For the record, this is not a preachy post. As a writer, I am admittedly a bit of a grammar snob, but my intention is not to shame you for omitting a comma, misplacing the apostrophe – or using a verb that doesn't agree with your subject. If I had to guess, I'd say you probably have plenty of other things on your mind. Whether you're running a business or managing a lengthy lineup of tasks, chances are your job is already fairly demanding. So, while you no doubt strive to be a good communicator, you probably let someone else wordsmith your marketing copy.
The question is: What have you done to make sure your writer is qualified? Does he or she know the basic rules of grammar? After all, your company's image is at stake. Whether you're hiring a full-time writer or working with a freelance professional, it only makes sense to find out if that person is up for the task.
A professional writer should have a strong command of the language, including, but certainly not limited to, proper grammar usage. After all, you wouldn't go to a dentist who doesn't know how to fill a cavity. And you wouldn't hire an IT professional who can't code. A grammar gaffe in the copy sends a message that you don't know – or you don't care. And neither one of those is a good scenario. Yet in all my years of writing marketing copy, no one has ever asked me if I know basic rules of grammar.
When you hire a freelance writer, ask the hard questions just as you would for any position. Sure, you want to talk about brand, voice and tone, and messaging. Those are all tremendously important. But too many people simply assume their writer is qualified, only to be embarrassed later on when a glaring error appears in the copy.
This happens everywhere. I've seen misspellings and grammar errors in the copy for major brands that we all know and love. These are companies and publications that can afford to hire expert writers, yet the errors still appear. And while mistakes happen, some of these errors clearly demonstrate laziness. Keep in mind that we live in a time when the answers are at our fingertips, and it only takes a minute to check it out.
So perhaps you're wondering why I decided to pick on led and lead? Turns out, I've seen these words misused a lot lately, in everything from corporate sales letters to the home page of a website to the text of a prominent publication. With that in mind, I'll leave you with this bonus:
Many people use "lead" when they really mean "led." That's because "led" is the past tense of the verb "lead."
For example, you can lead a team. But yesterday you led the team.
To add to the confusion, "lead" is also the name of a metal, like the lead in your pencil or lead in paint. In this case, it's pronounced like the word "led."
Confusing? Hire a writer who knows.
"Uncle Mo scratched!" Those were the first words I heard one morning a few years back as Stephanie Abrams of The Weather Channel reported from Churchill Downs. Had I not known she was talking about a Kentucky Derby contender, I may have wondered why this was considered news. On the contrary, it captured my attention.
I've always been a fair-weather Derby fan. From mint juleps and outlandish hats to the fastest, most suspenseful two minutes in sports, the derby is anything but ordinary. Above all, it sounds like a great party. And I love roses.
Even still, all the hoopla pales in comparison to the names of the horses – at least from a writer's perspective. The names have always intrigued me. Take Uncle Mo, for instance. I'd love to know the origin of that name.
With that in mind, I decided my dream writing gig would be naming Kentucky Derby race horses. I realize they don't hire copywriters to come up with a list of names for the horses – but maybe they should. After all, if copywriters write copy that sells, maybe they could choose racehorse names that win. At the very least, I'm pretty sure I could come up with something better than Uncle Mo.
Mucho Macho Man: Gag.
Archarcharch: This could be challenging for the sports announcers.
Comma to the Top: Help me with this one.
Brilliant Speed: Now we're making progress. It sounds like a racehorse.
Derby Kitten: Not exactly intimidating.
Watch Me Go: Oh, yeah.
Jet Pilot (1947): Okay, jets are fast. But that's where the connection ends in my mind.
Burgoo King (1932): I'm sorry, but I can't read this without thinking about a flame-broiled hamburger.
George Smith (1916): Is this a man or a horse?
Northern Dancer (1964): Terrific!
Affirmed (1978): Even better.
Gallant Fox (1930): I thought these were horses.
For instance, a secretary at Meadow Stable named Secretariat (America's horse). Prior to working at the Meadow, she worked as a secretariat at the United Nations, and she liked the way the name sounded.
Then there's Man O' War. Now that's a name with a punch. It's not surprising to learn this horse was named in 1917 when the world was absorbed in World War I. The breeder's wife named the horse in honor of her army officer husband, and as a tribute to the war effort
But here's the kicker: Man O' War, who incidentally never raced in a Kentucky Derby, lost only one race in his entire career. That loss was to a horse named Upset.
Maybe there's something to this naming thing after all.
Not a week goes by when I don't get an email or call from someone who wants to know about my job as a freelance writer. Sometimes it's a college student working on a project, and he or she simply needs to ask a few questions. But more often than not, the requests come from people I've never met who simply want to know how they can do what I do. It seems the life of a freelance writer appears glamorous to many.
This should not be surprising to me or anyone else, considering that several people have made a career out of mentoring would-be freelance writers, including my colleagues Peter Bowerman, Linda Formichelli, Carol Tice and many more. If mentoring is what you need, you may want to stop reading and put these individuals on speed dial.
I'm going to devote the remainder of this post to sharing what it's really like to work as a freelance writer. I'll break down the myths, share some truths and tell you why this is the career I love.
If you're still reading this, it probably means you haven't lost interest in pursuing a career as a freelance writer. This job is not for everyone, but it's a perfect fit for some. After 20 years, I still wake up every morning excited about the projects I'm working on and thankful for the clients who make it possible. This career allows me to be creative. I get to run my own show. And I'm constantly learning new things.
The headline on my old website once said: "Business fluctuates. Budgets vary. People come and go." Based on my experience, these are the primary motivators for working with a freelance copywriter. At first glance, these scenarios may seem fairly easy to overcome. But when you're staring at a deadline, you need a solution—and you probably need it fast. Enter the freelance copywriter, the antidote for your copy woes.
From busy projects to employee turnover, there are many instances when it makes sense to outsource your copy needs. Here are five likely scenarios.
You're too busy to handle the current workload in house. Not many businesses run at a steady pace throughout the year. It's far more likely that you will alternate between periods when the workload is slow and other times when it feels like there is more work than your regular staff can handle. Over-hiring can be risky business since you don't want workers twiddling their thumbs during slow periods. A freelance copywriter may be just what you need to get through those crazy times.
Your budget has recently changed.Sometimes people tell me they'd like to hire a freelance copywriter, but they don't have the budget to support it. Truth is, working with a freelance copywriter could actually save you money. That's because freelancers are responsible for their own expenses, retirement plans, health insurance and more. If you only need a writer for short periods of time, it pays to do some number-crunching before you decide between a freelancer and a full-time employee.
You just lost your ace copywriter.The days of staying at the same job for life are over. In fact, experts say the average worker changes jobs between 12 and 15 times throughout his or her career. A long-term relationship with a freelance copywriter may prove to be more stable than the employees who come and go. Once the freelancer gets to know your brand, his or her value increases substantially.
You need someone with a particular expertise.Some businesses reach out to freelance copywriters to complete special projects throughout the year. The task could be so specific that it doesn't pay to train a staff member. It might require only a short time commitment, and it may be easier to hire the same freelancer to complete that project year after year. Once you've located a writer with the experience you need, simply reserve a time slot on his or her schedule.
You need fresh ideas.When you've been doing the same job or working on the same project for a long period of time, it's nice to get a fresh perspective. A freelance copywriter can share his or her point of view from a different vantage point. And since freelance copywriters typically work with multiple clients, they are exposed to a wide range of ideas. Tap into that knowledge base and put it to work for your business or organization.
Are you ready to establish a working relationship with a freelance copywriter? I'm a freelance copywriter, magazine writer and content strategist with more than 20 years of experience. Contact me today Lori@LoriMurray.com
I recently worked with a team of writers and designers at Nationwide to create this magazine about women and investing. In addition to writing some of the articles, I also got to share my personal business story in this essay, From My Perspective.
Twenty years ago I had three small children and a burning desire to launch a business of my own. Writing was my passion, so I developed a business plan that made it possible to work as a writer and raise a family at the same time. Like any entrepreneur, I faced numerous challenges along the way, but I relied on the support of my family, friends and colleagues to help see me through.
Today as I celebrate two decades as an independent, female business owner, it seems like a good time to reflect on what I’ve learned and share it with women who may be considering a similar adventure. Here are a few items that rise to the top.
Accept the fact that work-life balance is a constant challenge. Running a business of your own means you must be prepared to work long hours when necessary. In an effort to maintain work-life balance and avoid burnout, I’ve learned to evaluate my situation at regular intervals. If I sense that work is taking over, I cut back and re-establish firm boundaries and expectations.
Remember that nothing is forever. Good times and good clients come and go. So, it’s important not to put all your eggs in one basket. Focus on providing a good product or service to your current customers, but don’t overlook the need to cultivate new business.
Follow through on your commitments. In my business, like so many others, deadlines rule. If you say you’re going to do something, be sure you can deliver on that promise, or simply say no. Remember that it’s always easier to retain your current clients than it is to find new ones, so keep your clients happy.
Connect with mentors and other professionals in your field. This also includes people who may be your competitors. Be willing to help them in their time of need, and they will do the same for you. And remember that it’s impossible to know all the answers, so align yourself with people who are smarter or more experienced than you. It’s the best way to grow, learn and thrive.
Be willing to step out of your comfort zone. There rarely is a perfect time for anything you do, so self-motivated individuals always win when it comes to running a business. You can talk about doing something forever, but you will only get the job done if you actually start doing it. Too many people spend their entire lives waiting for the perfect time to begin.
Establish a rainy day fund. Mom was right about this one. Just about the time you think that things couldn’t get any better, they take a nosedive. One day everything is fine, and the next day a recession hits, your best client goes out of business or you’re faced with a family tragedy. Money in the bank helps you weather the inevitable tough times.
Make technology your friend. From social media platforms to smart phone apps, there is a seemingly endless supply of tools at your fingertips. Master the ones that will make a difference in your life. Technology can aid your marketing, networking and operational efforts, but make sure you control the technology rather than letting it control you.
Learn from rejection, mistakes and bad choices. You’re not perfect and you will never be able to please everyone, so occasionally things will go wrong as a result. The important thing is to learn from your mistakes, adapt and move forward. The sooner you can overcome the bad feelings and try again, the better off you will be.
Plan for your financial future. With no corporate 401(k) plan, you’ll have to create your own retirement savings. Seek the help of an accountant and financial professional you can trust, and establish a plan as soon as possible. Life happens quickly, and you’ll be patting yourself on the back for this one sooner than you think.
Do the right thing — always. In business, your reputation is everything. So, yes, integrity matters. Sometimes that means turning down business or making decisions about who you work with and how you get the work done. But in the end, nothing trumps honesty and a job well done.
Be grateful. It’s easy to fall into the trap of complaining when things don’t go as you planned. But that rarely helps. Instead, adopt a tone of gratitude. And always thank others for their business and their support.
Interviewing has always been my antidote for the loneliness of writing. A people-person by nature, I love talking and interacting with others. Trouble is, writing requires concentration and perhaps a certain degree of isolation. I do most of my writing in my home office, so I spend a good part of my day alone. For many writers, including me, this can be a bit troubling.
Enter the interview, any writer's best approach to gathering much-needed information—and the perfect remedy for the loneliness. I still remember my first formal interview and how nervous I was at the time. I was writing an article for a parenting magazine (I can no longer remember which one), and I had a scheduled phone interview with Letitia Baldrige, an etiquette specialist who once served as chief of staff to Jacqueline Kennedy. Despite the fact that I was obviously new at the game, she was delightful, and even praised my punctuality. A few days later I received a signed copy of her book in the mail.
In-person interviews are the best, of course, because it's an excuse to leave the office and interact with people one-on-one. I could make them last for hours, and sometimes I do. I once spent an entire day with Viktor Schreckengost, the father of 20th-century industrial design. Years later, I still count it as one of my best days on the job—ever.
Copywriters Interview, Too
During the last 20 years, I've conducted countless interviews, and they're not always the formal type. As a copywriter, it's often necessary to interview subject matter experts before creating a headline, tagline or writing ad copy. It's an important step in the process, and one that I cherish.
Similarly, profiles and bios are always a blast. A few years ago, I wrote 58 bios for the attorneys at Isaac Wiles. I met in person with each attorney with the goal of transforming their personality, likes and passion into short, punchy stories—minus the resume-like dreariness of typical attorney bios.
Healthcare is full of opportunities to profile physicians, surgeons, nurses and patients, like this patient story for the Cleveland Clinic or this award nomination for the CEO of OhioHealth. And, I always learn so much from talking with these individuals and then sharing their stories.
More recently, writing for Manta, one of the largest online resources for small business owners, has given me the opportunity to interview numerous professors, business owners and experts around the country on a wide range of business topics.
As a feature writer—and as a copywriter—I get to speak with people in all walks of life: surgeons, camp counselors, astronauts, road builders, college professors, businessmen, engineers, artists and volunteers. Interviewing is not only a requirement for the job, but, thankfully, it's also a fun way to counter what otherwise might be a lonely profession.
The writer doesn't need to be an expert in your field.
Although there are always a few exceptions to this rule, nine times out of 10, you won't need to hire a writer who is keenly familiar with your business. It may be important to review a writer's samples, but you can stop looking for one that matches your specific project. Truth is, good writers should be able to write about anything. Not only are they trained to work with subject matter experts, but they know how to research and gather information so they can tackle any topic. With that in mind, the longer a writer works with you, the more he or she will know about your organization. So, if you find a good writer, it pays to establish a long-term working relationship with that person.
Freelance writers can work remotely.
The writer you hire does not need to live nearby. In fact, current technology makes it possible to work with people outside your locale. These are professionals, and with very few exceptions, they don't need to come to your office to plug in their computer. They can do it on their own. Today, many writers work with businesses and editors who are located on the other side of the country or somewhere else on the planet. If a writer is reliable and accessible—and that should be a requirement for hiring—there's rarely a reason to meet in person.
Freelance writers may work crazy hours.
Some writers shuffle into their home offices, donned in bathrobe and slippers. Others head to the nearest coffee shop. But most freelance writers start their day just like you do—with a shower, a cup of coffee and casual business attire. Keep in mind, however, that writers are accustomed to working on deadline, and it's not unusual for them to work late into the evening or to start their day hours before sunrise. Why? Because they can. Successful freelance writers are highly motivated individuals who know how to plan their time. They just don't always do it between the hours of 9 and 5.
You will need to do your part.
When you hire a freelance writer to complete a project, expect to make yourself available for questions and feedback. That doesn't mean the writer should hound you on a daily basis, but without your input and access to the necessary subject matter experts and background materials, he or she won't be able to complete the assignment. It's hard—if not impossible—to create something from nothing, so it helps if you can be available to answer questions or provide additional materials.
Freelance writers are creative types, and they know where to find other creative people.
If you're looking for a good graphic designer, marketing strategist or web developer, ask your freelance writer for a referral. Writers work with these individuals on a regular basis, so they have valuable insight about other creative professionals you may want to hire. A good freelance writer can even recommend someone based on your specific needs, ensuring that the person you hire is well suited to your organization.
Most freelance writers are paid on a project basis.
Once the writer understands the scope of the project, he or she will provide an estimate. Because it's understandable that there may be some unknown elements in any project, the writer may need to provide a fee range. Project fees make everyone happy because there are no surprises, which makes it much easier to work within your budget. The only time an hourly rate makes sense is when the project scope is undefined or constantly evolving.
Freelance writers appreciate referrals.
If you establish a strong working relationship with a freelance writer, don't hesitate to refer that person to your colleagues. It may be tempting to keep that writer to yourself so you don't have to compete for his or her time, but freelancers never forget a good referral. That one act of kindness will keep you at the top of their list.
Freelance writers have mortgages to pay, just like you.
Remember that freelance writers are professionals who work for a living. Too many people think that freelancers, consultants and other professionals who work on their own don't really need to work. Nothing could be further from the truth. Please remember this when the project is completed to your satisfaction and the invoice appears in your inbox.
At the risk of sounding like the biggest Scrooge who ever lived, I'm just going to come right out with it and say: I'm glad the holidays are over. It's not that I'm against gift-giving and merriment. It's more about the fact that I love January. Crazy, I know, especially coming from someone who lives in Ohio. But for those of you who are still basking in everything merry and bright, please hear me out. This is what I love about the first month of the year.
New beginnings. I was that kid who insisted on a new notebook and backpack for the first day of school. You know the type. We live for the excitement of starting something new, and just like the first day of school—or the first day on the job—the new year is an opportunity to start fresh. Simply put, it's a great time to leave the past behind and embrace something new.
More time. C'mon, let's face it. December is highly overrated, with its ugly sweaters, stressful gatherings, lengthy to-do lists and equally long shopping lines. The entire month competes for my attention, and I am drawn away from doing the things I really enjoy. On the other hand, not much happens in January. So when the new year rolls around, I can reclaim my schedule and re-set my priorities.
Greater motivation. Not a fan of new year's resolutions? You can still ride the wave of motivation that prevails during the early part of the year. But rather than taking on a daunting task, declare it a time to do something you've always wanted to do. Embrace the positive, and your chances of success will dramatically increase.
Better outlook. Whether you work for yourself or you work for someone else, January is a great time to recharge your career. Set goals, adopt a more creative approach or try something entirely new. Not happy with your current situation? Maybe it's time to make the change you've been dreaming about.
New challenges. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is known for his ability to set goals and then make them happen. His 2015 challenge to read a new book every two weeks got plenty of attention. What's one thing you'd like to accomplish in 2016? Learn to play an instrument? Start your own business? The key is to pick something you enjoy, and then break it down into manageable parts.
New possibilities. Notice that the operative word throughout this post is "new." That's because January is about all things new—including new opportunities. That alone should be enough to get you off the couch and fired up. When you choose to embrace January and everything it represents, the short, dark days of winter quickly lose their sting. Instead, accept the first month of the year for what it is—and watch the possibilities unfold.
The new year has arrived. Make it great.