15 things your copywriter hates. Or how to promote flow in your project team.
You’ll get the best results from external copywriters if you’re great to work with. It’s about flow.
When you achieve flow, everything clicks. Everyone’s aligned and energized. Pulling in the same direction, fast. That’s why “group flow is a peak experience, a group performing at its top level of ability”. And “the hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy”.
In other words, you’re going to get the best results – and enjoy the process most - if your project team achieve flow.
That’s why being good to work with matters. Because seemingly small things can cause friction, without you realising.
Here’re 15 things you mightn’t have thought about that make your copywriters’ lives harder and disrupt flow.
1 - Editing a live document while we’re working
No, no and a million times no. If you’re not certain sure your copywriter’s done, close the tab please. Don’t make edits. Don’t reply to comments (ignore the siren’s lure of email alerts). Don’t ‘just check in’, however excited you are to see the finished copy.
We’re excited too, to show you, but only when it’s done. And it won’t get done to the best of our ability if we feel pressured, frustrated and menaced by endless user icons watching everything we do.
2 - Expecting us to write into a spreadsheet
Spreadsheets are a special kind of writing hell. Everything takes ten times longer and feels twenty times less intuitive.
It’s partially a UX thing. Like, it’s firmly embedded in writers’ muscle memory that the enter button creates a line break. On spreadsheets, the enter button jumps you down a cell. Away from what you were writing. It’s like expecting a right-handed painter to start working left-handed.
It’s also that you can’t get a holistic picture of your copy with a spreadsheet. All the faint lines and weird formatting screw up your vision. And it matters what words look like; how they sit on the page; how they play with each other.
The upshot is, forcing your copywriter to work into a spreadsheet means you’re either not getting their best, or it’s taking them longer (and likely costing you more) to write good copy.
3 - Giving poor feedback (and expecting us to act on it)
It’s totally normal if you struggle to give constructive feedback. Your copywriter should help you, explaining the rationale behind their creative choices and helping you pinpoint exactly what you do/don’t like.
The issue is when you aren’t willing to engage with that process, but you expect your copywriter to take your poor feedback on board anyway.
We’re not magicians. We can’t just ‘make it pop more’ or ‘jazz it up a bit’ without more info. ‘It just doesn’t feel right’ is the start point, not the end point.
4 - Never giving positive feedback
Most copywriters really, really care that you like their work. We’ve spent hours, days, maybe weeks and months, crafting it and loving it and tearing it apart so we can love it again.
And then we send it and wait. Honestly, no silence is as deafening.
At the least, recognise our hard work. But if you see positives, share them. Positive feedback has made my day many, many times.
Like this beauty:
5 – Not committing to the briefing process
An effective brief is the cornerstone of effective copy.
Good copywriters will run a mile from clients who won’t commit to building a robust brief, because it hamstrings our talents.
That’s not to say you need to build a great brief before approaching us though; it can be a collaborative process. HR Tech Copy work through a structured KickStart briefing process with you, for example, to make the whole thing easier. But we’ve still butted-up against the odd client who resents spending any time briefing at all.
See point three: we’re not magicians. We can’t intuit what you need from a blank screen, however much you’re paying or however busy your schedule.
6 - Copy by committee
The creative process is collaborative. That’s fine. But at its best, the copywriting process needs two head chefs, not a whole kitchen’s worth. Chief Reviewer and Chief Writer. (That’s why copywriting agencies assign a lead writer to each project).
That’s not to say you shouldn’t solicit feedback from other people, but someone needs to take point on decision-making.
Without a decisive reviewer and decisive writer, you’ll end up with what Ted from Marketing’s mum’s brother’s aunt thought was cool on a radio ad she half-remembers from the 90s. (Which almost definitely isn’t the most effective copy you could’ve had).
7 – Creating an infinite feedback loop
Most copywriters will’ve clearly explained what your investment includes – typically three rounds of revisions. The idea is, each revision gets tighter and tighter until the final is minor tweaks and proofreading.
The idea isn’t that you suddenly send v3 to Janet from IT the day before go-live. That creates an infinite loop of crapness where your copy never gets finished and your writers run for the hills next time you need help.
At the start of a project, you’ll pin down project timelines that explicitly outline the time you’ve got between drafts to give feedback. Now’s a great time to make a definitive list of people whose feedback you’ll want and make sure they can commit to those timings.
If you need longer to get everyone’s input, block longer upfront. Not half-way through.
8 - Going live with edits we haven’t seen
Don’t do this. You’re paying your copywriter good money for their expertise – use it.
It’s not that every word your writer writes is perfect and unchangeable. But we’ll at least have an opinion on that teeny tiny little tweak you made, and our opinion’s worth hearing.
Before you go live with an absolute humdinger that could’ve easily been avoided.
9 - Setting unnecessarily strict word counts
Specific word counts matter if they’re imposed by something out of your control. Like PPC ads, or email subject lines. They don’t matter nearly so much on practically anything else.
You don’t need exactly a 750-word article. You just don’t. You don’t need a 300-character block on your website. (Your website copywriter should tell the designer what copy you need, not the other way around).
It’s putting the cart (word count) before the horse (the message). You need exactly as many words as you need to tell your story. Sometimes that’ll be 200. Sometimes that’ll be 20,000. Good copywriters will guide you.
10 – Imposing too-strict deadlines
Deadlines matter. Obviously. But they typically don’t matter nearly so much as clients think they matter. And imposing strict deadlines is often counterintuitive, putting everyone under so much pressure they can’t deliver their best work.
As Doug Kessler over at the indomitable Velocity says about the whole deadline versus value thing:
“It’s fucking insane.
In fact, it’s an obsessive-compulsive treadmill of crazy. […]
Over-indexing on deadlines virtually guarantees that even great, talented, motivated teams will achieve mediocrity far more often than greatness. On-time mediocrity. But still mediocrity.”
The moral is, build in more time. Don’t put deadlines ahead of value. Give the people you’re investing in the time they need to justify your investment.
11 - Creating false urgency
Sometimes projects are urgent. Sometimes strict deadlines are the result of necessity (or more often, bad upfront planning).
But false urgency happens all too often. Where clients create strict deadlines for their copywriters but then vanish, after we’ve busted a gut to finish the work.
That need-it-yesterday-please-prioritise-us copy that then sits there unreviewed for endless days, while you faff about internally.
It feels like you’ve taken us for fools; like you made-up the urgency. Sure, priorities change – that’s fine. But please tell us. Don’t leave us there sitting on our thumbs wondering what the hell happened.
12 - Paying late
HR Tech Copy always ask for a deposit upfront, typically 50%, and that does a great job at sifting out future late payers.
But if you’ve ever been guilty of this, take a long hard look in the mirror. It’s not OK. It’s disrespectful and rude. And if you’re not careful, you’ll get a bad enough reputation that nobody’ll come near you.
By contrast, HR Tech Copy have clients who pay within hours of getting an invoice. A regular monthly client typically pays within about a minute and a half. It’s not necessary (our standard terms are 14-days) but it’s a sure-fire way to get into our bend-over-backwards-for-you books.
A note on ridiculous payment terms. We don’t typically have this problem because we mostly work with high-growth businesses that aren’t too far from their start-up roots, so they’re less strict about processes. But we’ve been approached by a few with 3-month – once even 6-month – terms. Your project would need to be mind-blowingly amazing to even persuade us to consider terms like that.
13 - Being sticklers for school-age grammar
Yep, you can start sentences with ‘and’. Or ‘because’. Or ‘or’. And you can use strange-looking conjunctions, like ‘could’ve’, ‘should’ve’ and ‘would’ve’.
If your writing education stopped a while ago, that’s absolutely OK – but ours didn’t. Writing’s our profession. Tell us the tone isn’t on-brand, sure. But please listen to our expertise.
Good copywriting is conversational – like speaking aloud. That’s how you create connection and drive action.
Even if you’re a Big Serious Business selling Big Serious Tech: conversational is not casual (louder, for those in the back). You can communicate profound and difficult truths without sounding like a robot.
And every copywriter has probably spent several hundred cumulative hours explaining exactly that to clients. It gets old.
14 – Having heaps of ideas but no commitment
Great clients have a clear idea what they want before they approach us. We hop on the phone, refine the idea and agree the scope of work. Then we put together a fixed investment proposal.
That’s how most successful projects kick off. And sure, sometimes internal plans change or the proposal doesn’t work for your budget, and that’s totally fine.
But some clients have a million-and-one ideas but no internal commitment. And it means external partners spend hours creating endless proposals, but nothing ever comes to fruition.
If you’re still only exploring ideas, tell us. We’ll give you a quick ballpark so you can have the conversations you need without wasting time. But please don’t ask for a full investment proposal if you’ve got no sign-off or intention to invest.
15 – Micromanaging with endless meetings
Of course you need to chat to your external copywriters – but there’s chatting, and then there’s death-by-meeting.
From our side, an ideal project includes a comprehensive briefing process and comprehensive feedback at each stage. That’s somewhere between two and five proper conversations, typically.
Unless there’s a big project team needing to collaborate simultaneously, it doesn’t include weekly hour-long update meetings so stakeholders feel snuggly and warm and involved. Update emails maybe. Maybe a 15-minute weekly huddle.
But meetings are the antithesis to creativity. (Yes, even via Zoom). Give your creatives the freedom, and trust, to do what you’ve hired them for. Don’t micromanage.
A great working partnership with external copywriters isn’t a nice-to-have. It’s a must-have, to achieve better results and have some fun while you’re doing it.
And that’s what it’s all about, right?
HR Tech Copy are a boutique communications consultancy for HR and recruitment technology businesses. We’re small by design, so we can be picky about who we work with (and we hope you are too). If you’re a down-to-earth business with smart, engaged people working on cool projects, we’d love that to be you.