The best compliment I ever had from a client is that I had managed to capture their voice. That I was able to write as though it was them writing the content, not me doing it on their behalf. Ghost-writing – writing content for someone else – is an art. It takes more than putting words together and creating a story to get the point across – although those are necessary skills. So when the testimonial came back saying that I had captured how they wanted to put things across, I was over the moon. Finding a client’s voice is a skill. One that requires listening, researching, a bit of experience, and the magic bullet.
When hiring a writer, there are a few things to look out for to gauge whether they will be a good fit for you. They need to be able to write well – that’s a given. But they also need to be able to get under the skin of your business, product or service, understand your brand, and take on your voice.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when looking for a writer who is good at finding a client’s voice.
Getting to know you
Your prospective writer should be trying to get to know you and your business from the moment you approach them. They will be asking questions, probing to find out who you are, what you and your business are about, and what your goals are. As well as getting to know all that, they will be figuring out if they can take on your voice. It is no use hiring a writer who is adept at writing catchy headlines when you want a manual written, or a technical writer when you want an attention-grabbing social media ad.
Talking is the best place to start. Ideally, they will want to schedule a brief call to find out more about you and what you are looking for. This is your chance to ask questions and find out how they work.
Can it be done over email? Sure. But can you really get the measure of someone from just a couple of brief exchanges when you may be unsure of exactly what you need and they are deep into another client’s project?
Explaining their process
Every writer has their own way of doing things. There is no right or wrong way, so long as it works for both of you.
I would encourage you to ask about how they work, as it can give you some good insights into their approach. For example, do they ask about your brand voice or for any materials you have already published? If you are a new business, do they want to know what your brand aspirations are, or which other companies you like the look and sound of?
Are they asking about your competitors? Who they are and how they approach things could give a writer a lot of ideas of how to tackle your project, and knowing what you like and dislike could save you time and money.
Their experience and background
Back to the technical versus social media ad writers. Some writers are versatile and can turn their hand to lots of different things. Most will hone their skills in a few styles, building experience and getting to know what works for those writing formats. The greatest difference is between copy and content and what each aims to achieve. As a business you will need both, but there are also differences between writing for a business audience and for consumers, or between technical and social media writing.
Ask your writer what their writing experience is or what they focus on the most. They should offer to send you some samples of their work and if they don’t, ask for them. Ghost-writing can mean signing non-disclosure agreements, but most writers will have some samples of their work that they can share. Alternatively, ask if they can provide references.
Make sure you are in the driving seat
You may not be doing the writing yourself, but you are in charge. Giving your writer a good brief is a great start. Look out for opportunities to comment on a first draft, or at least on a section of the work (particularly if it is a big project) before they complete it. Either way, you can gauge how they have captured your voice and whether you want to make any changes before they get in too deep.
If none of that is not part of a writer’s process, move on to the next person on your list.
The magic bullet
All of these points are great and should be somewhere on your list. But there is a magic bullet.
Empathy. “You can’t understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”
You want your writer to be able to empathise with you as a business owner as well as with your audience and clients. Listen to what they are saying during your initial discussion. Do they really get it? Do they truly understand what you need and how your clients can benefit from your offering? Your instinct will guide you here but listen carefully to what they say (or don’t say).
If they can put themselves in your or your clients’ shoes, you are on to a winner.
How I work
I was recently approached by a start-up business owner to rewrite their website content. A previous client had recommended me, and I was keen to live up to expectations. They had some good information online already, but felt it was a little technical and wanted to simplify things so that their clients would see the benefits, not the jargon.
When I looked at their existing website, my heart sank; I wasn’t sure that I was the right person for the job. A professional services provider, their product felt beyond my skillset – a little too techie for me to feel comfortable writing about since I did not know much about it.
We jumped on a call for me to find out more. It turned out that they wanted to completely revamp their site and rewrite it without any technical jargon whatsoever. It was not about understanding the ins and outs of their product so much as about knowing the basics of what it could do and how it could benefit their clients. Ten minutes on the phone with them and I was clear on what the product did. I even used it myself – bonus! All I now had to do was get that across to their clients too.
Without that initial call, they would have looked elsewhere, and I would have had one less writing job and client, so I’m glad we invested that time in talking. If you want to know more about how I work, find out about my writing process, or you can drop me a line with your questions.
Looking for a writer?
If you are looking for a writer who is experienced in finding a client’s voice, you are in the right place. Get in touch to find out if we are a good fit or challenge me to find your voice too!
I challenge you to find my voice!
Christina Petrides is a writer and editor who works with small businesses and academics, helping develop and create copy and content and editing documents for publication. She works across most industries, and has a particular love for the environmental and travel sectors. She is an Intermediate Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) and Full Member of the Institution of Environmental Sciences (IES). Connect with her on LinkedIn or sign up for the Last Glance monthly newsletter.