What Kind of Writer Do You Really Need?
A lot of client-freelancer heartache can be avoided by ensuring that the client who’s hiring you (or that you, as the potential client) has a good understanding of what kind of writer they need. You can’t just hire a “writer” and expect to get anything at all written. Just like you can’t go to just any doctor for your specific ailment, writers come with all sorts of specialties. Here are a few*, to help you decide who might be the best freelancer for your job, or if you, as the freelancer, are right for a potential client.
The journalist comes with a certain set of standards. They tell the truth and nothing but the truth. They do a lot of legwork for seemingly not a lot of word count. They interview, they fact check, they beat the pavement finding the best story. If you want factual, investigative or in-depth, this is your person. Do note this person comes with a price, and they may not be keen on making revisions or accepting yours, without a good reason, but they’re typically great at what they do.
However, unless you’re a true publication — newspaper, magazine, etc. — you’re not going to want to hire someone who’s strictly a journalist. Even if you’re a magazine produced by an alumni group for alumni, you’re not going to want to hire a journalist. That’s because your end goal with your written content is not to spread the truth; it’s to promote your group or bring in donations, for example. But that gets us into…
The Marketing Content Writer
A lot of clients I see out there really just want a marketing content writer versus anything else. They just don’t know it. They want someone who can write blog posts, newsletters, eletters and the rest, all with the slant of helping them sell. Journalistic standards be damned. If you can twist the truth to sell product, do it. It’s all about presenting the information the client wants presented, how they want it, where they want it, when they want it, to better their business.
Do note, though, more and more so-called legitimate publications are starting to hire marketing content writers as journalists. After all, giving potential ad buyers good press brings in ad dollars. Traditional journalists balk at this, but marketing content writers often see it as an untapped opportunity.
Additionally, marketing content writers are not marketing strategists. Don’t expect to hire a marketing content writer and get someone who can tell you what kind of content you need and how you should be packaging it. The writer does the writing, not the strategizing — and vice versa. If you hire a marketing strategist, they may have amazing ideas for your content, but the execution can be lackluster.
The copywriter is not a long-form, investigative writer. The copywriter excels at short copy. Think headlines, ad copy, homepage text for your website. Like the marketing content writer, they’re trying to sell your product or service, but they really focus in on the short, succinct items that are going to move the needle with the least work possible. Like the journalist, they may charge a lot for seemingly few words, because they bring all of their value when it comes to impact, not word count.
The Social Media Copywriter
The social media copywriter is a brand of copywriter who focuses just on social media — and that’s important, because you need different skills and knowledge for writing for social media versus print ads or web pages. The social media copywriter knows all the ins and outs and latest trends and all the latest social media platforms and, often, can not only write your social media content, but also advise you on the best social media strategy for your team.
The Technical Writer
Do you have white papers, research reports, user guides? Then you likely need a technical writer. This very specialized group of writers have an uncanny ability to take the most technical content and data and make it all consumable for your desired audience. If you work in a technical field and are trying to talk to other technical people, you need this writer on your side.
Do you already have content? Do you just need someone to polish it up, make it cohesive, make it shine in a way you can’t? Then you need an editor. Do note, though, while editors aren’t quite writers, editors come in two main brands. There’s the big-picture editor, who looks at things like flow and content. Then there’s the line editor, who looks at things like commas and title case. If you’re not skilled at either, you need both.
You will find freelancers out there who advertise themselves as being able to do one or more of the above. For example, I advertise myself as both a journalist and a marketing content writer. I have years of experience in both and my client list is made up of about 70% marketing content and 30% journalism clients.
However, it’s important to note that any freelancer who advertises themselves as a jack-of-all-trades just about always leans heavily on skills in one area versus another. I’m a much stronger marketing content writer than I am a journalist. I also enjoy marketing content more than I enjoy journalism. That doesn’t mean I can’t write a few newspaper or magazine articles each month; it just means I’m not a pound-the-pavement, search-out-the-truth kinda girl, which means my journalism is mainly relegated to lifestyle pieces (think event previews, new business openings, etc.), versus investigations or issue pieces.
What’s Right for Your Content Needs?
It’s important to take a good look at your content needs to determine exactly the skillset you require, before you hire just any “writer” to get the job done. Hiring someone with the skills you need will save lots of time and lots of money.
And, if you’re a freelancer, especially a new freelancer, identifying your skill set can help you pick the right clients for you, versus taking any ol’ job. Yes, sometimes that’ll mean turning clients away, but trust me — you’ll be glad you did after your seventh round of revisions and client complaints.
*Note that these are just my observations from 8+ years in publishing. I’m sure I’m missing a few details, but this list should get you started on the right track finding your perfect freelancer.
Holly Riddle is a freelance travel, lifestyle and food journalist and marketing content writer who dabbles in fiction. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her website is hollyriddle.org and her Twitter handle is @TheHollyRiddle.