather have a writer who’s already well versed in direct marketing techniques and teach her e-mail marketing than vice versa. Direct marketing is all about moving prospects to buy and take the desired action. There are many successful direct mail techniques that easily translate to the online space.
  4. E-mail and online expertise. Despite the previous requirement, I still think e-mail and online experience is vital and should be expected now that e-mail marketing has gone mainstream. Anyone who isn’t keeping up on e-mail marketing is probably lost in some sort of time warp. However, if you have a copywriter who can meet the first three requirements, it may be worth investing in e-mail training to bring her up to speed.
  5. Willingness to research and ask questions. Personally, I’ve never gotten a client creative brief that provided all the information I needed to write compelling copy. Most creative briefs are either incomplete because they’re written in a hurry or are written from the marketer’s viewpoint instead of the reader’s. I always ask myself, “What does the reader need to know or feel to buy this product or service?” Then, I make it my business to learn what that is. With Google and other search engines, research can be done in a snap and adds extraordinary value to copy.
  6. Relevant B2B experience. Many clients would put this requirement as number one. Industry experience certainly can shorten the copywriting learning curve. If you can get a great B2B copywriter with familiarity in your field, you’ve hit a home run. But if that doesn’t happen and your copywriter meets the prior five requirements, you can almost be certain she’ll be a quick study and know your business better than you within a month or so. Just point her to some industry trade publications to read, send her research, and include her in some marketing meetings and conference calls. You’ll soon have a valued team member.
  7. Attention to detail. Having tested many copywriters myself, I’m often amazed by the sloppiness of the copy assignments some of my colleagues turn in. Redundant words, ineffectual transitions, even typos abound. Sometimes, I get the sense copywriters expect the client to be a benevolent editor. Who in the B2B world has time for that? Take a look at the copywriter’s résumé and cover letter for typos and errors. Disregard anyone who doesn’t send you letter-perfect documents. This is particularly critical when you’re relying on your copywriter to version copy in multiple ways. If she isn’t painstakingly accurate, you’ll be the one feeling the pain — burning the midnight oil to make corrections. I personally have an assistant who proofreads all the copy I turn in to ensure my clients get the cleanest copy possible.

Once you set up your own criteria for what you want in a copywriter, put the word out that you’re looking for someone, then match candidates’ capabilities against your priorities. Forget about anyone who doesn’t match your highest priorities, or, believe me, you’ll regret it later when you look at a first draft of copy you can’t even figure out how to correct because it’s so off the mark.

And if you know any copywriters who meet the requirements I’ve outlined, ask them to contact me with their best samples and results.

B2B e-mail copywriters: show your future clients what you can do for them by sending your samples and case studies to Karen to be showcased in future columns.

Want more e-mail marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our e-mail columns, organized by topic.

Related reading