I was at a client’s premises one day when I heard the team talking about some work prepared by a copywriter they’d hired. Their discussion wasn’t complimentary, yet they agreed as a team to stop working with the writer without raising their concerns with him. Should this client have given feedback to their copywriter? And why is not giving feedback such a big, missed opportunity?
This lose-lose outcome resulted in the client not getting the copy they paid for, while this writer had no chance to correct or recalibrate their work, or even to improve for next time.
It’s hard to get the first, or even second, draft of writing spot on. In fact, when I learned to become a copywriter, I was encouraged to tell my clients that the first draft was about making sure we were on the right track. It was never about presenting them with a polished, finished piece of copy.
What to do (and not do) with imperfect first drafts
First drafts are a starting point for giving feedback that helps your copywriter deliver what you expect in the finished copy.
I’ve worked with clients where I sensed they held back from giving me feedback. Maybe they were worried about hurting my feelings or were concerned I didn’t have the capability to lift up an early draft. Worst of all, maybe they thought they made a misjudgement by hiring the wrong copywriter. Gulp!
Yet the best experiences I’ve had as a copywriter are the times when my client’s feedback made it very clear what they expected, which made it much easier for me to deliver what they wanted.
I’m forever grateful to one of my earliest clients who hired me when she wanted to revamp her website. We went through the briefing process where I learned all about her business, audience, and desired outcome.
I’d been trained on how to write website copy. She knew how important it was to connect with potential future clients. She pushed me and was forthright about what the draft copy I produced needed. In turn, I talked to her about why we wrote the copy a certain way.
Between the two of us, she got the copy she wanted. As an unexpected side benefit, we became good friends, and she referred me on to several other clients.
By contrast, I was talking to a copywriter last week who received feedback from their client at the end of the project that was lacklustre. The client thought their copy would be ‘different’ and the copywriter wasn’t happy about this feedback. She had checked in throughout the course of the project and the client hadn’t given her any indication until right at the end that the copy wasn’t what they expected. This could have been avoided.
Why is it so important to give feedback to a copywriter? (And why a copywriter is not a mind reader)
Any copywriter worth their salt wants you to get the quality of copy you’ve paid for and expect.
Nothing makes me happier than getting glowing feedback from a satisfied client. And the faster and easier I deliver that to you, the less of your time I take up and the sooner you get the benefits of that new copy.
Yet, no matter the skills of the copywriter, we’re not mind readers. We know that giving us feedback is not personal criticism. Being clear about what you want helps the copywriter do the best possible job for you. By listening carefully to your feedback, we can deliver.
You and your copywriter both invest time in a writing project. A good experience sets you up to work together again. The briefing process is faster, and we know what outcomes you expect. Consider the pros and cons of constantly briefing new copywriters about your business compared to working with the same copywriter who already knows your business—and you!
What are some of the challenges around giving feedback to a copywriter? (And why a copywriter is not a magician)
Giving feedback can be difficult for several reasons. Especially if:
- You don’t know what you want
- You, or they, have unclear or misaligned expectations
- You’re worried they’ll disagree with your comments
- The copywriter has poor systems and processes
- There are any communication barriers
When I first started out as a junior copywriter, I felt the best approach was to create exactly what my clients wanted by doing whatever they wanted. I took the brief and wrote to order.
As I got more experienced as a copywriter, I realised my clients didn’t need someone who did what they wanted. What they really wanted was someone who had expertise they didn’t have and could come to the table with these skills and add value to their business.
Today, I run a clear briefing process, despite still feeling awkward about taking up too much of a client’s time. Whenever I’ve skipped this step, we’ve ended up with unclear expectations about the project deliverables. A copywriter is not a magician. We can’t magic up a solution unless we are both crystal clear about what solving that problem looks like. Help your copywriter pull that rabbit out of the hat by providing guidance along the way to make sure you both stay on track.
What if you just hate the copy? (And why your copywriter is not a rhinoceros)
Sometimes, the copy you receive is just, well, rubbish… Now you really must give feedback no matter the urge to ditch them and start again with someone else.
Why? Because this is not personal. If you didn’t like the copywriter, you would never have started working with them in the first place, right? You would never have got past the meet-and-greet phase and would have politely declined their proposal, right?
Not ‘liking’ the copy has little to do with whether you like the copyrighter. It’s to do with whether the copy they’ve provided meets your needs. If it doesn’t, it’s time to get clear about why it doesn’t work for you. Focusing on the copy, not the copywriter, enables their next draft to be better.
Maybe giving feedback feels so difficult because it can feel like an emotional process. Critiquing anyone’s work might create emotions of frustration or distress on one or both sides. It can feel personal and certainly, copywriters are not rhinoceroses. You can sense they’re not that thick-skinned (though it’s thicker than you think!).
Some prompts to help with that feedback
If your copywriter has good systems and processes, they will give you a checklist of things to look for in the copy to make sure it meets your needs, and to make sure they’re on the right track. Copywriters expect and thrive on feedback.
Using a template developed by the amazing Belinda Weaver, I give my clients instructions on how to critically review the first and second drafts of their copy, including prompts as they review such as:
- Is anything missing from the copy?
- Is anything included that shouldn’t be there?
- Is the copy factually correct?
- Are the customer pain points covered to the right extent?
- Are all the right benefits and features captured?
- Are there any awkward transitions or phrases?
- Does the style and tone fit your audience?
- What three areas would you most like to change?
- What piece of the copy most captures what you’d like to see in the rest of the copy?
These types of questions focus on the copy and help you give clear guidance to the copywriter about where to focus for the next draft.
We’re all used to asynchronous communication these days, whether it be by Slack, WhatsApp, or good old email. If possible though, line up a face-to-face meeting in person or online. You can get a lot more insights from a 15-minute chat compared to missing the nuances in a string of ongoing emails.
Let your copywriter take you through the updated draft. Unfamiliar wording and structure can feel off until you understand the rationale behind the reader experience it now provides.
Use feedback as a way to get the best copy you can. You’ve paid for this service, so help the copywriter deliver the goods.
Identify where you feel the copy is lacking and talk to the copywriter about how to make those changes. Focus on practical, actionable feedback.
As a copywriter, I’ve been on the receiving end of useful and constructive feedback where my copy did not meet the brief. It’s happened many times and I imagine it will happen many times in the future.
But, I have always found the client’s insights about that first draft help me step up,.
- If you’re working with a professional copywriter, you should expect to provide a brief. The more detailed the brief, the better your copy will be because copywriters are not mind readers.
- Be clear about your expectations. Just because you’ve hired a copywriter doesn’t mean you’ve hired a magician who is going to transform your product or your service into something that it is not.
- When you’re giving a copywriter feedback, they might not be a rhinoceros, but their skin is thicker than you think. We understand we are being paid to do a job and we want to do the work to the best of our abilities.
Ready to talk to a psychic, wand-waving rhinoceros?
Erm, well that’s not me!
However, if you do want to work with a professional copywriter who is eager to provide magical excellent copy using a robust, well-tested system, get in touch and let’s chat for 30-minutes, no obligation.
I’m Rananda, a Sydney-based writer and editor
With 25-plus years in corporate life, a financial background, a science education, and a lifetime of writing, I know there is more to starting and growing a loyal following than just the words on your website or saving that draft manuscript in a folder.
I bring comprehensive practical experience to supporting your writing needs.