So you have finally made the big decision: you will hire an outside writer to improve and expedite your communications and marketing. Perhaps it is to whip your web content into shape? Drive better results with sales collateral or an email campaign? Or maybe you want to create a whitepaper, blog series or industry article to underscore your sector leadership?

The decision to invest in a quality content writer is a great one – and well-justified. 74 percent of marketers claim they could drive more than twice as much ROI, lifetime customer value and “brand lift” if they had an expert content team at their disposal, according to a 2015 digital marketing survey. I would argue that one savvy content writer can often generate similar results, depending on the needs and size of your business.

This three part series aims to demystify the process of working with a copywriter. In it, I will outline the common pitfalls, and arm you with some guidelines to ensure the best kick off to your new writer relationship.

Sourcing the best writer for you

There are many ways to develop a shortlist of writers from which to choose. LinkedIn is one. My best recommendation is to get referrals from your industry peers and professional network. A writer who has already delivered to expectation for your colleagues is more likely to be a low-risk choice for you. Be sure you review their samples and past clients which should be posted online to get a sense of the writer’s style, experience and capabilities. The professionalism of a writer’s website will also say a lot about the type of content they will generate for you. Don’t forget to read through their testimonials from past clients – which should be plentiful.

Budget first, brief later

Talking money is always the scary part – but it must come up early in the dialogue. It is a tremendous waste of time for both you and the prospective writer to waste lengthy words, emails and time before discovering both parties are separated in budget expectations by $100s or even $1000s of dollars. The writer’s availability to meet your project deadlines is another consideration you should candidly discuss early to avoid disappointment. Do you need this writer to turn around for you overnight? Or over a period of days/weeks? This too could affect price.

    1. Set a potential budget, deadlines – and project perimetres: Take time to research the standard rates for the kind of professional copywriting you need – and develop a preliminary budget you can afford – with an uppermost limit on funds available. Clearly convey the scope of the project, as you best know it, ie. a 7-page website or a 5-part blog series – and when you might need it. If you are looking for general help on a variety of future projects, have a few examples handy to get an idea of the rates, experience and also writer availability. Be sure to ask how many rounds of revisions are included in the quote – or how extra revisions will be billed.
    2. Ask the writer what are his or her fees upfront. There is no point in pussy-footing around the rate issue. Be aware that some writers bill hourly and others per project, so be sure you compare apples to apples. The best writers will be able to provide you with a ballpark right away over the phone for the job in question– which may disqualify some who are over-priced and also any that are suspiciously under-priced. If the ballpark is agreeable to you, the writer should follow up promptly with a more specific quote via email, with project scope and potential timelines so you’ll have it in writing to officially approve. Take note: A writer who waffles on the rates over the phone is a big ‘buyer beware’: he or she is likely too junior and inexperienced to be able to quote confidently – and also more likely to under-deliver, and then ding you on the final bill!
    3. Do NOT give a full briefing before the rate is agreed. Resist the temptation to lead the first discussion with an in-depth breakdown of your messaging, company background and project. Even as a senior with 20 years experience, I myself got fooled by this recently after setting up a call with an inexperienced new client to whom I was referred by her peer. She emailed all documents before the call, walked me through all of them and finally, after an hour and a half of discussion on content breakdown, she inquired sheepishly about my rates. I had naturally assumed I had the job already, but it turned out she was not the approving party. What you should be able to convey is the media, ie. a blog post, web page(s) or executive presentation, expected length and timelines.
    4. Agree on the payment terms: Often these are quite negotiable with a writer, but it is important to set out expectations for payment from the start. Be aware that with a new supplier relationship, a 50% deposit is usually required upfront before the writing and research commences. Typically a writer will want to be paid in full within 30 days of submission of invoice, which occurs afterdata:text/mce-internal,content,%3F they submit the FIRST draft of copy.

Working with a copywriter, can be a wonderful experience if you get it right. But be sure you select someone you instinctively like — one with whom you have a natural and easy dialogue. After all, it’s all boils down to good communications, doesn’t it?

Stay tuned for part 2 of this series: ‘Briefing and managing a writer’ – coming soon .

Laura Ranieri of CopyBard Writing Services is an award-winning Toronto-based copywriter with 20-plus years of experience writing online, corporate and marketing communications and creative campaigns. She continues to service a wide range of small and large clients in the finance, professional services, technology, travel and cultural