The Ethics of Hiring a Writer

I’ve occasionally run into business owners who object to hiring a freelance writer on ethical grounds. They find something dishonest in allowing someone else to write for them. They believe they should write their own website, blog posts, case studies, brochures and business letters because otherwise they are misrepresenting themselves.

Ethics are important to me, which is why I will not write anything that I know (or may suspect) to be false, misleading or harmful. How do I justify being a freelance or ghost writer on an ethical basis?

First, writing may not be among the business owner’s strengths. As a result, instead of offering content that clearly states the benefits and achievements of the company, the owner inadvertently slips into false, confusing, misleading or harmful statements through mistakes in word choice, grammar and organization. Everyone loses when bad writing leads to false information.

Second, an outside perspective is often valuable. Business owners may not know what to say to attract customers and differentiate themselves from the competition. Or they may know exactly what to say but not how to say it. Or they may emphasize obscure features of their products while ignoring real benefits their customers need to know about.

Third, a business owner can be a great communicator on many levels and still prefer to let someone else write his or her marketing materials. This is called “delegation” and it is something business owners do when they hire employees and professionals to work for them. No one considers it unethical to have a sales team, help desk, accountant or graphic designer on staff. Business owners could handle everything themselves, down to making their own gasoline from crude oil for the car they drive, but most business owners prefer to concentrate on their core business.

There is nothing about delegating business writing that somehow makes that choice less ethical than delegating any other business function: it can be done well and professionally or badly and amateurishly. I like to write well and professionally.

Professional writers are professionals for a reason. Years of experience and training, plus an instinct for the just right word, make us more efficient and more likely to achieve the business owner’s goals.

I work with a variety of B2B and B2C business owners and nonprofits, in every field from home renovation through clinical trial research and from executive coaching through organic farming. Contact me today and let’s talk.

Squelching Fluff in Writing

Fluff in writing is fairly easy to spot. You hold your hand over the contact information for the company website, blog post, newsletter, success story–and then ask yourself two questions:

  1. Do I have any idea what this company is/does/sells?
  2. Do I have any reason to use this company rather than its competitor?

If the answer to both questions is no, you are reading fluff. Sometimes that fluff is generated by the company itself for a variety of reasons (for example, no one on board is a professional writer or the company is frightened that customers won’t understand its technology if more specific information is given). Sometimes the fluff is bought as a package from a content-generating company or from an extremely low-cost writer who relies on imagination rather than reality.

Because reality is what makes content stand out: the reality of your company, your leadership, your relationship with customers, your experience. Think of it this way: if you were hiring a new employee, would you appreciate a resume full of lyrical praise and generalities or would you prefer a resume describing experience, skills and passion clearly detailed and supported by accomplishments? Why should your customers be any different when they are hiring you?

The four easiest ways for squelching fluff in writing are:

  • Watch those adjectives. If you load your writing with adjectives like “state of the art” and “unique high-value” and “finely engineered,” you are missing the opportunity to explain why your product or service is state of the art, unique, valuable and finely engineered. You are writing fluff that any company can duplicate, even your least skilled competitor. Throw out the adjectives and rely on verbs and nouns instead.
  • Give the details. Testimonials are wonderful if they are specific. Success stories (case studies) are even better because they show exactly how you helped a customer like the customers you hope to attract. How-to instructions are always helpful to customers. Before and after photos, videos of a project in progress, examples of how your products could be used–they all connect with your customers and distinguish you from the competition.
  • Make yourself known. Step up and give your own perspective on your industry. Share your techniques. If they are the same techniques everyone else uses, be the first to embrace transparency. Share your passion for what you do.
  • Hire the right writer. The right writer talks with you about your goals and the future of your company; researches your industry and your competitors; grows in understanding with each writing project, no matter how far apart the projects are scheduled; and absolutely hates fluff. Whether in-house or freelance, you need a professional writer like that.

Now read through this blog post and count the number of adjectives, check for details, including how-to information, consider whether you have found out anything about my priorities and passion (no fluff!) and then decide if I’m the type of freelance writer you would want to hire to bring reality and passion to your company’s content. I hope to hear from you soon.

 

Six Truths about Freelance Writers

Among freelance writers, the following truths are self-evident. We like:

Freelance Truth #1. Honesty. You are working with a professional writer. Most of the time, people are happy with my first draft but I never want them to walk away unhappy because they failed to point out something I could correct. Tear my work apart, criticize and question it but please be honest–I can take it.

Freelance Truth #2. Freelancing. True freelancers won’t be taking a job offer and abandoning you mid-project. I’ve been freelancing for 16 years. I’ve experienced the corporate world and I truly like freelancing better. I enjoy my clients and the interesting projects they involve me in whether websites, case studies, blog posts, newsletters, proposals or other marketing collateral.

Freelance Truth #3. Returning clients. Your needs for a professional writer may be intermittent; that’s fine. In fact, I am used to completing a project for clients, not hearing from them for 3 or 4 years and then getting a phone call or email when they have a new project. I keep my records for years, so I quickly come up to speed on the latest project.

Freelance Truth #4. Creativity and confidentiality. Freelance writers work with clients in every industry you can imagine and sometimes with clients in the exact same industry. We love the challenge of creating new content, and we always preserve confidentiality.

Freelance Truth #5. Referrals On behalf of every freelance writer everywhere, thank you for your referrals! Client referrals have broadened the reach of my company from my home base in Peterborough, New Hampshire, all the way to west to California, south to Arizona and Florida, North to Ohio and Vermont and even east to Europe. I’ve worked with sole-proprietors, small- to medium-sized businesses and Fortune 500 companies in almost every B2B and B2C business you can think of.

Freelance Truth #6. Paychecks. Freelance does not mean “free.” We have to eat. Therefore, if I finish your project and you (or your accounting staff) hold up my check for three months, I am not only annoyed, I am hungry. Please: When a freelance writer invoices you for work you’ve approved, pay in a reasonable time. You probably expect the same courtesy from your customers.

Freelance Truth #7. Clear communication. Whether by phone or email, professional freelance writers keep clients informed about progress and help those clients stay on schedule with reminders about providing information or completing reviews. My technical background also means I value clear, concise content. So send me an email or phone me today. I’d love to hear from you about your project.

 

 

Top 10 Reasons for Hiring a Freelance Writer

After 16 years as a freelance writer, I have discovered that there are 10 pressing reasons why business owners hire a freelance writer, regardless of the business owner’s industry, years of experience or overall marketing expertise. Over and over, business owners have shared at least one of these concerns and usually several:

1. I don’t have the time to write.

2. I know what I want to say but I don’t know how to say it.

3. I don’t need a full-time writer, but I do need someone dependable to handle writing jobs when they come along who appreciates my business.

4. My products or services or solutions are complicated and/or highly technical, and I need a better way to explain them to potential customers.

5. I’m constantly dealing with the same questions by email and phone; I’d like to standardize the information and make it easier for customers to find on their own.

6. Our proposal (or report or manual) writing process is complete chaos, with everyone editing everyone else and important information left out entirely. I need someone to take charge, sort out the problems and unify the content.

7. My website and marketing collateral no longer reflect what my company actually does, but I’m not sure what direction I should take. I need a collaborator who can clarify what I should be writing and then write it for me.

8. I’m writing a blog and I’m out of ideas for posts.

9. I need more publicity online/in print but I don’t know how to go about it.

10. I hate writing.

A professional freelance writer is adept at clear and accurate communication, organizing information, collaboration, addressing customer concerns and priorities and providing creative content. If you recognize yourself in any of the top 10 reasons why business owners hire a freelance writer, please contact me. At TWP Marketing & Technical Communications, our words mean business.

5 Steps in Hiring a Freelance Blog Writer

You recognize the importance of a website in drawing people to your business, keeping visitors engaged and interested and ensuring that potential customers can find you. So you recognize the importance of a blog, which helps attract, educate and convert visitors into customers. But a blog takes time. Hiring a freelance blog writer makes sense if you take the following key steps:

1. Make sure the blog writer is a native writer and speaker of the primary language of your customers. If that primary language is English, then your blog writer should be a native English speaker and writer. Otherwise, you will be constantly editing the blog to correct errors in grammar, idiom and assumptions. For example, I was hired to write blogs for a high-end interior design company in the US when the previous off-shore blog writer submitted a post on breaking up old CDs to create a mosaic tabletop. The concept of “high-end” was simply different on different sides of the ocean.

2. Insist on seeing examples of the blog writer’s work. Some blog writers have a single style or viewpoint that might fit with your business or might not. Others are able to capture the exact tone of different businesses and write blogs that sound as if they came from the individual business owner. Some blog writers specialize in one industry; others write for several industries. By looking at examples, you can better decide if a particular writer is a fit.

3. Ask if the blog writer will perform related tasks. For example, for one of my clients, I enter the posts online, create tags and summaries, schedule the posts and then copy them for an industry newsletter that re-publishes the posts as articles. For another client, I research and suggest topics; interview staff and customers for information; and research and add photos to each post.

4. Discuss fees and schedules up front. If you cannot afford daily posts, you may be able to afford weekly or bi-weekly posts. One of my clients uses me to edit her posts, asking me to write posts myself only when she is overwhelmed with work or on vacation. She depends on my skills to put her thoughts in order, with keywords that make sense.

5. Contract for a trial run of posts. Usually, it takes a few posts before the writer becomes attuned to your goals and way of thinking. But it should quickly be evident if the writer is unable to meet deadlines; completely fails to grasp your business; or can’t achieve the quality you expected.

You will be able to build a strong relationships with a freelance blog writer if you select one who understands the language of your customers, has examples for you to review, is able to handle related tasks, partners with you to find a cost-effective solution and provides a trial run. The stronger the relationship, the more confidence you will have in the writer’s ability to represent you and your company.

Sharon Bailly founded TWP Marketing & Technical Communications in 1999 in Peterborough, NH, to help business owners reach their customers with clear, accurate and passionate writing. At TWP, our words mean business.

 

 

How to Work with a Professional Writer

You are thinking of hiring a professional writer to handle your marketing collateral or technical documentation? Congratulations! Here are four tips on working with a professional writer:

1. Writers need to start somewhere to develop content, whether by interviewing you for information or by reading all the previous material written about the project or by researching your competitors. Nothing great is ever written from complete ignorance. The writer needs access to information or to those who have information.

2. Research takes time; writing takes time. If you hire a freelancer, you are hiring someone with multiple clients who compete for time. Deadlines should account for research, writing, proofreading, revision, and production. Writers aren’t born with a magic wand and the ability to bend time. When you set a deadline, keep reality in mind.

3. The right words may not be the exact words you would use. Listen to the professional writer. What seems perfectly clear to you, with your inside and specialized knowledge, may confuse a potential customer. Your priorities (“let’s list every product we ever manufactured”) may conflict with your audience’s priorities (“send help!”). Your writer’s goal is to make sure your message is being delivered clearly, concisely and passionately to your audience.

4. Every liberal arts major is not a writer. I once worked in a technical company that assigned me an assistant who majored in drama–it’s all liberal arts, they said. The assistant hated writing. In fact, some English majors hate writing. A portfolio will tell you more than a degree in a specific subject. Make sure the writer’s style and experience fit your writing needs. If you are using a freelance writer, make sure the writer is dedicated to freelancing and not simply waiting until a full-time job comes along. You want someone who will finish your current project and be up to speed for future projects.

If  you keep in mind that professional writers need information, time, respect, and a passion for writing, you will develop an excellent relationship with the professional writer you hire.